Miami New Times’ Mastermind Awards honors the city’s most inspiring creatives. This year, we received more than 100 submissions, which our staff narrowed to an elite group of 30. We’ll be profiling those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year’s three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 28 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.
“That’s like trying to pick a favorite child,” Andrew Nigon says when asked about his favorite installation. Born and raised in Rochester, Minn., Nigon received his MFA from the University of South Florida in 2011. He lives and works in Miami, producing sculpture and figurative works both large and small. Nigon’s creations mesh religious iconography with a circus aesthetic, exploring the tension between two opposing metaphors and questioning the logic of established taboos. Through creation and repetitive deconstruction, the final product forms its own identity, often with stuff the kids can enjoy: Giraffes, balloons, and a stack of scary clowns.
Cultist: Of all the places you’ve shown your work, which was your favorite?
Andrew Nigon: I think the installation I did last summer at the Fashion Outlets in Chicago would probably be my favorite right now, just because of the exposure it has, for one. And having an artwork in a public space of that size has so many challenges that goes along with it. It’s a very large balloon cluster that’s hanging above a restaurant. So it being seen from so many different perspectives, where you’d actually be sitting at a table underneath this gigantic structure that’s sort of hovering over top of you, that’s got a very different feel than if you’re on the second floor looking over the railing at the same piece. I’m used to working in galleries or project spaces where you know what to expect walking into that place, or understand the protocol, or know you’re going to be looking at something. But when walking into a mall, people have completely different ideas of what they’re there for or what they expect to see. A 12-foot-wide by 21-foot-tall balloon cluster’s not it. That’s a very exciting thing, to have an object kind of sneak up on people a little bit.
What’s the best aspect of the Miami art scene?
Well I’ve only been here three years. I’ve seen it change a lot. I’ve seen Wynwood really kind of come into its own, and the Design District has changed a lot as well. The thing I like most about it is how open it still is. I feel like New York, Chicago, L.A., there’s an aesthetic and a style that’s associated with those places. Miami, at least as far as the art scene is concerned, it’s still wide open and anything goes. There’s just a really rich environment for experimentation and nobody really talks about how one thing or one artist fits or doesn’t fit into the Miami aesthetic. Anything goes, from minimalist, abstract paintings, to graffiti, to music; it’s just wide open. It’s really exciting to be an artist in this space, at this time. I think; as Miami finds its footing, to be a part of that, it’s a really special place in time.
And the worst?
Oh man. The collector’s scene. Trying to maintain a career in Miami, and trying to sustain one over a long period of time. And access a larger pool of collectors, I think. Miami is still young in that sense, too. So just being able to access enough sales to sustain a career here is a challenge. But like I said, as the scene figures itself out, that’s another thing that’s gonna figure itself out, too: How Miami supports the artists who live here. I don’t think it’s a lost cause or anything, that’s just sort of the dark side of being an emerging art scene, just that everyone’s trying to figure it out at the same time. I’m also figuring it out as I go, too, so that could be all bullshit, I don’t know. From where I’m sitting today, that’s how I see it.
You’ve mentioned previously that your Roman Catholic upbringing inspired your work with religious iconography. Do any modern depictions of religion influence you now?
From my personal perspective, the first thing that comes to mind is almost a negative influence. When I was in Minnesota, new Roman Catholic churches are trying to modernize their aesthetic by getting rid of the statuary, getting rid of the tall ceilings and the columns. I’m seeing that the modernization of the Catholic church is trying to make it look more like a like dentist’s office, where it’s comfortable and not very offensive; trying to make it G-rated. The first thing I noticed was the image of Jesus taken off the cross, so instead of a crucifix behind the altar you’ll just have a very plain cross. That goes into a lot of my thinking about the Midwest. Specifically, the Catholic church in the Midwest. There’s a tendency to want to clean everything up and to simplify, because that’s a comfortable feeling. Just trying to unify and make everything generic, I see that as a negative in the fact that you’re also taking the power that the Catholic church has. So much of that faith is built around the objects associated with the symbolism and iconography. So I guess in my work, I’m trying to hang on to those things, or at least reach out and grab the parts of the faith I feel some connection to or some power from.
Are you working on anything now?
I’m actually in a good spot right now where I don’t have anything coming up in the immediate future. I’ve got, like, three projects that have been going on for a while. I like to let artwork sort of gestate, live, grow, and fall apart. The studio right now is full of things, almost like these life forms that live with me. If I bump into a piece, it falls over, it breaks. I built a giraffe that I showed during Basel, and there was a windstorm, and it fell over and broke. Now I’m in the process of repairing that, but that’s the exciting part of my work. Watching these objects go through their life. Like I said before, it’s kind of like raising children where you have an idea of what you want to create, and then the thing itself at some point takes over, has a life of it’s own, and goes its own way. Even if it’s not what you were planning on, in that process it does get scarred, it does get broken and put back together and a story is sort of developed around it. It builds its own narrative, so that’s kind of what’s happening now. Old works are being taken apart, I’m borrowing parts, creating new ideas, redeveloping new ideas. That’s a good place to be.