Thou Art a Villain

Temblors above, business continues below; such is the topography of Miami's burgeoning artscape. But just as our city's established and emerging serious artists get ready to snatch the limelight from the poseurs -- at least for a few days, during Art Basel -- tectonic plates grind to create a little earthquake at Design District darling Rocket Projects.

Rockets, as the gallery is fondly nicknamed, was the breakout local space at the international fair in 2003, earning raves from Art in America for its abstract painting exhibit "Beautiful Pressure." Though this year has seen only so-so showings (Jen DeNike's video and photo installation "Worshipping False Idols" being a notable exception), everybody knows about its Zeitgeisty opening parties, where the artwork must hold its own against the competing music, alcohol, and jostling scenesters.

This street action can be credited greatly to Nina Arias, until recently Rocket Projects' curator as well as creative buzz generator. Arias made a typically dramatic exit in October: She was locked out of the building and handed a letter by her former partner, Nick Cindric, telling her she'd been fired and forbidding her to return to the gallery.

Nina Arias, former curator at Rocket Projects, says the art business is no Sunday in the park
Nina Arias, former curator at Rocket Projects, says the art business is no Sunday in the park
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Lyssa Oberkreser
Tara Reid and condo construction: They just go together

According to Florida Department of State Division of Corporation records, Cindric now has sole financial interest in the gallery. Documents indicate principal investor (and noted local videographer) Francie Bishop Good ceded control to Cindric this past September. Rocket Projects, which is at 3440 N. Miami Ave., lists a business office address on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. The original name of the limited liability company was Arias Cindric Projects LLC, though Nina Arias's name appears nowhere else on those papers.

"It's true that Nina was fired. That's right. She was canned," Cindric said this week. "And now I am responsible for Rocket Projects and am the owner."

Sources tell The Bitch that the gallery is behind on rent and in danger of having its utilities cut off. Some of the artists who helped Rockets make its name say they have not been paid for the sale of their work through the gallery; others have not had their work returned from shows past, and compensation for artworks damaged in transit is outstanding.

Geoff Chadsey, whose distorted images of urban teens were featured at Rockets this past July, worried in an e-mail dated November 5: "I'm wondering if it is just a fantasy that I will ever be paid for that destroyed drawing. I am also concerned that if, worst case scenario, the gallery goes bankrupt, my work will be impounded."

Chadsey tells The Bitch he was afraid to say more, "given that the gallery still has my drawings."

"I have a very good relationship and speak regularly with both Nina and Nick," says Oakland, California, painter Leah Modigliani. Modigliani adds that she did "write a little bit of a threatening letter" to Cindric over an unreceived payment for a painting she had sold through the gallery. "But that technique worked," she says. "I did get paid within five days of contacting Nick."

Cindric says that Chadsey may also expect a check soon.

He added: "The gallery is not in any type of financial trouble. I can't give you any more of an interview right before Art Basel, because this is all just going to be negative for the gallery."

The normally loquacious Arias also has little to say. "It's so clichéd for something to break big and then crash and burn this quickly," she muses of Rockets, which opened last year. She expects eventually to return to curating and promoting. "I come from a very grassroots level. No one made it easy for me to begin with. I'm a strong believer in karma. I have nothing to hide. And I know how to work."

Le Batard Looooooves Ricky

Did Ricky Williams, the wayward, impulsive, former Dolphins running back really mean to quit football this past July? Or was he simply thinking out loud, fishing for a bit of faith? After all, just weeks ago, Williams's attorney asked the NFL if he could return to playing next year.

Esquire magazine, in its December issue, asserts that Williams "had no real intention of quitting" when he phoned up then-coach Dave Wannstedt one weekend and retired. "He was looking for something to pull him back in," writes Chris Jones, who tracked down Williams at a hippie campground in Australia. Whatever Wannstedt said apparently didn't do the trick, because then Williams called "his best friend," Miami Herald sports columnist Dan Le Batard.

Le Batard, whose close friendship with the reclusive Williams is widely known, got a lot of play in breaking the story about the player's resignation. In his July 29 column, Le Batard acknowledged that his relationship with Williams did of course color his opinions. But, he argued, he was able to offer readers Williams's voice because Ricky wasn't talking to anybody else. "Am I too close to this story?" he wrote. "Yeah, probably. It was kind of unavoidable. But I support Ricky Williams. That's what you do with friends.

"I've tried to talk him out of retiring before, like just about everyone else ..." he continued. "But he sounded less confused and happier than I've ever heard him when he called Saturday. And so, objectivity be damned, I was happy for him."

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