Swelter

But then it's February, it's Miami, and the action -- any kind of action -- is really what matters in the art world. The sheer ambition of the show, as well as MoCA's actual physical structure, had a certain gravity. Right off the bat, the building is improbably located in the true wasteland of NE 125th Street and Eighth Avenue, next to the North Miami municipal building and an array of lifestyle service stores of a kitschy dimension: the Heirlooms of Tomorrow shop, the Kung Fu Connection training center, Hawaii Nails. Nowheresville, USA. And then there's MoCA, a series of interlocking geometric forms, from circles to sharp angles, fronted by a plaza dotted with palm trees. An outpost of architectural assertion in the void; appropriately enough, the museum was designed by Charles Gwathmey, who made his reputation building enormous homes in the expanse of Hamptons potato fields. Unanimous raves all around.

The emergence of MoCA from CoCA (Center of Contemporary Art), the transformation from a nice little facility (the old museum, in use for fifteen years, now serves as office space) to megamuseum, had a certain sexiness as well, the building having gone up in only two years -- something of a quick conquest. At the gala, Richard Shack, board chairman and long-time entertainment promoter (from his representation of Anita Bryant to his beleaguered amphitheater/performing arts complex in North Miami), seemed happy with the art of the deal. "It's amazing we could put this all together, especially in North Miami," he noted. "What got everything going was the two-and-a-half million[-dollar] HUD grant that Bill Lehman got for us. Another million came in from private grants. We're opening debt-free. Originally we were going to build it at the Performing Arts Center -- no, not the one downtown, my performing arts center -- but when that ran into problems, we built it here instead."

Lehman, the former U.S. representative, asked that the building be named after his wife Joan, a minor favor as these things go. The wheels keep turning, and yet another arts institution enters the supposed wasteland of Miami. Across the board, the local museums -- from the Bass Museum of Art to the Center for the Fine Arts -- want to be bigger and grander in typical Miami style, expanding in the face of a limited pool of patrons and financial support.

After the MoCA gala a group of likable artists jumped into an enormous white stretch donated by a local limousine company for their Miami weekend and headed down to South Beach, a mandatory stop on the fun tour. They eventually wound up in a VIP room with low-rent comedian Pauly Shore, everyone doing the bump and having a grand old time. In the end Miami is nothing but a collection of great moments, wrenched from the arena of possibility.

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