Words by Bill Kearney
Celebrated Miami artists Brandon Opalka and Reed van Brunschot choose Garcia’s Seafood Grille & Fish Market on the banks of the Miami River to talk art, ABMB, and the joys of fried food.
Peruvian-Dutch artist Reed van Brunschot creates three-dimensional pieces that can be both wry and forlorn, depending on how the wind blows (literally), and Brandon Opalka’s work shifts between painting and installations meant to honor as well as disrupt our notions of where we are. Each artist has art displayed at local galleries this month.
How does the environment and physicality of Miami affect your work?
Brandon Opalka: For me, I’ve been interested in the history, to go back as far as the Native Americans that lived along this river. [I’m interested in] how their souls could be present in this modern society now, how we’re building all this architecture on sacred Indian land. So I’ve been feeling, as an artist, how I can put myself in their shoes.
Reed van Brunschot: I grew up in Miami and went away for 10 years to Amsterdam and came back. There was culture shock, for instance, the use of plastic bags that creeps into my work. Yet South Florida [has] some of the best sunsets and skies I’ve ever seen. Miami is colorful and hot blooded, and there are a lot of personalities here. That makes it a really interesting melting pot to feed artwork.
RVB: These are amazing. I tend to not like fried things, but this [mahi-mahi] is not overly bready. And the fried oysters—I love them raw, since working with Mignonette [a seafood restaurant that commissioned her work], but it’s nice to have them fried, too, to just pop in your mouth.
Since we’re talking fried food, Brandon, let’s talk about your art installation Janigans, in which you actually served fried food.
BO: Growing up down here, my mother always took me to dive bars. I had this idea of making an installation inspired by this dive bar [Flanigan’s], and named it after my mother, Janice. It was an homage to her. I built all the furniture, we had kegs and TVs and sports, and at the opening we had all fried food—fried Oreos, fried cheese. I think people had a good time and forgot they were in an arts experience.
Reed, what about the piece you did for Mignonette?
RVB: The restaurant wanted an arch, but I found these things called hyperbolic paraboloids—shapes formed by lines, and by the way that the lines are shaped, without bending them, they create curves. And I like that contradiction—the illusion of curves without having to bend. So I created these structures out of copper, which will patina.
Brandon, does your research on place play into the work you’ll have up at Emerson Dorsch this month?
BO: I’m making a cave. You’ll crawl through 30 feet. It’s less about making something that works in your house, and more about something enjoyable that inspires people. Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams also plays into it. I was like, “Wow, we’ve been painting for 30,000 years and this is where we’re at? Jeff Koons?” There’ll also be a Neanderthal reciting Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show the Inexplicable Universe.
Reed, what will you have up during Basel week?
RVB: I’m working with Primary Projects in a group show called the “International Friendship Exhibition,” and it’s based on where North Korea houses all the gifts that [foreign] diplomats give to the government, like, “Oh, look how much the world loves us.” [The exhibit] is an exercise in contradictions, since that’s very much what’s happening there—this contradiction of blatant lies and propaganda. I’m making a ride with stair-lift chairs used to help old people. I can’t reveal too much. It’s a ride where you’re supported but not supported.
How has Basel affected art commerce for you?
RVB: I had a show last year at the Freehand, and I met a curator from Brazil and ended up doing a show there. The art scene here casts a wider net now.
BO: This notion of Mary Boone coming to your art show and discovering you… [Shrugs] It’s great to have the fair, but I don’t think the huge collectors get off the beach.
RVB: There are a few different worlds going on. There’s the gallerist and the collectors, then there’s the smaller curators doing more experimental things, and the onlookers. Every once in a while, you have some good luck. And it’s about everybody that circles around this giant machine. It’s done great things for Miami—art programs, residencies, more education with contemporary art, driving more people to move here, to come back, like myself.
RVB: I’ve had conch fritters but never steak.
BO: I love conch. Why not have it in a steak form? If they had a conch dessert, I would try it. It’s the right amount of fishiness. I play with conch in the bay, on sandbars. You know, one thing about being here is that with all the stress of living in a city, we have the beach and can always go. There’s a chemical in the salt water that helps refresh your mind. Even if you don’t go, you still know it’s there.