Artist Bhakti Baxter Breaks Brand
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It’s telling that Baxter’s concerns fly first to an artist’s peers—not curators, critics, or collectors. But bucking an established path has worked out pretty well so far. Now 32, Baxter was part of the first generation of Miami-raised artists who chose to stay in South Florida rather than light out for commercially greener pastures. Indeed, prior to the late ’90s milieu in which he graduated from the DASH magnet high school, most Miamians looking to make a living from their art had two options: land a teaching job or head north. The local art market was anemic at best.
“That decision was made for me,” he explains of his enrolling in Miami’s New World School of the Arts’ BFA program. “I could move to New York, drown in school debt, and live in a [dingy] apartment with eight people I don’t like. Or I could get a free ride here and start something fresh with my friends. In New York everyone’s scrambling to push their way past bottlenecks. Here it’s just ‘do what you want.’ It was an economic decision, but it was also about seeing the potential that Miami’s affordability allowed.”
Case in point: The House, a two-story 1930 Edgewater home that Baxter rented with fellow artists Martin Oppel and Tao Rey (as well as later roommate Daniel Arsham). “It was $1,000 between three people. For a whole house with a big backyard! So we could afford to have a gallery downstairs.” Subsequent shows at The House—and their accompanying over-the-top parties—not only established The House crew as some of Miami’s most dynamic young talent, but they caught the eye of Museum of Contemporary Art director Bonnie Clearwater. By 2001, Baxter had yet to graduate college, but his work was already being exhibited at MOCA, while his face was smiling back from the front page of The New York Times’ arts section. The arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach further accelerated his ascent.
If Baxter now seems a bit chastened by the expectations of that rapid rise, his artwork has come full circle. He’s certainly become more technically accomplished, but his sculptures look back to themes from earlier in his career, before his mid-decade embrace of figuration. You can once again see his dueling fascinations with the precision underlying mathematical science as well as the weirdly unpredictable energy that seems to lurk just beneath the surface of so much of Miami’s landscape. Even those Imploded Ball Barf pieces, for all their chaotic appearance, are constructed by a strict formula: only found objects from the streets and train tracks that abut Baxter’s Little Haiti studio, and only as much colored concrete “barf” as would actually fit inside the pre-imploded ball. “Anything can be profound. Even trash found along the train tracks can embody huge questions in physics.” The key is to avoid losing sight of the world beyond the galleries: “It’s not ‘I went to the show, so-and-so was there, I got the joke, did you get the joke? Haha, we’re in this elite group called the art world.’ It’s more inspiring to me that objects can take on a new life. In art, one plus one can equal three any time—when two things come together, magic can happen.” And if this intuitive approach doesn’t yield the kind of immediate results of a drawing or painting? “You just need to keep digging, you need to have faith,” Baxter says, before flashing a smile. “You drag some fresh trash into the studio!” To view artworks from Bhakti Baxter’s Rompelotas exhibition, contact Gallery Diet, 174 NW 23rd St., Miami, 305-571-2288
photographs courtesy of bhakti baxter and gallery diet (artworks); jim arbogast (baxter)