by Jessie Aufiery

Sarah Michelle Rupert is a visual artist and arts professional living and working in South Florida. Working with photography, video, collage drawing and design, her work revolves around consumer, mass-communication and television culture in contemporary experience.

Her work has appeared in exhibitions at Pinecrest Gardens Gallery and David Castillo Gallery in Miami, FL, GalleryBar in New York, Olin Gallery at Kenyon College, OH and at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood.

She is currently the Gallery Director at Girls’ Club Foundation, a private collection and exhibition space dedicated to contemporary art by women, in Fort Lauderdale.

Sarah Michelle Rupert at Girls’ Club

Jessica Aufiery
They say tomorrow could be the end of the world.

Sarah Michelle Rupert
Yes! The Mayan apocalypse.

JA
Aliens may be involved. How will you prepare?

SMR
Well, I’m going out tonight. One last hurrah. [Laughter] I may not put out a welcome wagon, but it should be an interesting experience. Communication with different cultures has never been America’s strong suit.

JA
Maybe the aliens make art?

SMR
That’d be awesome! Do you think we’d embrace that? Would that be the new “other” art, now that we’re so global? [Laughter]

Girls’ Club / Ft. Lauderdale, FL

JA
How long did you live in New York?

SMR
I spent two non-consecutive years up there, one in the East Village and one in Williamsburg.

JA
Can you talk about working there?

SMR
There were barriers. Every single educated art history girl—and some boys—was there and they’re all looking for the same job and interns don’t get paid. They got treated like crap. It wasn’t a learning experience for interns. It was a lot of menial work that wasn’t rewarded. I found that with paid positions too there was a lot of competition and not a lot of opportunity. There wasn’t a lot of… I didn’t see the ability to grow as much as I saw in Miami.

JA
It feels exciting here.

SMR
Totally! It’s interesting to try and define what time we’re in now. It’s just that cusp of mainstream catching on, and everybody and their mother knowing what Basel is, that it’s happening here, that it’s a big f-ing deal. And the amount of new spaces popping up, the devotion of the people running them is amazing too. We’re seeing people planting roots here, we’re seeing their roots thrive, and connections growing and it’s exciting. Events are largely funded by artists or done as low cost as possible. You’ll see a lot of home galleries. A lot of young artists are showing in alternative spaces; they’re doing performance; they’re doing public art. It’s an exciting time to be in the scene.

JA
Do you have a favorite Miami artist, or group of artists?

SMR
I tend to follow Jillian Mayer’s work. I think she’s doing something amazing not only from a native Miami perspective—because she’s a homegrown artist—but what I’m seeing is devotion. At least from her and the artists she’s working with. A devotion to Miami that is really interesting. A push-pull, love-hate relationship.

Jillian Mayer, I AM YOUR GRANDMA (video)

JA
Your work deals a lot with television.

SMR
Yes, the earlier work sees television as a symbol of popular culture, communication culture, which I’m finding is taking me down different avenues. The work I’m exploring now is pulling away from television as the ruler of life. I’m interested in how the art world is growing and working and influencing—or at least popular culture’s role in that. I don’t want to call it groupthink, but spheres of influence that are not controlled by individuals. A mass force. There’s a necessary distrust of how accessible everything is now.

JA
Distrust of internet?

SMR
Distrust of this mass culture we’re living in. Internet, communication, Hollywood productions. Not that it’s all an elaborate conspiracy to control our minds but—

JA
Don’t forget the aliens.

SMR
They’re the ones who planted the Mayan calendar! [Laughter] They’ll be back to pick up their sundial soon. I think it’s all very connected.

JA
Do you have an obsession?

SMR
Yes! I’m obsessed with VIP cards from art fairs. They’re these beautiful little artifacts that have an expiration date of importance. They’re super-duper important for one week and people clamor to get them. I have friends calling, asking what I can get into. Do you have this? Bouncers at doors are saying, no, you can’t come in, but you, you’ve got this special card, you come here—

JA
You did a piece about this, yes?

SMR
I’m working on a few pieces. I’ve done collages from last year’s round of Art Basel cards, and I have a new batch with this year’s cards, and I’m starting to work a little more with cut paper and collage. I’m still not happy with where it is, but I’m hoping to work a lot on it before the year’s up.

Interior Girls’ Club

JA
Can you talk about celebrity?

SMR
As much as celebrity culture makes me feel icky, I love my gossip blogs, and looking at pictures of ridiculous people doing this, and hearing about that. Mostly photo based, though. I’m not really interested in their lives. I just want to see it. [Laughter] I love that five seconds of video where you see flashes popping off in peoples’ faces, and they’re like oh, I’m so upset to be such a celebrity, and to be so rich, and why do you have to take my picture? And it’s just this ironic, silly predicament that they get themselves into, and pretend not to like, love, get paid well for. [Laughter] It feeds a whole industry—multiple industries of telling stories about the people who act out stories for us. It’s this very weird, cannibalistic system that’s found its way into our hearts and homes.

