Luis Gispert’s first solo museum exhibition, at MOCA’s Goldman Warehouse annex, was an overview of his work from the past decade. Curated by museum director Bonnie Clearwater, the show contained a broad array of large-scale photos, films, sculptures and installations. Using lots of bling and bass, the New Jersey-born, Miami artist absorbs in his works various trappings of urban culture, integrating and juxtaposing outrageous audio systems, plush and gaudy interior spaces, and hip-hop ornament. Within these parameters, Gispert aims for a new kind of baroque drama and satire by contrasting beauty and grotesquerie.
Goalie (1999) is one of his first photographs to explore levitation, a recurring theme. In the photo,â?¯artist William Cordova hovers in midair in front of a soccer goal, brandishing a gun in each hand. Gispert parodies here the decisive moment of zero gravity in sports photography or stills from action movies. The photo series “Cheerleaders” also uses levitation in a flamboyant mix of sports reportage and high drama. Each “cheerleader,” photographed suspended by wires in a chroma-key room that matches her uniform, appears to be in suspended animation. One large example, Untitled (Hoochy Goddess), 2001 (72 by 40 inches), shows a single young model in midair against a bright green ground. She holds up her arms and hands in a gesture that recalls religious iconography. Though she poses as if in a state of profound spiritual enlightenment, the cheap, flashy costume jewelry she wears projects a rather trashy image if not a profane mindset.
There is far greater complexity in Gispert’s more recent photos. These digitally altered large-format prints (averaging 6 by 9 feet) appear to be shot from within a “tricked-out” Peterbilt truck with elaborate dashboard controls, tacky vinyl upholstery and shiny chrome trim. The lush interiors clash with the abject urban and rural scenes visible through the windshields. In Untitled (Escalades), 2007, the view outside the vehicle looks like a battle-scarred city in Iraq. According to a press statement, though, it is an abandoned Southern California desert mining town, whose midcentury tract housing crumbles daily from both the natural elements and the army’s use of it for combat training and target practice.
Gispert’s films, Cinemascope-looking mini-extravaganzas, constantly shift between portraiture and complex narratives. The 12-minute Stereomongrel (2005) centers on the spiritual awakening of a 12-year-old protagonist. She journeys to the Whitney Museum, encounters two Spanglish-speaking security guards and a pair of “curators” who don wacky costume jewelry and disfiguring prosthetics. With the help of computer imaging, Gispert conveys the visceral emotions of religious ecstasy by rendering luminous lines and waves that emanate from some of the characters in the film. In his most recent effort, Rene (2008), he moves away from computer graphics toward an intimate portrait of a family friend. Filmed over 10 days, this striking, three-channel video, focusing on a Cuban émigré to the U.S., is an exercise in neo-realism. The film marks a sea change for the artist as the footage centers on the subject’s solitary routine in a machine shop. Though it lacks the kitsch feel and pop fizz of Gispert’s earlier work, the film continues the forceful and surprisingly consistent quest for the transcendent found throughout this exhibition.
Photo: Luis Gispert: Rene, 2008, three-channel digital video, 16-minute loop; at MOCA, North Miami.