The Wolfsonian–FIU Presents a Site-specific Installation by Artist Bhakti Baxter: Untitled ([construction of good])
November 29, 2012 through April 7th, 2013
On view in The Wolfsonian Bridge Tender House
1001 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL
The Wolfsonian–Florida International University presents Untitled ([the construction of good]), a site-specific installation by Miami-based artist Bhakti Baxter that will be on view in The Wolfsonian Bridge Tender House beginning November 29, 2012.
The Bridge Tender House is one of two stainless-steel structures in the Art Deco style that were placed at either end of the NW 27th Avenue Bridge on the Miami River with its reconstruction in 1938–39. Saved from demolition in the late 1980s, the structure currently resides outside the entrance to The Wolfsonian where it intermittently serves as a space for temporary art installations.
Baxter cites the history of the Bridge Tender House as the central reference for his installation. In particular, he turns to a statement made by H. A. Wortham, then-regional director of the Public Works Administration, at its September 1939 inauguration ceremony: Wortham dedicated the bridge “to the construction of good for mankind.” Baxter notes how this simple phrasing effectively converts an act of labor (i.e. construction) and a product of labor (i.e. a bridge) into philosophical and moral principles.
“What exactly is meant by ‘good for mankind’ is always changing according to time and place,” says Baxter. “In the context of its original construction, the bridge and the Bridge Tender House provided practical services to cars and ships traveling on or over the Miami River, while at the same time acknowledging the value of good design in public works. Now with its mechanical guts removed, placed in a new and unexpected environment, the structure stands as a worthy relic of the Art Deco moment. Like the other contents of The Wolfsonian’s collection, it can help us to think through the complexity of such fundamental ideas as ‘good’ and ‘mankind’ by demonstrating how the meanings of things are perpetually shaped by their human and historical contexts.”
Baxter’s thought was also informed by his experience as a participant in Describing Labor, a forthcoming exhibition by artist Esther Shalev-Gerz, commissioned by The Wolfsonian and on view beginning December 3, 2012. As The Wolfsonian offers a picture of labor in its historic moment, both of these projects invite the public to rearticulate that picture for our own time.