KMAN: The Man who Wanted to Fly

KMAN headgear - shot for Jennifer Bosch of Urban Decay Magazine and later used in a fashion spread, summer 2008 edition2

We are deeply grateful to art writer and curator Janet Batet for providing a translation of her recent article (El Nuevo Herald, May 17, 2020) “KMAN: El hombre que quería volar,” on Cuban-born artist Jorge L. Bartlett, better-known as Art Kendallman, or KMAN (1957-2008). [Read the original, with video and photo gallery at El Nuevo Herald.] Batet writes:

To say that Jorge L. Bartlett wanted to fly for the mere fact that he had an obsession with planes would be just obtuse. We should start by saying that Jorge L. Bartlett (Villa Clara, 1957 – Miami, 2008) was a man of conviction that knew no fear when something got stuck in between his eyebrows.

Jorge L. Bartlett is one of those unavoidable figures in the Miami art scene fallen into oblivion because of that this city’s mania to always start from zero. But for those interested in South Florida history and its art in its most unprejudiced, committed, and alternative version, Jorge L. Bartlett is a must.

Better known as Art Kendallman or KMAN, Bartlett’s controversial alter ego stormed Miami in the early 1980s. It was common then to see him dressed in his military paraphernalia: hand-painted jumpers with strident colors that covered him from head to toe; sneakers adorned with colorful soldiers, helmets with planes, rockets, radars; use of camouflage, reconnaissance missions, miniature military vehicles; alternative electronic music accompanying their performances and that bombardment of flyers that were the genuine call that only a few understood.

The influences that converge on the misunderstood and relevant KMAN avatar are diverse. As far as art is concerned, Joseph Beuys’ extended notion of art with its participatory and transformative potential, as well as Chris Burden’s idea of personal danger as the ultimate artistic expression, clearly define Bartlett’s stance on art; while Guerrilla Art Action Group (GAAG), with its radical public actions as a political protest independent of the rarefied artistic system, soon defined the KMAN strategy of action; to which should be added the adoption of the multidisciplinary and experimental character of Fluxus.

Beyond the art grounds, Hopi’s spirituality and their Kachinas – those ancestral spirits carrying salvation, capable of moving at supersonic speeds in futuristic flying artifacts – are very present in KMAN. His avatar is a sort of reminiscence of Hopi figurines, the incarnation of those spirits, always dressed in helmets and strange garments of energetic symbolic connotation.

Having embraced the strategy of military intervention as the only plausible way to shake up the status quo, KMAN arrived without asking for permission. Among his typical interventions are his numerous Aircraft Bombing Art Maneuvers (maneuvers of art bombardment from aircraft) that became common in the eighties. KMAN also invaded by land, with his ships and his person. And he did it in museums, galleries, or in the street.

One of his earliest interventions was in 1983, during a John Cage conference at FIU. Wearing a mosquito net, camouflage vest, and face paint, the puzzled public tried to ignore the importunate visitor. A year later, he performed Cars Kill, wearing a pink tutu down Kendall Drive as he challenged the drivers with his compelling message. Most of his actions included his family and closest friends. Among his most iconic interventions highlight Más-caras Manifestación Sintetista Actualizada (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1985); Monkey Ass Fault Jungle (Miami Wave Art Festival, 1986); Japan Art Invasion. Kman III and Blast Off! (1990 and 1991 respectively, both at the Cameo Theater and as part of Mia Art Assylum); KMAN Supersonic Fly from Kendall Tamiami Airport to Helix Art (2005, Helix Art Gallery), as well as his interventions in Mango Strut parade, Art Miami and Art Scope, among others.

Among his most memorable exhibitions are Artman solo show at Edge Zone Contemporary Art Gallery where he presented paintings, drawings and performances that intertwined speed and transmutation, as well as his participation in Context 3, at Leonard Tachmes Gallery, where he exhibited more than twenty years of drawings on city life. Both exhibitions from 2007.

Kman was also invited to the INDEX International Performance Festival, Dominican Republic, 2007, and was included in the iconic Arte No es Vida (Art Is Not Life) exhibition at El Museo del Barrio in 2008.

His public interventions were common in the Wynwood Arts District. There, another of his main artistic pleas was born: Kendallman Art Gallery Ambulante (Kaga), which had a lot of Fluxus and Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise. Kaga was, according to KMAN himself, “the smallest art gallery in the world” and it contained all the artist’s creation that by then had strategically reduced its dimensions to become portable.

Deeply mythical and environmentalist, KMAN’s work, sometimes resulted in ritualistic destructions: the mirror of that constant inner struggle that was the harsh dialogue of KMAN and the artistic circuit. One of these battles took his life.  So I imagine him, in his perennial flight, aboard one of those supersonic ships, now turned into KMAN-Kachina, guiding and protecting our existence forever.

Janet Batet (janetbatet@gmail.com)

[Photo above by Ana Pulido Bartlett: KMAN wearing a cap in a photo taken for Urban Decay Magazine and later used in a fashion magazine, Summer 2002, Issue 2. Courtesy/ Ana Bartlett. Accessed via El Nuevo Herald.]

Read the original article (in Spanish, published at El Nuevo Herald) and see video and photo gallery at https://www.elnuevoherald.com/vivir-mejor/artes-letras/article242644936.html

 

 

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