Miami artist Tom Sicluna's recent show, 6329 NW 2nd Ave, at Nina Johnson Gallery may provoke the following reactions:
1. "I like the show."
2. "I don't know what to think of the show." Scicluna hasn't done much here, e.g., if anything, the artist just set up "found" grills on the gallery wall. Is that art?
3. "I hate the show."
1. & 3. need no help from me. Aesthetics has a noble line of emotivist critics defending the idea that value judgments are really emotive states clothed as rational cogitations (I disagree, and will discuss precisely this point later).
I was at the Scicluna's vernissage and did my DIY anthropological field study. Conclusion: Of those present at the gallery, very few actually got close to the pieces (and thus, missed important notes). They seemed oblivious, puzzled or both, more into talking-mode than seeing-mode.
Coming back to 2: True, Scicluna hasn't done much (the reason is that there is not much to do).
On the other hand, Scicluna knows what he is doing and wants to do it. One has to be crazy to do this sort of art precisely because of stereotypes associated with 2. (in case 2. was a legitimate point against Scicluna's art).
We need a little background info. The following excerpt appears in the notes to the show:
The artist looked to ongoing renovation of Nina Johnson gallery... he removed the iron security grills from the property’s external façades and installed them in the gallery itself ... mounted on the walls ... while these grills have a rough industrial presence, closer inspection reveals them to be individualized and possessing almost poignant details.Let's not sugar-coat the fact: These are oxidized iron grilles ready for metal scrapping. Only that Scicluna finds a higher purpose for these things.
Is this art? Forget about art for a second. Scicluna is not fighting anything, nor trying to prove anything art-related. The time for art fights is gone. Neither is he playing within "binaries" –as the notes to the show predictably announce (in poor Derridean). He just loves the beat up, oxidized quality of these wrought iron windows.*
To the people in 2.: If you were the artist, would you have a show of iron grilles just out of the factory at Nina Johnson? Negative. Scicluna is an artist, not a window/grille salesman. The materials point to time, because time is change. And time, as it were, joins forces with beauty.
Scicluna shows how time opens up the thinghood of the thing. How oxygen and water and iron mass converge and eventually become rust. Yes, there's beauty on the surface of these oxidized bars.
Look at this detail:
Surface rust is flaky and friable. When it happens, the iron's inner forces have given up. There's no more protection from the underlying iron res, as the the white paint only defers the inevitable a bit more. Rust is Real.
Let's magnify this baby:
Rusting up close. A marvel of nature.
This is chemistry! Perchance you may agree with me that there's beauty in the rust. If you don't, stop reading. This is not for you.
You still here?
Rust is beautiful because it is inevitable. Scicluna presents an actual world that has all of us as members. The oxidation below are you and me, a process going on right now in our blood and gut and bones.
There was certainly beauty before we ever learned to value it (was there not beauty in the sunsets of the late Cambrian?). If so, beauty is not perforce a human value.
* Clearly these are not the only aesthetic notes to explore here. I just think they are more relevant than other notes, such as psychological or urban/social intersections, in that they are primary, e.g., they address the thing itself, independently of our value judgments.