Where: The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)
When: Through September 27
Why it Matters: For the famously belligerent Surrealists, “the fistfight was a mode of artistic expression, in a way,” said Shana Lutker. The Los Angeles-based artist has been bringing form to historic fisticuffs since 2012, when she initiated the series whose latest installment, on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), occasioned our conversation. This body of work has had a peripatetic public life, appearing in various forums internationally — including at Performa 13, where I encountered it in 2013. But at PAMM, Lutker’s mise-en-scène, titled “Again Against, A Foot, A Back, A Wall,” is on view not merely as a set but as a minimalist exhibition in the museum’s project space. (A related performance, “The Average Mysterious and the Shirt off its Back,” was also staged on May 7.)
Presented in a relatively spare space dominated on one side by a pink wall and in the center by a large natural-wood stepped platform, the objects on view rein in the maximalist impulses of the Surrealists with the austerity of minimalism — an exercise that is itself a kind of aesthetic fistfight. In “The antidote is on the table,” 2015, the material (a pile of crushed glass) recalls Robert Smithson, while the explicit reference (the glass is from medicine bottles) is to “Au Pied du Mur,” a 1924 play by Louis Aragon. Similarly, a mirrored box with an internal light — “A handsome confused puppet,” 2015 — bears a quote from a poem by Robert Desnos (“I’ve dreamed of you so much I don’t think there is time to wake up”) even as its form suggests, again, Smithson. (Elsewhere, there are echoes of Carl Andre and Robert Irwin.)
A book displaying two chapters of the eight she intends to dedicate to her research on the fights is on view at the entrance to the gallery. “I collected these eight fights, and they were all fights that were covered in the newspaper in the weeks following, so they were newsworthy, they weren’t just brawls in a bar over a woman or a drink,” Lutker explained. Though the arcana of this history makes great fodder for theatricality, as the popularity of Lutker’s performances in this series has shown, it is the reconciliation of the machismo of the Surrealists with the rigor of the minimalists in her objects that makes the show at PAMM particularly interesting. And though others, most notably Sam Durant, have productively toyed with the archives of Surrealism, Lutker’s playfulness balances severity and pleasure to great effect.