I want to compare Juxtapoz Clubhouse to something to make you understand what it’s like to be inside, but every possible comparison falls flat. To call it a funhouse is too kitschy, and is a disservice to the fair’s incredible artwork. But to even refer to it as a fair is like labeling Walmart a “grocery store.” It is so SO much more than that. Juxtapoz Clubhouse is a curated wonderland of colors, uncanny human figures, and unexpected mediums.
Though each “booth” at the Clubhouse has an individual aesthetic and presents unique work, they all share certain qualities that lend the space cohesion. The featured artists are fascinated by the human body, in all of it mutilated manifestations. On the MoMA website it is written that, “The San Francisco–based arts and culture journal Juxtapozwas founded in 1994…as a response to the dominant critical aesthetic of the New York art scene, which [was seen] as favoring abstraction and Minimalism over representational forms of art.” At Juxtapoz, representational figures abound, and they constantly reflect on the contemporary condition. However, the figures present at Juxtapoz Clubhouse are not necessarily animate in the way we understand people to be. Juxtapoz’ artists play with levels within their work; how many anthropomorphic features are required for a creature to be designated as human? At what level of de-representation does a figure cease to be alive? Can inorganic materials compose an animate being?
Gil Bruvel’s work epitomizes this fascinating pursuit. His three-dimensional work Cubist #5 was shown independently at the Clubhouse, though he exhibited at Context Art Fair as well with Laura Rathe Fine Art Gallery.
Cubist #5 presents a face in the process of being represented OR deconstructed. Triangular and rectangular prisms meet at their points, leaving navy gaps of negative space in-between. It’s not until the viewer notices the shading on the shapes that a face starts to materialize. Like a Picasso painting, Cubist #5 repositions distorted human features. However, the added dimension and lack of color demonstrate a new approach to cubism. For Bruvel, form and line take precedence over color, Picasso’s tool of choice. The artist also understands the shapes formed by negative space. Explains Bruvel, “I search for the invisible lines that can define a human face.” Furthermore, the artist involves the viewer cognitively in their experience of the work, shading the sides of the blocks. In doing so, he requires that the work be experienced from three sides. The viewer must take information from each side and combine them into a single image: a human face. The result is a wonderfully participative work that rethinks our definitions of both cubism and representation.
Cubist #5 is part of a larger series inspired by “architecture, patterns evolving from nature.” Bruvel is fascinated by changes in nature over time. He cites patterns of erosion as one such interest, as well as microscopic photography. Writes Bruvel, “It is an experimentation [in] trying to capture the movement and the oscillations we find in natural formations.” This information complicates my experience of Bruvel’s work for the better. As I have written, the figure in Cubist #5 is in the process of being constructed or deconstructed. It exists along the spectrum of alive vs. dead. Bruvel’s fascination with organic matter makes me look at his forms with a fresh eye. There is something fleshy about the shapes in Cubist #5. The surface of each shape is often slightly curved, like that of a building-block bridge. The material, too, has the appearance of being somewhat plush, rather than rigid. We naturally associate hard edges with machinery, and softness with life. In this way, the attention paid to the surface and texture of the shapes contribute to the work’s ambiguous anthropomorphism.
To read more about Gil Bruvel’s work and see more of his cubist series, check out his website.
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Another artist at the Juxtapoz Clubhouse who plays with organic and inorganic material is Francesco Lo Castro. Exhibiting at Juxtapoz with First Amendment Gallery, Lo Castro is a veteran of Miami Art Week. In 2006, he curated an exhibition at the Art Center/South Florida, and in 2008, he co-founded Vanguard Art Fair. First Amendment Gallery specializes in contemporary urban art and champions freedom of speech through art and art education. Take a look at De Profundis, one of Lo Castro’s fascinating works, and a detail of the work.
I instinctively want to reach out and touch it (I refrained) because the surface texture is so tantalizing. I find pastels to be very aesthetically pleasing, especially in creamy, thick coats of opaque paint. The smooth surface and rounded corners of the layered forms feel cushioned, which appeals to the viewer’s tangible senses. Cool colors like lavender and dusty rose are not colors we typically associate with nature, as we do kelly green and ocean blue. These colors lend De Profundis a manufactured sensibility that is amplified by Lo Castro’s use of line. Converging lines and geometric shapes feel decidedly mechanical.
And so, I was surprised to learn that Lo Castro crafts his enticing paintings from wood and layers of pigment and resin. I expect a work made from wood to feel less permanent, as wood itself is inextricably tied to the transient nature of the earth. De Profundis shows now signs of vulnerability beneath its creamy finish. The dichotomy of organic material and inorganic appearance render De Profundis a hybrid between the two states.
Having learned of Lo Castro’s astute choice of material (and wry sense of humor), I took another look at De Profundis. Its shape came to resemble an anatomical drawing of a beetle. I began to see elements of the biological world where I hadn’t before. My experience with De Profundis was one of constantly questioning my perception of what is manmade and what is natural. Where do we draw the line? Lo Castro’s adeptness at challenging this line situates his work nicely within the overarching aesthetic of the Juxtapoz Clubhouse.
