August 3, 2016

Review of Orange Oratory by Amanda Keeley on IDSL

Transformer, the artist’s space which has the unfortunate distinction of being frequently overlooked in favor of the Whole Foods (including by yours truly), hosted the opening reception EXILE Books, an “experimental, hybrid installation/book-store/reading room/critical arts discourse lab.” To celebrate, the reception handed out free posters that were printed on transparent paper. I still sketch on transparent paper for the tactile nature, so I get it. That’s something co-host and author Amanda Keeley and I bonded over. If you want to get your paper porn fix, this is the place to be.

After perusing several books — featuring covers with beautiful embossing and gold stock, but with volumes of overwrought written art and culture theories; walling off anyone who may scrutinize them — I was determined to get something that wasn’t trying to keep me out. The description on the website notes:

Orange Oratory was inspired by a 1939 Miami Herald article announcing the opening of the 27th Avenue Bridge over the Miami River. Headlined “Fruit Juice and Oratory to Feature Span Opening,” the article detailed organizers’ choice of fresh-squeezed orange juice—a signature South Florida thirst quencher—to toast the new architectural landmark with city officials and the Miami community. The original Bridge Tender House was acquired by the Wolfsonian—FIU in the 1980s and is now installed at the front of the museum. After going through the Wolfsonian archives, Keeley selected items that don’t normally appear on view to the public to highlight the unusual and eclectic nature of the Wolfsonian collection. The selected pieces thematically link to the color orange; South Florida’s history as an exotic, tropical, tourist destination; and the citrus industry. While working with designer Richard Massey in creating this artist book, the pieces have been organized using an algorithm dictated by the orange color spectrum. Orange Oratory is also part of a greater, virtual exhibition and neon orange sculpture by Keeley that commemorates the project and hangs in the Bridge Tender House.

Unlike other books sold at EXILE’s reception, I found that Orange Oratory prioritizes the image and a strong concept over trying to explain itself. For a book publisher like EXILE based out of Florida, this was really the only piece that actually said something about Florida. Many of the other works seem disengaged with it’s surroundings, in contrast. That may have much to do with how EXILE is curated, but how often can we point to artists and critics making lofty theories about the world, but very little thought about the U.S. state they actually live in? Amanda tells me that the right side of the book are gradations of orange to complement orange tones of the image on the left. And given that orange can be a particularly difficult color, putting it in center focus is impressive. There’s a real studied eye of color theory and space that I think would make Josef Albers proud. This book is unpretentious, has a clear concept and honest approach, and really uses paper to tell the story.

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