MAKING SH*T UP IS A MOVIE ABOUT MIAMI CONCEPTUAL ARTIST BERT RODRIGUEZ. FOR THREE YEARS, DIRECTOR BILL BILOWIT AND PRODUCER GRELA ORIHUELA OF WET HEAT PROJECT DOCUMENTED THE ENERGETIC RISE OF THIS IRREVERENT ARTIST AS HE VENTURED BEYOND HIS HOMETOWN TO PENETRATE THE INTERNATIONAL ART MARKET. YET, EVEN AS HIS WORK EARNED HIM NOTORIETY, RODRIGUEZ CONTINUED TO BE AMAZED THAT HE IS ACTUALLY PAID TO “SIT AT HIS DESK AND MAKE SHIT UP.”
TEXT Michael Sellinger
PHOTOS Courtesy Wet Heat Project
Having followed Bert’s career over the years, I was excited to view the aptly named movie recently in New York at the CORE: Club. Afterwards, I had a chance to talk with the filmmakers about Wet Heat, the movie, Miami and, of course, Bert.
“…if art didn’t exist, I would probably still be doing something like this and figuring out a way to share it with other people. And I’d probably fucking look crazy and be homeless. Fortunately there’s this system and industry that exists, that supports that sort of behavior.” —Bert Rodriguez
BILL BILOWIT: We had been in corporate video business in New York. In 1997 we decided to move to Miami part time for a lifestyle change. Most of our clients were international and did not care where we were. Plus, Grela had family and friends in Miami.
GRELA ORIHUELA: I’m Cuban.
BB: We were always working when in New York and had little time for art.
GO: But in Miami we would search things out whenever we were in town. We found all these kids doing interesting projects such as the House, the Box, and lab6. Over time, we got to know many people. Then one day in New York, I saw art work I liked in a gallery on Madison Avenue and realized the artist also showed in Miami.
BB: I thought that if we live in Miami, we should support the scene.
GO: The artist was Luis Cruz Azaceta and he was showing at Fred Snitzer Gallery. While at the gallery, we saw works on paper by Hernan Bas and bought one. That was the beginning of our relationship with Hernan.
BB: That was 2000.
ON WET HEAT PROJECT:
GO: 2007 was a turning point for us. We thought of doing a documentary, and the Miami art scene seemed like a great subject and opportunity.
BB: All our big picture discussions would occur on the commutes to and from Miami. On our way to Miami International Airport for Thanksgiving in 2007, we discussed what we love most, which was making films and experiencing art. The idea of filming Hernan seemed natural.
GO: By the time we boarded the plane, we had spoken with Hernan, Fred and the Rubells, who were presenting a solo exhibit of Hernan’s work during Art Basel Miami Beach. Everyone was on board. Over Thanksgiving, we did all the preproduction since the fair and Hernan’s solo opened immediately after the holiday.
BB: Wet Heat was officially formed in early 2008. Then, when we realized we needed to expand into shorts if we wanted to capture the entire Miami art scene, which was going through a boom cycle, we created WETHEAT.TV. We started production for wetheat.tv in June 2008 and premiered in November 2008; it now averages several hundred new visitors a month, without any promotion.
BB: Our films are about capturing a journey, not the destination. They are about the moment when an artist explodes. It’s about a young artist dealing with attention and success
GO: The films are also stories of Miami.
BB: When creating a film, we follow the subject. It is a process of discovery for us, which we make sure to capture on film. We take a genuine journey with the artist. The hardest part is when to stop.
GO: Our experience shapes the film
BB: The films are not profiles or documentaries in the traditional sense. They are about change with Miami artists as the protagonist and their careers as the storyline. Bert was at a unique moment, a local artist going global, and the film is about capturing that moment.
…AND THEN THERE WAS BERT
BB: We started shooting Hernan in 2007 during ABMB at his Rubell Collection exhibition.
GO: During the shooting, Bert arrives and rants about art fairs, the art market and the art scene in Miami. He then mentions that he is having a clearance sale of everything he ever made the following month at ArtLA.
BB: We looked at each other and said there’s our next film.
GO: Bert was amazed by everything and was basking in the craziness of it all. Specifically, the elaborate and celebratory hoopla with which an artist’s work can be staged, presented and positioned to the public. He sees irony everywhere, which is reflected in his work.
BB: The irony at that time in his life was about experiencing a burgeoning art career poised for takeoff. Bert’s art was at that moment aiming its sites squarely at the art world itself.
GO: When we asked what he was up to next. He told us about his project for ArtLA, where he would be purging his life’s work. He also hinted at being in the Whitney Biennial. The purging was to get him ready for the next stage of his career. Here we were filming Hernan as his career was about to change and another artist came along whose career seemed verged to make the next leap.
BB: We asked Bert who influenced or paved the way for him and the first person he mentioned was Vito Acconci.
GO: We then spoke with Marina Abramovic, because we wanted the opinion of a successful practitioner of performance / conceptual art. Someone that could speak of the career challenges that Bert was facing. Marina shared lessons and experiences.
BB: Like how Bert as a performance artist is going to pay rent giving free foot massages.
GO: I read Jerry Saltz regularly and thought he had a voice that was right for Bert’s film. He’s combative like Bert (irreverent and provocative, yet meaningful). They have similar personalities.
BB: There is a scene in the film where Jerry and Bert confront each other at Bert’s piece in the Whitney Biennial, which I had cut into the film not knowing who Jerry was. He was just another guy in a place he should not be and Bert was reacting. He didn’t recognize Jerry either.
GO: I reached out to Jerry afterwards. When I first spoke to him, he tried to remember the piece and Bert’s work. Initially, Jerry said he would not do the interview because he did not know Bert’s work and could not speak to it. I suggested that I describe the work and he could react. It took one year of cajoling. Then after the interview, we realized we had this precious moment in the film when Bert and Jerry cross paths, not knowing each other.
THIS IS THE END, AGAIN
BB: The film was finished and being screened. Then Bert signed with a Los Angeles gallery and decided to move there.
GO: So we wanted to give the film a Hollywood ending — the kind of career irony most fitting with Bert’s work. Bert had signed with an aggressive gallery. We wanted to see how the story developed.
BB: The film now ends with Bert dissatisfied with the results to date in Miami, but accepting of the likelihood that he would not be the kind of artist often appearing “on magazine covers”. Signing with Oh Wow, was not itself joyous — he was ready to pull himself out of a career that was coasting too much, and hooking up with Oh Wow was the kind of activation he needed to re-energize. It’s just that if you know Bert, the word “joyous” doesn’t quite fit!
BB: Sometimes you need to leave the familiarity of “home” to allow yourself the headspace to grow your ambition, aesthetic horizons, skills, and wisdom. In that sense Bert needs to leave “home”. But Bert told us specifically he’s still seriously invested in his Miami presence; his intention is to build a national and international representation which now begins with Miami plus LA.
GO: Now is a very exciting time again for Miami. There seems to be renewed energy in the art scene. Feels like when we first arrived. The community is reinvigorated.
BB: Artists’ leaving is a good thing that helps promote Miami. They don’t leave, they just live somewhere else. They are success stories that still feel rooted in Miami.
“I have worked with Bert a very long time and this film may never have an ending. Bert is Bert.” —Fred Snitzer