From the wildly successful inaugural Wynwood Art Fair to an unforgettable multi-culti bender transforming Miami Beach into a marathon 13-hour art festival during Sleepless Night, South Florida had plenty to crow about during the past twelve months.
We were just about to breathe in the rarefied air of a year full of a muscle-flexing season of the arts. Then the collective stink raised over a public museum's naming rights, not to mention a philanthropist widower suggesting erasing his dearly departed's name from the Arsht Opera House and replacing it with that of his new bride, reminded us of how vainglorious and tacky our cultural metropolis can be.
Still, you can't swallow the good without burping up the bad. Looking back on 2011, what leaves a lasting impression is how dramatically the Magic City's cultural fortunes can swing. These are 2011's winners and losers.
1. Wynwood Art Fair
Part charity event, part sprawling street happening, the Wynwood Art Fair was a smashing success that transcended Miami's art scene and was embraced by the masses for a great cause. What began as a one-night fundraiser three years ago by Constance Collins Margulies, president of the Lotus House Women's Shelter, and earlier held at her husband Marty Margulies's capacious warehouse housing the couple's expansive contemporary art collection, celebrated its inaugural edition by transforming a six-block stretch of Wynwood -- NW 6th Avenue between 23rd and 29th streets -- into an art lover's playground, replete with dozens of booths boasting bleeding-edge work, and multiple stages featuring live music and performances for three days this past October. The fundraising street fair, which collected over $500,000 for Lotus House, was supported by the city's major museums and cultural institutions and upwards of 30 local galleries and artist spaces from across town. Families pushing baby strollers and walking their pets convened on the fun-spirited artstravaganza in droves. During a weekend marked by pitch-perfect weather, thousands attending the Wynwood art fair looked at and made art, enjoyed a myriad of local and visiting performance groups while many others joined in a winding percussion-led giant balloon parade led by the Big Mango's own FriendsWithYou to support the Lotus House cause.
2. Sleepless Night
This wildly popular all-nighter stretching from Collins Park to Lincoln Road and from Ocean Drive to North Beach turned Miami Beach into a 13-hour celebration of every imaginable art form, and boasted over 150 homegrown and international talents at more than 80 venues across town. From Goliath guppies powered by people presented by Sarruga, a street-theater troupe from Barcelona, to the Magic City's own Pablo Cano who beguiled crowds with his eye-popping shadow puppet show, to an exhibit featuring portraits of silicone sex dolls their owners prefer to real women by Canada's Jean-Francois Bouchard, Sleepless Night kept culture vultures of every stripe partying into the wee hours -- and, best of all, without art revelers having to spend a dime.
3. Sixth Street Container and Return of Alternative Art to Little Havana
In recent years, when local art enthusiasts thought of Little Havana, what came to mind was the block party-cum-art walk called Viernes Culturales, during which the handful of galleries and artist studios lining Calle Ocho typically exhibit folksy paintings depicting fighting cocks, nostalgic Cuban landscapes populated by guajiros, or portraits of women balancing fruit baskets on their heads. Enter Adalberto Delgado, an artist and curator who was an early pioneer of a once thriving alternative art scene in el barrio. He has returned to his roots to inject Little Havana with a much needed dose of the alternative at his 6th Street Container space on the corner of SW 6th Street and 12th Avenue. This past year alone Delgado has hosted Alma Leiva's "En la celda" (Inside the Cell), a site-specific installation evoking the political terror in Honduras, and "Dome Drift," a brainy, site-specific work by the collaborative team of Christina Molina and Wes Kline, both among the standouts at any alternative Miami space this season. Delgado's modest digs, which has been dishing out a monthly serving of avant offerings for over a year, has become a favorite haunt for discerning cognoscenti tired of the increasingly commercial climes of Wynwood, and was one of the Knights Arts Challenge finalists in 2011 which bodes well for this contemporary art starved hood.
4. David Castillo and Charest-Weinberg galleries crack Basel's code
Every year most of Miami's top drawer galleries apply for a booth at the Miami Beach Convention Center to shop their wares during Art Basel, only to receive a rejection letter in return. For many it has become an annual rite of frustration that has led to acrimonious charges by some against the international fair's über-exclusive election committee. Some say that there is some sort of a Basel Blockade imposed on local dealers. Others worry that the art scene here has not yet transcended to elite status. But during the 10th anniversary edition of the December arts confab, Wynwood's David Castillo and Charest-Weinberg galleries were both granted a consecration to Basel's hallowed halls, bringing the total number of Miami galleries represented at Art Basel to ten in the past decade. While Castillo's inclusion was long overdue, one wonders why dealers like Brook Dorsch, Anthony Spinello, and alternative spaces such as Locust Projects remain overlooked.