JA
Banjo, keyboard, guitar or soprano opera?

SMR
Keyboard, because it seems the most fun to watch, and it has a lot of versatility, and it has sort of that nerd culture that guitar doesn’t have. Yeah, I can imagine the Video Killed the Radio Star video, and the guys with the piano ties just pumping away at the electronic keyboard.

JA
Favorite drink?

SMR
I’ve been drinking a lot of espresso lately. I used to have a favorite drink. It was Tab Energy. It was like the girl version of Red Bull. For a couple years I sought that out. Until I discovered it was going out of production and I scoured every little gas station that had it, and I even found cases of it online. [Laughter] Extraordinarily overpriced, so I never got it. But it was in a cute skinny pink can that had a lot of energy in it.

JA
Vilest food?

SMR
I don’t like star fruit. As pretty as it is. My grandmother has a beautiful tree with star fruit that she’s always giving me.

Sarah Michelle Rupert / the Balloon Pop, 2007

JA
How does your job at Girls’ Club influence your work?

SMR
It’s made me a lot more comfortable in being an artist. Being in the arts, seeing what other people have been doing has been really amazing. Being able to feel the pulse of Miami and Broward’s art scene. It has influenced me. Definitely with my VIP card obsession it’s sort of opening up this new obsessive culture of art world insiders. I don’t want to say insiders. I have to find a better word for that. […] I’m not the best at time-management. That’s my biggest challenge in straddling being an art administrator, director, and a working artist. It’s made it easy to be in contact with really, really interesting amazing people.

JA
Are boys allowed into Girls’ Club?

SMR
Yes, about 5-10% of the artists are men.

JA
Can you talk about Artists in Action?

SMR
We’re in our fourth year this 2013 season, and it started with an idea from our creative director Michelle Weinberg. We wanted to pull down that barrier between audience and artist. Each year we choose four artists from Miami or Broward or Palm Beach who are in some way connected to the exhibition that’s on view. At first we invited them to do public talks, and create a limited edition multiple. Last year we started asking artists to lead a workshop for other artists or novices. It’s been a pretty successful series so far.

Following the Line / drawing exhibition, Girls’ Club

JA
You mentioned your VIP obsession. Will we see a show centered on VIP cards?

SMR
Well, I’m working on a body of work that will play with the idea of the importance of these silly paper objects, and the idea of the hierarchy of access, and not only that, they put a lot of time into designing these things. Some have holograms, some are made of this beautiful metallic mirror substance, some are really not [laughter] and it’s interesting to see what that says about the fair, what they’re trying to project. We’re very aware of our public persona, whether that’s an organization, or a fair, or a person creating this public personality, and I’m going to have a lot of fun with that hopefully. Get some nice colors, some repetitive, obsessive, visual behavior. Another project I’m working on is the Once Upon A Time series. What I’m trying to play with in this series is, you know, after the movie, and this amazing prince saving you and everything, after the initial excitement, it’s sort of over. It’s, what are you going to do now? What’s left to do now?

Sarah Michelle Rupert / Snow White 2011

JA
If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about Miami, what would it be?

SMR
I would love a comprehensive and intelligent public transportation system. I think the community deserves it. There are such exciting things going on in South Miami, in Davie, in Broward, here in Fort Lauderdale, downtown Fort Lauderdale, on Miami Beach, in Wynwood, in the design district, and we all have to drive to these places! If you have a car. If you know how to drive. Visiting artists can’t get around. I know there are a lot of plans going forward, but I don’t trust most politicians. Even if the budget and the process in transparent and open to the public, I have little trust that it will happen the way it’s planned. The plans I’ve heard are really for private interests. They’re for connecting the airport to Orlando to the beaches. It’s not about serving the greater public. It’s great that they’re thinking of tourists because that’s our biggest industry, but a public transportation project needs to be broader than that.

Sarah Michelle Rupert, the Big Bounce, 2012

JA
What would you say to an artist thinking of moving to Miami?

SMR
I would welcome that! There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of fun to be had. The community is pretty open. You start meeting one artist, and that opens the door to meeting more. I would advise staying east, because of transportation. Definitely, definitely stay east. Be a defensive driver. It can be scary here. But I would encourage it. This is a wonderful place to create art, to dive into the scene. There’s the possibility of growth, we’re not at this bubble-maxitude. We’ll be experiencing opportunity and excitement for another couple decades until it levels out, and we become a little too mainstream and the magazines say Miami’s over. [Laughter] Then maybe we’ll discover another little city and make its dreams come true.

www.sarahmichellerupert.com
www.girlsclubcollection.org