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If we’re to interpret Trading Places 2 as taste demands, that is, the sequel to the 1983 John Landis movie, it would go like this:

When we last saw our friends Randolph and Mortimer Duke (played by Onajide Shabaka and Rick Ulysse), they were struggling and snuggling for warmth in Philadelphia, the city they once ruled. For the first time ever there is a seat without a Duke at the Commodities Exchange. Meanwhile, Winthorpe and Ophelia (Dona Altemus and Antonia Wright) cruised the Caribbean in their ketch, while Billy Ray (Magnus Sigurdarson) enjoyed his new wealth with a piña colada. But times change, people change, and some even want to become artists. Stranded by the Basel maelstrom on the shores of North Miami, our cast had little choice but to benefit from MoCA’s curatorial and technical assistance. What must they barter for this? This Faustian arrangement with Bonnie Clearwater and Brandon Opalka required that they make some art, while we are watching.

Happy to oblige, each of the group made what they saw fit and has displayed it in the spaces that MoCA so generously built for them. Looking quite similar to the art fair booths Miamians are so accustomed to, the work (all from 2012 [hopefully]) lay stark and centered at standard museum height. Not that this show is just about the work, let’s see them making work, or, maybe let’s just see them make anything. We paid admission after all. Billy Ray displays photographs of himself as the Beefeater Man paired with inflatable signage implementing complementary criticism in the verse of “super” and “fabulous.” Dearest Ophelia filmed herself rolling naked down a filthy alley in South Beach. Saucy. Winthorpe’s studio/zone has many works in progress, all in various states of completion. Or are they? And used to the pulpy feel of stocks and bonds from their Philadelphia days, the Duke boys make the expected leap into working on paper, here basking in the culturally-relevant Caribbean sun.

Returning to the museum a few weeks in, a quick walk through revealed that not much had changed. Mortimer and Ophelia were clicking away at their respective computers, awaiting their public. Light chitchat was followed by the inevitable “So what are you working on?” Meanwhile, Billy Ray Valentine had an unexpected treat: a visit from museumgoers from his native Iceland allowed him to explain his motorized Lazy Susan in his native tongue.

The studio of Billy Ray Valentine/Magnus Sigurdarson. Photo courtesy of MoCA North Miami.

Since watching artists work in their studios is not particularly exciting, the museum spiced things up with a tandem exhibition of Pablo Cano’s marionette musical. Charging admission to do open studio visits is something we should all implement, something that would at least relieve some of the pressure of paying off that MFA.  Coincidentally, the show has the feeling of a grad school studio block: a good deal of sharing, daily conversations, peer reviews.  Along with scheduled studio visits with the curator, MoCA has set up a gracious nurturing environment. The networking opportunities are reason enough for the artists to participate, but the rest falls flat. Do we, the viewer, need to participate in this zoo?

The artists’ choice to keep their spaces very comfortable to the viewer, with the focus on viewing existing work rather than creating new, reinforces this captivity.  We hope that by the closing there would be more for us to look at besides the artist being present. A few weeks later a closing reception/BBQ was had. Foot long hot dogs a plenty and a song by Billy Ray were the highlights. In the his studio, Winthorpe was overheard speaking with a patron:

Museum Patron: Burnt my fingers, man.

Louis Winthorpe III: I beg your pardon?

Museum Patron: Man, that piece is so hot, it’s smoking’.

Louis Winthorpe III: Hot? Do you mean to imply stolen?

Museum Patron: I’ll give you 50 bucks for it.

Louis Winthorpe III: Fifty bucks? No, no, no. This is a Rochefoucauld. The thinnest conceptual art piece in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, handcrafted in Switzerland, and water resistant to three atmospheres. This is the museum piece of 2012. Six thousand, nine hundred and fifty five dollars retail!

Museum Patron: You got a receipt?