December 4, 2015
The works of Dan Colen might be understood as collective memories or truths, channeled into object form. As art crowds flock to Miami this week, so too, have Colen’s sculptures—boulders that have landed (by crane) on the beachside lawn of the new Nautilus, a SIXTY Hotel. Colen’s three brilliantly colored boulders are painted to resemble M&Ms, prompting viewers to consider the artifice of art.
Colen often imbues his works with meaning through the use of unconventional materials and unexpected surfaces. Take his chewing gum paintings, for example. These layered abstractions filled with daubs and smears of colorful chewing gum take us back to grade school naiveté and inevitable encounters with the sticky undersides of desks. Likewise, his confetti paintings, ebullient explosions of tiny swatches of colored paper on pure white grounds, have the ability to transport viewers to a great party, or perhaps more accurately, an enveloping sense of joy that you wish would never end. And while these works are often directly associated with the artist’s own infamously raucous youth in New York in the early 2000s, what’s more telling is Colen’s ability to mine everyday life for banal objects that have a universal pull, and to sanctify them, making them meaningful touchstones (or conversation starters) for a multifarious audience. And what better place to be charmed by Colen’s works than Miami, a city bathed in nostalgia and, for many, personal memories.
This Art Basel in Miami Beach week, Colen’s M&M sculptures greet beachside passersby as part of Artsy Projects: Nautilus, a weeklong series of artist installations, performances, and events presented by Artsy and Nautilus, a SIXTY hotel. The M&Ms, which are part of a series Colen began in 2012, originally appeared in New York as part of Marlborough Chelsea’s 2014 outdoor sculpture exhibition “Broadway Morey Boogie.” They draw on the artist’s longstanding use of boulders, and summon both the iconic candies and large hunks of the Earth. While they’re covered with a slick coat of paint—yellow, orange, or brown—and marked with the familiar, slightly faded white “m,” Colen maintains their geological character.
Colen’s first series of boulders were quite literally touchstones—physical objects that told stories of friends hanging out. Covered in graffiti, bits of gum, and bird droppings, the works served as relics of youth. Here, the boulders take on a complexity through their association with the chocolate Mars Inc. consumables, particularly, their shiny candy-coated Americanness. It’s a clever take on the notion of artifice, merging the natural world with the inordinately artificial, and a wry approach to consumption. Suitably perched between the hotel’s grandeur and the picturesque beach, and a stone’s throw from the convention center, the M&Ms emerge as a cheeky nod to the way fairs offer up art like candy.