Aqua Nova

Will a starry-eyed proposal for renovating Monument Island burn out before its time?

Ultimately Christo and Fleming prevailed, and skeptics viewed the project as beneficial to Biscayne Bay. "The Christo project cleaned the islands up, and that was part of the transactional, negotiated arrangement," Fleming notes. "That was something that was done so that the islands were better off than before because they had refrigerators and all kinds of stuff that people go out there and dump." DERM, the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management, issued "a very positive report and said that it was one of the better things that ever happened to the bay," Fleming recalls. "People celebrated the bay. The bay was cleaned up."

Inside their house in South Beach, Behar and Marquardt lead you to a room dominated by a large square platform similar to the ones kids have for toy train sets. Instead of a little railroad, though, it holds a village filled with models of their works: An M for Miami, The Living Room, House of Cards (the twelve-foot-tall version of the latter was exhibited at the Miami Art Museum last summer), and others, all in miniature. And sure enough, at the center of this landscape is an eight-point star made of wood, about a foot in diameter and painted light green. A tiny dark green plastic alligator, with mouth open, looks poised to crawl onto it.

Some folks see how Monument Island went from 1922 
(top middle) to 1969 (bottom middle) and ask, why? 
Behar and Marquardt imagine it as it could be and ask, 
why not?
Photos Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection
Some folks see how Monument Island went from 1922 (top middle) to 1969 (bottom middle) and ask, why? Behar and Marquardt imagine it as it could be and ask, why not?

"Many of these projects actually stand for shared memories. You see, in a place where everyone comes from somewhere else, to discover shared memories is, in part, our task," Behar explains. "This is An M for Miami, but it's also an alphabet letter that you and I may have played with, even though I grew up in Buenos Aires and you grew up in the States. So in the end, we may find something we have in common."

The Living Room, Behar continues, is a "synthesis of everyone's memories of what a home could be. That's why we associate with it and see a living room. Nobody asks, is that really a living room? It is a living room. It is The Living Room. There's no doubt about it. Even though it's pretty weird, if you think about it. Because it's 42 feet tall. It's real, but at the same time it's fantastic." Behar has observed residents of Little Haiti taking family portraits on the disproportionately large sofa in The Living Room. "I think that's amazing," he says. "What that tells you is that they see it as their home. At the end of the day, The Living Room doesn't belong to us, nor does it belong to the person who paid for it, Craig Robins. The Living Room belongs to the city, to the neighborhood. It belongs to all of us."

The purpose behind all of their public works is to create "a kind of meaningful urban space," Behar says. "That's key."

Or in some cases, the idea of a meaningful space. Their Casa del Pirata (Pirate's House), for example, was never built. Using pieces of boards they had hoped to find in Cuba, Behar and Marquardt had planned to construct the nine-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall, sixteen-foot-long shanty on top of a wall of the La Cabaña fortress, a relic of the Spanish colonial period that overlooks Havana. It was to be their contribution to the Bienal de la Habana art festival in Cuba last November and the first work by artists from Miami, the disgraced home of counterrevolutionaries.

As usual, it was layered with possible meanings. "It's a contradiction for a pirate to have a house," Behar explains. "The house of a pirate is a ship, actually." Casa del Pirata, he continues, was also to be a monument to individuality and courage. "Maybe the house implies there was a shipwreck," he muses. Like The Star of Miami, Casa del Pirata represents "the need for a new beginning, which is very American at the end of the day," Behar suggests. But it was not meant to be political, he insists.

Nonetheless the Bienal curators nixed the project, citing government rules against tampering with the fort's infrastructure. "The project was not a political statement, but it could be read as one," Behar notes, conceding that, for a work coming from the first Miami-based artists invited to the Bienal, "maybe it was too much."

It is likely that The Star of Miami will be too much for authorities on this side of the Florida Straits to take. To begin with, just the regulations dealing with water could scuttle the project. "If they're touching any part of the water, the Army Corps of Engineers would very definitely be involved. So would Miami-Dade County. And there might be a number of different environmental issues," says Joe Fleming, Christo's regulatory guide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would want to know how the habitat of any species swimming by the island would be affected.

Then there is the permanence of it all. "Christo's project didn't involve fill. It just involved going into the water," Fleming says. He suggests Behar and Marquardt could perhaps figure out how to extend the star points above the water's surface, thus eliminating the need to dump earth into Biscayne Bay. Alternatively, the lawyer speculates that another tack the artists could take would be to tie The Star of Miami to future anti-erosion plans.

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