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Experiencing Laura Kimpton at Art Basel Miami Beach

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The art fair model has finally fully run its course with me. Attempting to experience art in stacked rows in a white tent has completely lost its allure. I’ve felt my interest wane the past few years, but this past week drew my intrigue to a close. Feeling the same lack of luster of having artwork shown in a booth, artist Laura Kimpton made her Miami presence experiential, by taking over the beautiful SLS South Beach Hotel. “Myths, Words & Fire” not only got Kimpton out of the white tents and convention center, but also brought Art Basel attendees something they weren’t used to- the art of fire. I met with Kimpton and her team at the sprawling SLS South Beach Hotel for a breakfast break that coincided with a heavy downpour that was delaying installation of her total hotel takeover.

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Art Basel Miami Beach can be a funny place, a mixing of art world socialization and snobbery- depending which fair, artist or gallery you’re interacting with. For someone like me (an independent writer/curator not attached to a blue chip gallery or printed publication), I am often met with a little of both, which I try not to let affect my art viewing experience. But Kimpton and her team welcomed me with warmness, which I only bring up because this attitude is directly relatable to experiencing her art work.

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Kimpton has made a name for herself namely from her oversized word sculptures (made with Jeff Schomberg) shown each year at Burning Man, a festival known for its openness, friendliness and acceptance of anyone there to experience art and dance. This welcoming approach has permeated her work, as well as her presence in Miami. But her SLS takeover goes beyond her iconic word sculptures, and delves deeper into Kimpton’s oeuvre, which includes mixed media sculptural pieces made from found objects- both original and reproductions printed boldly on large canvases , custom-window sticker prints of her typewriter series, ornately framed video assemblages, oil paintings replicated on 200 pillows strewn about the lounges, and of course her metal sculptural works, including an 8 foot mermaid, a centaur, and a moat with flaming steel books that shoot fire into the sky at the beach’s edge.

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Clearly, “Myths, Words & Fire” is not a typical exhibition, it is an experience. Unlike many hotels in South Beach, the SLS has its own distinct flavor, more rugged and woodsy than the typical neon-and-swimming pool look of Miami hotels, making it a palatable backdrop for Kimpton’s expansive works. From the front door to the edge of the two massive swimming pools, her artworks work their way into the fabric of the hotel’s design. The façade of the hotel itself was transformed into a canvas, with a three story painted wrap that I first thought was part of the area’s famed Art Deco design. One of her word sculptures, LOVE, greets visitors, drawing them into a climbing metal tree of fire, and an art truck stacked with old school televisions blaring videos of fire, art, and Kimpton flying with angel wings. Kimpton even has a pop up fashion shop, where visitors can buy clothing imprinted with her oil paintings, or jewelry with Kimpton’s signature bird (which is also the shape of the holes in her letter sculptures).

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This may sound overwhelming, but in effect, it creates a total submersion into Kimpton’s world, and quite honestly a respite from the chaos that is the entire art world convening in one small city outdoors. “Myths, Words & Fire” left a bigger impression on me than any piece I saw in one of the art fairs. Aside from meeting an incredible artist, I left the installation feeling like I just experienced something, inspired and for the first time ever…interested in going to Burning Man just to experience Kimpton’s work again.”Myths, Words & Fire” runs until December 31st.

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All images ©Sidney Erthal Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kimpton’s background is not typical- her father is hotelier Bill Kimpton, the owner of boutique hotels around the world. From this world Kimpton was more inspired by her father’s ability to create boutique installations in his hotels, transferring that ability to her own grandiose installation art work.

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