Interested in exploring the storytelling aspect of art, I went in search of an exhibition that would best reflect what I wanted to think about. The current Museum of Art and Design (MOAD) exhibition precisely fits the bill.
What am I looking at and why am I standing in front of it? Art can be obtuse, difficult to comprehend… or care about unless we know what it is we’re looking at. Alternately, a piece is so visceral, so visually appealing, that greater meaning is of little immediate import.
Iconography is the Yellow Brick Road to bring viewers to conclusion. A visual storyline can carry the gaze into fresh and compelling ideas, a door to our own larger intellectual and emotional selves.
Icelandic artist "Hreinn Fridfinnsson: For the Time Being" exhibition, which runs through May 1, 2022, was well worth my time visiting MOAD. His work is often partnered with long thoughtful paragraphs to nudge us along on his journey.
One piece on view is a duad of photographs showing large rocks. Peaceful, simple, a windswept knoll. Got it. I’m ready to move on… but then, the artist’s script releases a fully realized story. At this point, I had to take photos to bring home and savor, rather than read/see and move along. That reaction kept on throughout the surprisingly large multi-room exhibition. My mind bounced along with each new revelation into a world unlike Miami’s "look-at-me, look-at-me, look-at-me" daily existence. Much as we love it, subtle nuance is not Miami’s brand.
For more of an insight there are exhibition tours planned including one on Saturday, March 12 at 4 p.m. with fellow Icelander Magnus Sigurdarson. Other tours are scheduled throughout the exhibition.
Background: Iceland as a country is off the loud advertising grid… not the gateway vacation destination a newly minted adult strives for right out the gate. I have scant knowledge of what forms an Icelanders gestalt, i.e. what is the foundation for Icelandic artists?
How much of past culture is pertinent to understanding a creators work? The more I read about Fridfinnsson the faster I tumbled down this thought provoking rabbit hole.
Not only is the work quiet and contemplative, but the artist’s natural, intrinsic environment is cold and solitary, tempting viewers to ponder a more meditative lifestyle. MOAD, housed in the historically steeped Freedom Tower, is the perfect venue to aid in plucking ideas out of an experience.
Fridfinnsson’s end result is often visually simple but the road to his conclusions are vast and profound. How can he speak to the chaotic nature of the typical urban viewer with a very different daily habitat, a sweeping isolated lone-ness of the Icelandic country side? The thought was attractive after a week of hair-ripping urban ills.
I figured I would probably lose my mind if faced with that much quietude in any quantity, but the inner stillness that this exhibition suggests does have an attractive pull. The artist weaves in sacred geometry, fractals, the Fibonacci code and myriad personal notations of repetitive shapes throughout nature. Can we use the artists thoughts to make sense of our own reality? I found plenty of ideas to take back and apply to this particular world.
One such “ponder-full” moment is a single shoe place on the floor, it’s only mate a reflection in a silver mirror. (shall we draw an invisible line to our modern penchant for selfies? Just asking.) The accompanying paragraph, among other comments, queries the viewer… (this) "may suggest a psychological dimension in the situation of locating one’s match in one’s own reflection. At the same time, the shoe seems a bit forlorn, separated from its counterpart trapped in the looking-glass world." I doubt I need to comment further on his thought. And on and on the poignant observations go. At first blush, another world, but clearly relatable upon, um, reflection.
The work is filled with Icelandic curses and tales, a background that you cannot separate from the artists output. And get this… Iceland is populated almost completely by original Norse inhabitants and their descendants and one of the most homogeneous gene pools on the planet.
The melding of ingredients in our “melting pot” of a country, our cultural stew, tended to be touted as an exciting new concept, but now, the pot itself appears to be melting. Juxtaposing Icelands less complex origin is an interesting discussion, albeit fraught with touchy comparisons.
I asked MOAD Executive Director and Chief Curator Rina Carvajal a few questions for clarification.
Irene Sperber: How did MOAD come to select this artist to bring to the Miami sensibility? And was there a specific startling epiphany once the pieces were exhibited on the museum walls?
Rina Carvajal: “Fridfinnsson is a fiercely intelligent artist who creates work that delights us with its poetry and storytelling while it makes us examine ourselves in the act of perception. He has been greatly influential on a number of younger European artists but is nearly unknown in the United States. Those reasons alone were enough for us to be the first American museum to organize a show of his work and bring his decades-long practice to the attention of Miami. But we also felt that his lightness of touch, his sometimes breathtakingly economical use of materials, his deft deployments of light and space, and the sense of wonderment that is palpable in his works offered Miami audiences a sort of a respite from the heaviness of the turmoil of the last few years.
"For me, the biggest epiphany has been to see the remarkable continuity of themes in his work and his continuously renewed sense of exploration over the course of nearly sixty years. To take one thread as an example, his use of glass and the way it reflects light and mirrors forms finds subtle yet stunning realization in works like For Light, Shadow, and Dust, first made in 1994, in which light reflects off of gold-leafed glass shelves to become a space-filling sculptural material in itself, or the two Untitled (Jars) from 2003 and 2004, which use stainless steel mirrors to make half of a glass vase into a whole and multiply another to infinity. Yet he also uses glass in a material way to suggest its liquid properties in 1979's 33 Drops and its function as a transparent membrane between realms in Morning Glory and Ace of Spades from 1999, in which fishing lures rest on shelves over our heads, suggesting that we viewers are the fish under the surface of the water.”
IS: Hreinn Fridfinnsson is a deeply contemplative artist. What would you like viewers to come away with?
RC: "In the end, I think I want Fridfinnsson’s works to help viewers reconsider our relationships to land and landscape, to everyday materials and their transformative possibilities, and to our own existence as beings who can observe and think and tell stories and create connections between what is there in front of us and what is suggested or elsewhere."
Fridfinnsson captures his world for the viewer to climb into. The MOAD exhibition will quiet your mind with visual simplicity. Given the state of the news it might be the best meditation/medication you can muster right now to soothe shredded nerves. I concur wholeheartedly with Curator Carvajal’s comment that "the full effects of Fridfinnsson’s work depends upon its relationship to the presence of the viewer. It really needs to be seen in person."
Speaking of icons, the Miami-Dade College MOAD museum is located in downtown's Freedom Tower. Erected in 1925, the building was designed by architects Schultze & Weaver to house The Miami News. The federal government processed Cuban refugees here in the 1960s. Freedom Tower has been a National Historic Landmark since 2008.
"Hreinn Fridfinnsson: For the Time Being" is on display through May 1, 2022.
Museum of Art and Design, Miami Dade College
Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Boulevard, Second Floor, Miami 33132.
Talks addressing Hreinn Fridfinnsson’s work: Exhibition Tour with Magnus Sigurdarson. Tour of the first American museum exhibition of his fellow Icelander Hreinn Fridfinnsson. 4 p.m., Saturday, March 12
Ivana Bago: Magic Conceptualism and the Work of Art. Based in Zagreb, Croatia, the curator will “speak about Fridfinnsson’s romanticism and the idea of “Magic Conceptualism.” 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 7
Linda Norden: Hot Pink and Secrets: What's in a Box? The New York curator will talk about “the sense of wonder, questioning, and storytelling that underlie Fridfinnsson’s art. 4 p.m., Saturday, April 23.
Also on view at MOAD through May 1, 2022: "Jorge Pardo: Mongrel" and "Loriel Beltrán: Constructed Color"