Check out more of Francesco Lo Castro’s work on his website.
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Next up: Superchief Gallery. An aesthetic in and of itself, Superchief fits within the overarching feel of Juxtapoz Clubhouse like a Russian nesting doll.
I found my way to Juxtapoz through the magazine, and fell in love with its trippy graphics and constantly socially relevant content. At the Clubhouse I discovered Superchief, and it was like I’d fallen deeper down the rabbit hole of urban contemporary art. This niche focused on the disarmament of gender roles and sexual norms. Here’s a little sampling of what it’s like to walk into Superchief’s booth. My personal favorite from this selection? Parker Day‘s Flesh Ft. Moe Guinevere, a pink leather fetish extravaganza.
Unfortunately, I can only write so much in one article, despite my desire to write a literal TEXTBOOK about Superchief Gallery.
Today I’m going to focus on Don Pablo Pedro’s Look At My Butt, for one wonderful reason. My mother, who for all intents and purposes does not like anything she deems “creepy” or “odd,” loves this painting. This single fact is more important than my love for Pedro’s masterful work, seeing as I already have a penchant for all things creepy and odd. When a work of art has the capacity to redefine what society considers beautiful, it has surpassed its existence as a passive art object. It becomes an active participant in the recalibration of social norms.
Pedro achieves this by using traditionally beautiful images and painterly techniques in a portrait while making certain visual choices that would be considered “ugly” by society’s standards. In Look At My Butt, Pedro depicts a nude figure whose physical traits are distorted just enough to make the viewer uneasy. Frequently, these characteristics pertain to gender. We are provided a figure with long hair, a traditionally feminine trait, though their is no clear indication that they are meant to be a woman. A pointy nipple protrudes from the figure’s chest, but is partially hidden by their other forearm. A vase of flowers perches in the figure’s left hand, representing yet another symbol of femininity. And then we are also provided traditionally masculine visual clues, such as the bulging muscles in the figure’s back. It seems that these images are meant to trigger associative relationships about gender in our conditioned brains. “Do you think that I am a woman?” The figure might ask, without providing us an answer. And then, “Why are you thinking about who I am at all?” After all, why is it any of our business?
Other collisions between the aesthetic and unaesthetic occur outside the realm of gender. The figure’s shoulders, forearms, thighs, and backside are disproportionately large in comparison to their hands and feet. The figure’s pose sits uneasily between seductive and predatory. Is this a “come hither” kneel or the crouch before a feral pounce? The facial expression provides us no elucidation to this question. I get shivers staring into the figure’s beady eyes- but I am placated by the painting’s soothing color palette and thick, creamy paint.
Like Francesco Lo Castro, Don Pablo Pedro understands the emotional impact of rich pastels. And also like that artist, Pedro is adept at riding the fine line between sensibilities. He tricks us into finding beauty in what we traditionally disgrace, and forces us to examine our preconceived ideas about gender and the human body. And despite giving us agency to change our minds about how we consume the world, he reminds us that another person’s identity is none of our business.
You can learn more about Don Pablo Pedro’s work on his colorful website.
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In another uncanny turn of events, Jonathan Levine Projects exhibited Ronald Gonzalez’s Zipped and Unzipped Couple. The work, composed of two leather busts, is another example of an artist’s experimentation with the human form. Like Gil Bruvel and Francesco Lo Castro, Gonzalez toys with unexpected materials to evoke a sense of humanity. And like Don Pablo Pedro, he modifies traditional modes of artistic creation to suit his fancy, and make a commentary on artistic norms.
But in Gonzalez’s work, the question is not, “Is this human?” Gonzalez purposely states that his figures are “standing on the border between human personage and doomed phantom.” They are meant to bear both humanoid and fantastical traits. The line that Gonzalez walks- with uncanny pleasure- is that of mortality. The figures in Zipped and Unzipped Couple are infused with death. Their senses, for instance, are obstructed. Tarnished zippers seal the figures’ eyes, demonstrating their inability to see. The figures’ mouths are zipped tight, as they cannot speak. Their noses and ears fastened shut, as they are unable to smell or hear. Furthermore, the very quality of the material used to construct these figures reeks of death. Tightly wrapped swaths of leather recall the linens used to wrap embalmed bodies. Like mummies, these figures have been sheathed in new materials, but they never lose the uncanny sensation of being alive.
This is where Gonzalez’s practice comes to light. I have shown the obvious indications of death in Zipped and Unzipped Couple. Yet the artist is not content to create a 21st century mummy. His work uses the imagery of death to make commentary on what is means to be living. According to Gonzalez, his sculptures “function as autobiographical metaphors charged with potent and recurring symbols with childhood and nostalgic references.” It may seem strange at first to associate Zipped and Unzipped Couple with the notion of childhood, but is there not an abundance of death in growing older? As we shed our innocence and step into our new skin, death increases in proximity.
