Last week in Miami, just as Art Basel was beginning to feel like a desert of the truth, the British artist and mystic Matthew Stone arrived to create a spiritual oasis. “Love Focused Like a Laser,” the “electronic hybrid opera” he presented on Wednesday night with his gallery, the Hole, by the pool of the Shore Club, held the audience in rapture. For 20 barely rehearsed minutes, Stone, with the gender-bending performance artists boychild and Andre J. and the musicians Kelela and Zebra Katz, all dressed in Hood by Air, enacted an ecstasy of religious influences. Andre J. testified, Southern Gospel-style, about childhood sexual abuse before breaking into one of Stone’s favorite refrains: “Love changes everything.” Kelela and boychild formed a pieta among the bodysuited posse of ballerinas and rollerbladers. And Stone himself played a manic preacher, shaking in the wind of his own grandiose proclamations.
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“Art is intrinsically spiritual,” he explained the next day on the patio behind the Deauville Hotel. “Spirituality is about leading a meaningful life, and artists are meaning-makers.” Or mythmakers, one might say, but it’s tough to be cynical around a guy wearing a diamanté necklace that spells out “Everything is Possible.”
Stone’s optimism feels at once rainbowy and post-apocalyptic. A fan of both Andy Warhol and Kanye West, he makes a point of placing sincerity at the center of his artistic practice. “For much of the 20th century,” he said, “artists were mourning their disconnection from what would have been called God in the past. I think now we’re at the point that the process of mourning has been fetishized to the point that the idea of rebellion, as we understood it, is over. Lady Gaga has taken every possible subversion and spewed it back out, and no transgressive act against Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic traditional morality can ever be radical, or avant-garde, again.”
He paused, squinting into the sun. “Then what are we left with? Do we conform? No. As an artist, you create a world in which things are better and more just, and … you find the most powerful way to depict it.”
For this master collaborator, the power lies partly in artists recognizing art, which is perhaps why “Love Focused Like a Laser” felt neither conceptual nor cool, but more like an apotheosis of earnest community theater. In a week of performances and happenings in which sponsor logos were usually bigger than the artist’s name (if not the artist’s ego), Stone sounded justifiably a little proud when he explained that, despite his gallery’s best efforts, no brand wanted to pay for the work he had created.
WRITTEN BY SARAH PRICKETT FOR THE NY TIMES BLOG