By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
In Miami perception is everything -- knowing how fickle the winds here can be, the word to the art world should be "a pose is a pose is a pose." I say this because of the incredible hype surrounding Art Basel last winter and because until we can Basel all the time, all the crowing about how mature an art city we've become comes across sometimes like a premature ejaculation. While in Detroit recently I had lunch at a little dive called the Dog House Coney Island. Their meat loaf and mashed potatoes were good and the waitress, Angie, would bring the gravy on the side. I asked her why and she said, "Because meat is meat and gravy is gravy." With Angie in mind I decided to take a pulse of what's happening on the scene.
First stop is Rocket Projects, a new alternative space in town that has been buzzing off the charts since it opened a couple of months ago. Let's call a spade a spade: This is a commercial gallery that is run by two shrewd young businesspeople who know location, have a winning formula, and are poised to give the staler established galleries a run for their money -- nothing raw with that.
Nina Arias and Nick Cindric, the gallery owners, are as likable and charming a pair as there is in the business -- and they put on a hell of a party. To their credit they are helping to nurture the Wynwood Arts District, with about twenty spaces in the area, and are including artists' studios and a concern for building community. At Rockets check out Doug Meyer's "Broadway on Duane (BOD)." I found his installation depicting the meteoric rise and fall of a fictional New York nightclub to be meaty in concept and labor intensive. Evocative of an era that lived and died by perception, "BOD" refracts the decimation of many of our cultural luminaries through AIDS and an excess of hedonism, poignantly documenting a generation's loss of innocence.
Meyer's "BOD," replete with Donna Summer tracks, disco strobes, peephole dioramas, pseudo-historical documentation, and a red velvet curtain guarding the entrance to the installation, is a disorienting Lacanian mind-fuck where one can experience nostalgic distortions in the funhouse mirrors of the psyche to the beat of "made me feel mighty real." Inside the 100-square-foot installation space, the artist has erected a monolithic tower with multiple peepholes through which dolls can be observed having anonymous sex, dancing, gossiping, posing, and true to that age of image, taking in the surroundings with insouciant boredom.
An oblong Plexiglas wall piece showcases one-of-a-kind invites and promotional materials touting celebrity shindigs at BOD. John Waters's birthday party, photos of Liza and Halston, a Leo Castelli soiree, and Divine eating her signature dog turd meatballs combine to dose the spectator with an unmistakable feeling of having missed a seminal moment in history. At times I found myself searching for Gilbert, Kitty Meow, or Adora in the light box photos on the wall, almost instinctively wiping the sting of the foam from my eyes before allowing myself to be lost in the chaos.
Exiting the installation one is confronted by a wall citing AIDS statistics and a roll call of the dead: Roy Halston, Tina Chow, Steve Rubell, Keith Haring, and Rudolf Nureyev. The price exacted for our freedoms resonated with vital currency through this Pandora's portal into the past, not to mention the faces of many lost friends there with me in spirit whose cocktail-to-coffin insanity left an indelible mark.
Searching for signs of alternative life in our universe after departing Rocket, I was happy to reconnect with José Reyes, Manny Prieres, and Leyden Rodriguez, the brain trust behind Box. After laying low a couple of years, the trio is opening its well-known venue again this December, promising a mainline injection into our collective art vein with a show called "Front and Center." I had the opportunity to hang out in their spacious room and ask them how they were going to keep their focus, given the hothouse acceleration of art hype engulfing Miami. (One of the things that kept their space fresh was the steady stream of the unorthodox the trio consistently served up.) According to Rodriguez, Box will try and keep with the grassroots approach to running the space by showing underground and experimental stuff. "It speaks of our cultural and social environment in the rawest context," he promises.
Prieres says of the inaugural Basel bash, "It was as if Miami became the epicenter of the art universe ... after it was over it was like we became a college town waiting through a dead summer for life to begin again." In spite of our city's troubles, Prieres feels that Miami is maturing. "We will develop a sense of community and an individual identity along the way," he optimistically predicts.
Rodriguez proffers another observation: "Even though some of the most solid shows I've seen in town took place during Basel, it struck me that some of the people visiting were not doing their homework, visiting enough studios, being chauffeured in groups to the right party, or introduced to the right artists. Some of their experiences may have been close to a state-sponsored tour and remarkably orchestrated -- and that's unfortunate." He concludes, "It would have been great to see a more profound immersion into the core cultural life that sustains us year-long, even though I have to admit that things are taking off."