By portraying these deaths as busts, Gonzalez seems to coyly reference the ancient sculptural practice of modeling kings from the chest up in marble. The reference points to human paranoia about death, and the desire to achieve immortality through a stone legacy. In Zipped and Unzipped Couple, Gonzalez provides this immortality, but it comes at a cost. His embalmment will not celebrate the departed in dazzling white stone. Instead, it will fixate on death, constantly referencing it in the darkness of black leather and the silencing power of a hundred zippers. Additionally, it will take hold of the departed and transform him into something inhuman. After all, humans are only mortal. The immortalized figure must become something Else. The result is an uncanny commentary on mankind’s obsession with death, and a series of figures that transcend traditional notions of mortality.
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The last gallery on the docket for this analysis is the Goodmother Gallery. I enjoyed chatting with the gallery rep there and even impulsively bought a print. I live in Manhattan and have no wall space so this was a Very Good Idea.
Anyway, Goodmother was showing the artwork of two different artists whose complementary work could only be achieved through a close creative relationship. I later learned that Egle Zvirblyte and Jose Mendez are partners in real life. Their work shares a color palette and a penchant for large blocks of color. Both artists infuse their paintings with humor, often though the inclusion of text. Perhaps less obviously, the two depict the unclothed female-presenting form without overt sexualization. This is partially achieved through simplification of all animal forms- their tigers are devoid of muscle though endowed with a full set of teeth. Without extreme detail, the curvature of the figure’s body feels less sexual and more literal. We are given enough information to understand the work’s narrative and enjoy its aesthetic. It is exciting to see the female-presenting body exist for the mere sake of existing, rather than being a battleground for autonomy or the victim of voyeurship.
Furthermore, Zvirblyte and Mendez depict female-presenting bodies larger than what you’d see on a Vogue cover.
In Zvirblyte’s No Bad Days, the bodies are buxom and beautiful. Thick thighs are accentuated by tall red boots and round backsides are punctuated with slivers of white paint. These minimalist touches of paint seem to caress the body, touching the indent of the lower back right where a hand might graze. The jet black coloring the figures’ skin likely identifies them as black bodies, and celebrates their skin’s silky finish. The women/femmes are nonchalant, smoking cigs and resting their backs on their very state of mine- no bad days here, folks, only good times. The figures are relaxed, confident, and celebratory.
A car zooms by beneath, with two hybrid tiger-men leaning out the window. Are they hooting and hollering at the figures above? Perhaps. Or maybe they’re friends, swinging by to pick up their dates. The tiger-men’s behavior does not seem predatory. They drive through rays of golden paint like sunshine- harmless, Zvirblyte seems to say. No bad days here, only good times.
You can see obvious similarities in Jose Mendez’s work. His female-presenting figures are similarly curvy, with thick thighs and an accentuated backside. Like Zvirblyte, he does not sexualize his women in an uncomfortable way. They are shown in bathing suits because they are surfing, and their bodies are naturally present. Mendez also toys with animalized human forms. In this work, his male-presenting character is sharklike. He has a long snout, sharp white teeth, and pointed, beady white eyes. In a touch of whimsy, Mendez depicts his companion surfing the waves while carrying two real sharks beneath each arm. It is comical to see one human figure carrying around two creatures we consider to be predators, while her companion is perhaps the most predatory of them all. I don’t think Mendez is making a comment about anthropocentrism- that would be too serious for such a fanciful work. But I do believe that Mendez has the astute ability to playfully engage with human hypocrisies without bogging his work down in anecdotal detail or forced metaphor. After all, we’re all so scared of sharks when we are actually 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning.
It seems that the theme of this article has been artists who balance some sort of line- dead and alive, organic and inorganic, aesthetic and unaesthetic. Egle Zvirblyte and Jose Mendez are also accomplished tight-rope walkers, but the line they walk is how seriously they take themselves. The two paint humorous, contemporary pop art with an undercurrent of social commentary. Rather than asking us directly to question how we think about the world, they simply show us a universe that is different from our own. In this universe, if you’re a slimy dude then you will be painted as one. In Zvirblyte and Mendez’s world, female-presenting people simply exist in their bodies, and if you sexualize them, then you’re the shark.
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I hope you enjoyed walking through the wonderland of Juxtapoz Clubhouse with me. Each of these artists made me think for a long time about the way I look at the world (that’s my excuse for writing this analysis a month after Art Basel…) I feel like we as a society need to sit down with Webster’s Dictionary and rewrite every single antiquated definition. Does dead really mean dead? What, exactly, makes us “human?” And why are our definitions for natural, unnatural, feminine, and masculine, so horribly wrong? The artists at the Juxtapoz Clubhouse are responsible for my current existential crisis.
If you like what you read, and you are also tearing your hair out thinking about the definition of the word “human,” subscribe to Canvas And Crumpets at the bottom of this post. You can also drop me a line, you know the works.
Until next time!