Swelter

That New Year crush again, one long desperate party leading up to the final soul-crushing moment, and then, nothing, nothing, on the other side. Sex without release. Work without reward. Fun without pleasure. Another year, and still, you're not glitterati fashion designer Gianni Versace, whooping it up with a clientele that includes stars such as blue-collar poseur Bruce Springsteen. You're not Sandra Bernhard, in tow with a beautiful new companion, jetting off to the Palladium to do a show. You're not even, say, Vogue magazine creative director Andre Leon Talley, adding just the right note of agitated glamour to the grand opening of the new and improved Bal Harbour outpost of the Versace empire.

But then, they are all packed into the same room with you, and it's a great big wonderful mess. There's Talley, big, black, and sassy, lolling back on a divan and issuing pronouncements: "Versace always does a fabulous party and he's always inspiring. He's to fashion what Andy was to Pop Art." Bernhard, that rouged mouth like an open wound, the braying voice: "What do I think about the party? It's a blast." And the great man himself, looking snappy in one of his own outfits: "Last time I visited here was five years ago; everything has changed so much. At this moment, Miami to me is heaven. I want to stay forever."

So did everyone else on the resolutely ecumenical guest list, which ranged from Gables Estates to some poor but incredible-looking young crashers. Woody and Judy Weiser of the Continental Cos. Gene Singletary, whose catering company did the Italian-theme buffet. Earl and Christy Powell of Trivest. Bobbi Berkman of the International Business Chronicle. Fashion designer Marcy Lefton. Interior designer Sam Robin, who'd given the space a look somewhere between Art Deco and the Emperor Nero's salon, Trompe L'oeil panels meet velvet drapes and Medusa heads. Hal Rubenstein of The New Yorker ("No, I'm not down for this; I'm just down"), traveling with the fun brigade. A crowd of young model/escort types, their faces untroubled by the vulgar bustle of commerce, all adorned in colorful Versace shirts - which kind of resemble an upscale version of the Nik-Nik polyester things the misguided wore in the Seventies. Bal Harbour Euro-trash ("And, of course, you know the Countess Von Schtenk?") working the room. And a happy fan, one Sasha Slapin: "I read about this party and got myself invited. It was like pulling teeth to get here."

And then the core group is out the door, heading down to South Beach. They're all camping it up, being trashy and fun: Miami is just one big whorehouse for New York. Versace overflowing with fabulousness ("What club are we going to? Butter Club? Warsaw? I don't care; I just want action...") as he waits for the limo. And Talley, emoting dramatically: "You think we live here? Please, we all flew in."

For those who do live here and aren't flying out anytime soon, a series of smaller-bore events. A soft opening at Polly Magoo on Ocean Drive, the first Miami Beach branch of the I Tre Merli restaurant group. (The second will be opening shortly in the space downstairs from Le Loft.) An encounter with members of Nuclear Valdez at The Whiskey Bar, all primary colors and horny University of Miami students. A Project Cradle AIDS fund raiser at Hombre. And then the Big Night, New Year's Eve, clubland braced for the assault: Le Loft, with its two new truly Loftian rooms, "Le Bar Harley" and "Le Zen." France Joli at Egoiste. Eddie Santiago at Havana Club. Attitude night at Squeeze. El Grupo Chevere at Club Deja Vu. Various thug bands at Washington Square. Nestor Torres at South Beat. Big deal dinners at Regine's. Ivan Serna y Orquesta la Secreta at Maxim's Supper Club. Buddy Miles at Musicians Exchange. A smallish New Year's Eve party at the Raleigh Hotel. Another party at the Century. So much possibility, so many noisemakers. Really, New Year's Eve is for amateurs.

But the New Year does bring on the culture whirl, the element that makes Miami a slightly more tolerable place to live. The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts week of festivities, culminating in the annual gala this Saturday. The 1992 version of the Art Miami '92 International Art Exposition, which commences tonight, January 8, with a benefit preview for the Dade Community Foundation's Fund Art Miami. This being Miami, this year's fair will be, appropriately enough, even bigger than last year's debut, even glitzier, and even more Latin-oriented. And once again, the timing, aesthetic symmetry, and entertainment possibilities - everything takes place during Art Deco Weekend - will be right on target.

The international exhibition is big enough - 800 artists, more than 6000 pieces, more than 120 dealers from all over the world. But there has been some question as to whether it will be better. Last year the exhibitors assembled by event producers and Los Angeles gallery owners David and Lee Ann Lester, included such respected shops as Bess Cutler Gallery, the Latin art-oriented Norma Haime Gallery of New York, Landfall Press Inc. of Chicago, and Praxis International Art of Buenos Aires. Of the 88 exhibitors last year, twenty were Latin art specialists, and nearly half were pushing decorative work - bad abstraction, pseudo-Abstract Expressionism, and the like.

This year there are roughly 29 Latin art exhibitors (mostly from outside the United States), more decorative operations, and some quite respectable outfits, such as the Hammer Galleries. Praxis International Art will be back but Bess Cutler, for one, won't be returning: "We didn't do very well. It's certainly not the Cologne Art Fair, but that's fine." Landfall Press, according to owner Jack Lemon, isn't coming back either: "We broke even, but I didn't like the way it was handled: the place was lit more like a salon than a gallery. Basically, it wasn't worth it."

Whatever the financial angle, the weekend offers plenty of auxiliary diversions. For the high-minded, Metro-Dade Art in Public Places will present a symposium on public art (with program titles such as Collaboration and Compromise: The Design Team Approach) featuring Maya Lin, the architect for Washington, D.C.'s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This year the annual Art Deco Symposium will feature tours of Dade County's 1930s Themed/Fantasy Communities, such as Opa-locka and Hialeah Race Track, and an endless succession of seminars, such as: "Kim Weber: A Shift of Imagery from the Early Art Deco to the Streamline Moderne." In the no-brainer fun category, the annual Moon Over Miami Ball, benefiting the Miami Design Preservation League, will once again have Cab Calloway and plenty of attitude. The street fair commences the next day and will, no doubt, be the usual melange of roller skaters, tourists, models, competing fast food odors, and here and there, conceptual references to Art Deco. Another theme party, another year.

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