A.A. Rucci is upping the edge factor at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. His new series is not just avant garde, it's Emergent Garde — and the inaugural show holds appeal not just for arts mavens but for audiences raised on superheroes and New Wave.You might remember Rucci as a member of artist collectives Experimental Skeleton and Titanic Anatomy, or more recently as curator and co-founder of the Beaker Gallery in downtown Tampa. Projects he's been involved in have consistently received Best of the Bay awards from this paper, and he was named Best Versatile Artist in 2002 for his work as a performance, installation and conceptual artist as well as his accomplishments in more conventional media.
Rucci joined the museum staff in December as registrar/exhibitions coordinator, which means he maintains the collection and attends to the details of exhibitions. But he's also doing some curating, and his aesthetic promises to provide an edgy counterpoint to the fine work of Executive Director Ken Rollins, who has been a major force in recognizing and developing Florida's visual art and artists over the past 20 years.
"Ken's focus has been mid- to late-career artists," says Rucci. "The museum has done a lot of retrospectives of recognized artists. ... That's great, but I want to focus on artists who haven't yet had their first museum show."
For The Emergent Garde series, Rucci will select one Florida-linked artist each year whose career is beginning to emerge in the international arena and give that artist his or her first solo museum show.
The first show is White Boys and Heroes by Beatriz Monteavaro, a Cuban-born Miami-based artist/filmmaker/drummer whose work employs pop-culture figures engaged in B-movie-style heroic quests. Her work has been included in Art Basel-Miami Beach and in exhibitions in Rotterdam, Switzerland, Madrid, Chicago and the Dominican Republic. She came to the United States at age 2, so she doesn't identify with her native country. "I'm more interested in monster movies and superheroes," she says. "My cultural heritage is Disney and Creature Feature."
Monteavaro's inspiration and central hero figure is 1980s new-wave icon Adam Ant, and the narrative thread of her work often follows events in his life. Her video Antics in the Forbidden Zone, which will be shown at the museum, features a battle between two sets of plastic action figures and monsters that she has altered in various ways. The story line was inspired by an incident in Adam Ant's career in which he was trying to transcend his status as a cult act in London in spite of the apparent hostility of the British music press.
In Monteavaro's video, the press is symbolized by The Emperor, a naked muscle-bound Tarzan doll with a resculpted head, sporting a clear plastic crown. He's the only anatomically explicit figure in the video, but something about his penis looks a little weird.
"I believe his penis is fashioned out of a Sleeping Beauty arm and hand from a McDonald's Happy Meal doll," says Monteavaro, explaining that she kept him naked as a reference to the folk tale "The Emperor's New Clothes." Among the other combatants are a clown fashioned from a cupcake decoration, a miniature plastic garden gnome and a red, fanged, Tasmanian-devil-looking monster in a bikini.
Even if you aren't privy to Monteavaro's personal symbolism, the video is still a very funny send-up of cheesy sci-fi and action-adventure movies, with phony-looking sets and lighting, the occasional dramatic camera angle and percussive fight music. The way the unseen artist's hand is obviously moving the characters around as they pound each other has the playful feel of a puppet show put on by a precocious 10-year-old.
The exhibition itself is small, composed of only seven meticulously rendered, intricately detailed ink-and-gel-pen works on paper. "It's a Madhouse" is a very long (6-by-426 inches) multi-panel narrative featuring Adam Ant as the hero once again, this time on the Planet of the Apes. He's on a quest with Gary Numan to find a new supply of eyeliner, a precious commodity that once was plentiful but is now almost gone. On their quest, the two travel to the queendom of Siouxie Sioux, which is guarded by the apes. Our hero and his sidekick end up being captured and thrown into a cell occupied by Pablo Picasso. Picasso was one of Adam Ant's heroes, and many of Monteavaro's works reference an Adam Ant song titled "Picasso Visita el Planeta de los Simios"
In "Madhouse," Gary Numan has a video-game-style superhero power that enables him to absorb energy from fluorescent and incandescent lights. In one scene, he wields a fluorescent light rod that resembles a Star Wars light saber. In another, eyeliner pencils are packed like cigarettes in a box that looks exactly like a Marlboro hard pack.
"I wanted to show people that contemporary art doesn't have to be so serious," says Rucci. "It can be fun. You can fill in the narrative with your imagination and become a part of the piece."
His next planned exhibition at the museum also promises to be a fun one. It will be an outdoor sculpture show with Miami artist Gavin Perry in October. Perry, who happens to be Monteavaro's boyfriend, is known for his explorations of car culture, especially low-riders.
Contributing Editor Susan F. Edwards can be reached at [email protected] weeklyplanet.com.