5. Primary Projects
If there is something a decade of Art Basel has taught local artists, it's that you have to do something spectacular that rises above the swirl of visual noise addling the senses during the fair. Miami's FriendsWithYou accomplished the feat with a Macy's style giant balloon parade on the beach in 2006, and a fresh coat of graffiti on scores of Wynwood buildings by the Primary Flight crew jolted the art world's peepers in 2007, helping transform the nabe into an outdoor, street mural museum in recent years. So it comes as little surprise that the brain trust behind the Primary Projects space in the Design District, BooksIIII Bischof, Chris Oh and Typoe, were able to pull a rabbit out of their collective asses and hijack Basel's coverage with their group show titled "Here Lies Georges Wildestein". Their exhibit included a performance by New York-based artist, Miru Kim, who created an enclosure in the gallery's storefront titled "I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me (104 hours)" in which she wallowed naked in the mud with two hogs over the course of three days in what was arguably the most widely documented Basel attraction this year.
The spring fair began innocently enough trying to spice up its image with booths featuring racy works that included dancing dildos, videos of glowing, swollen testicles and a glittering mannequin's ass through which spectators could peek in a hole and watch themselves emerging from its large intestine. But it all went south from there. During Cultist's visit Miami Beach cops converged on the Miami Art Museum's booth where vandals had scrawled the word shit on Marcos Vallela's abstract painting, damaging the $8,000 work and causing its removal from the exhibit. Meanwhile at the D'Oliant Art Projects booth, artist Carlos Quintana nursed a black eye after a bout of fisticuffs with colleague Humberto Castro at a private bash thrown at the house of ArteAmerica's veep, Emilio Calleja, the night before. If Calleja wasn't already nursing a swollen noggin from the aforementioned proceedings he must have found himself fumbling for some Xanax after Cuban painter, Agustin Bejarano, who was in town exhibiting at the fair, was busted by Hialeah cops the next morning for sexually assaulting a five year-old boy.
2. Second Saturday Art Walk
This past February a newly formed group called the Miami Art Dealers Association (MADA), comprised of about thirty Wynwood galleries, decided enough was enough when drunken Second Saturday art revelers began interacting with expensive art. Members changed their opening hours from 2 to 9 p.m. while yet others stopped serving alcohol. Afterward, folks at the Ascaso Gallery on NW Second Avenue complained of a tipsy patron climbing for a ride on a bronze sculpture of a horse worth $50,000, while another drunken sod crammed his noggin into an op art cube by Jesus Rafael Soto priced at $250,000 and had to be ejected from the space. These turns of event prompted dealers to protest the growing circus atmosphere and plague of booze hounds in search of free hooch rather than art at the wildly popular event.
3. Little Havana Roosters
When we first heard one of the hideous fiberglass roosters adorning Calle Ocho was plucked from its perch back in September, we lit a candle to San Lazaro, protector of the infirm and destitute, hoping the missing cock had been hijacked by a savior liberating us from unsightly public art. But as it turned out the pilfered pecker had been nabbed by some frat-house bird brains from FIU who spent the weekend clucking it up with the rooster during a Golden Panthers victory before their football season went afoul. Sadly the eyesore was returned to its roost in Little Havana, and the bad eggs who committed the crime set free with a slap of the wrist.
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4. Sanford Ziff
For nearly two decades, the names Sanford and Dolores Ziff have been synonymous with cultural philanthropy in the Magic City. They're even prominently enshrined on the Arsht Center's Opera House. But when Dolores died this past January at the age of 85, it didn't take long for Sanford to snag himself a new bride. In June, Ziff hitched up with 68-year-old Baroness Beatrice Clancy and decided it would be a great idea to change the name of the Arsht Center's Opera House to honor his fresh squeeze. Needless to say that the only item Sanford Ziff's name should be attached to in our estimation is a royal douche bag since it was widely known that Dolores, rest her soul, was the patron of the arts in that partnership and apparently took whatever couth that might have rubbed off on her oafish hubby with her to the grave.
5. Miami Art Museum
Er, we mean the Jorge Perez Museum instead. While we can't wait for Miami's new multi-million dollar museum on the bay to open its doors it's easy to forget sometimes that when the wind blows inland from Biscayne Bay it often delivers a funky stench. But nothing as vile as the fetid stink MAM's honchos have fumigated the public with by considering selling naming rights to developer Jorge Perez for $20 million in cash and another $15 million worth of art from his own collection to perfume the deal. Forget tacky, this just reeks of an oncoming shit storm without end.