After all the cheap headlines and media celebrity stalking courtesy of Art Basel, Miami's party town persona is the one most on everyone's minds. Thankfully, Ovation was in town to capture some of the city's meatier attributes with a new show, American Canvas, that sniffs out the most culturally unique and relevant aspects of U.S. cities.
Former MTV VJ, writer, actor, and soon-to-be-published author Dave Holmes is the host of the new show, which filmed in three cities for the arts network, Ovation. Prior to their Miami stop, Ovation toured San Francisco and Austin, Texas. For the first tours, producers want to make sure to hit areas where audiences were Ovation watchers, or were receptive to the concept, plus choosing cities that aren't always recognized for their arts scenes. Austin has a big film background, while San Francisco has a big fine art base. Canvas hopes to share with viewers that there's more to Miami than its party scene. If the show continues after its February premiere, they'll explore all the other cities they want to showcase.
"We always try to do art, as in what you think of when you hear the word 'art,' but we always try to branch out and do something that still fell under the umbrella of art defined more broadly," Holmes says. "You learn so much about the history of the city, the culture of the city, through art and artists."
In Austin, the crew went to University of Texas tailgates. San Francisco's stop included an Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alcatraz. American Canvas was in town throughout Miami Art Week weekend and took in the convention center madness, but also made more off-the-beaten-path stops. Fashion designer and performance artist Karelle Levy fashioned an outfit for Holmes at her Krel 2 Go fashion line/experiment at Art Center. He and his guide also explored Little Havana's culture by dining at El Pub Restaurant and Los Pinareños Fruteria, mingling with dominoes players at Domino Park, and visiting Cuban artist Agustin Gainza, who shared his experiences immigrating to Miami.
Other visits included an Art Deco walking tour with the Miami Preservation League, a Wynwood photography tour of murals, and a boat tour of Miami on Monday.
We sat down with Holmes at the iconic Miami restaurant Versailles over Cuban sandwiches and plaintain chips, talking arts, TV, and the beast that is Art Basel.
New Times: How did you get involved with Ovation?
Dave Holmes: One of the great things about working with MTV is that everyone is sort of scattered to the four winds. Everyone's working at different networks now, and you get such a good education there 'cause you're doing a million different jobs. Everything's always late and over budget, so it's kind of grad school for TV.... One of the people I worked with now works at Ovation. He was in L.A., I was in L.A., and he called me in.
I started watching the network and it was really interesting and it was filling a gap. There used to be an arty kind of network on TV to make sure you'd see something interesting and you'd learn something; now those networks are all docu-soaps about erotic bakeries, or whatever they are. Ovation is really an interesting arts network. I think this show takes that a little bit further: it's hosted, it's interactive with people, and it's defining art a bit more broadly, so it can encompass dance, sculpture and painting, but also food and roller skating.
What's been the biggest contrast to what you've seen here versus the other cities?
Well, nothing we saw in Austin or San Francisco matches the size of Art Basel. I mean, that was overwhelming -- that was a sensory overload. One thing that was really interesting in Austin was going to these tailgates -- that's very much what people in Austin do on a Saturday or Sunday morning or afternoon, just hang out, grill out; get a drink here or a hot dog there. It was very much like an aggressive, Texan version of what we saw on Calle Ocho....This was much more relaxed and friendlier.
What's been the the biggest surprise in Miami, what went against your conceptions coming here?
Well I knew coming during Art Basel it was going to be a lot of sexy people in a lot of short, short shorts -- and it definitely was -- but we met this artist who does custom clothing, who works in this artist collective on Lincoln. It was very much like what we'd seen in San Francisco. I really wasn't expecting to see a group of such serious artists in one place. I knew I was going to hear a lot of loud music, a lot of parties going on, but I didn't know I would happen on this arts colony.
With your background and current pieces for Vulture, we have to ask what your impression of Miami's music was like.
It is very loud and very Latin immediately. As soon as I got to the airport it was just convertibles blasting Pitbull. We also caught this improvisational jazz group. It was two actors and a jazz band sort of having a happening.
You have a way of describing places and people -- you recently referred to Natalie Merchant as a long, gray braid in human form. Can you describe Miami for us?
So far it's a hot dish, full of colors I've never seen on a plate, and sizzling and smelling in a way I've never experienced before but that are delicious. It's a delicious plate. It's a hot little taro root. A delicious Cuban sandwich. I need time with the laptop.
I feel bad about Natalie, but it's true. She seems like a woman who sits Indian style on the floor a lot. I like her, she's just a yoga pant in human form.
What's been one of the strangest TV experiences you've had?
It's all been weird. I've got stories of spring breaks and summer houses at MTV long ago that are unprintable, even in 2014. I've seen a lot of bad behavior, and there's a reason why I will not let any of my nieces or nephews go on any spring break of any kind.
Any in South Beach?
No, none in South Beach. We were in Key West one summer. Summer is not the time to be in Key West. Basically you're in Key West with people who are hiding from someone, so it's a lot of criminals and shifty people.
What's going to be in your upcoming book, Party of One?
It's all stories and anecdotes of my life before working in TV, working in TV, all sort of filtered like I do at Vulture through pop culture of the past 40 years. I started writing that column basically cause I liked to write about music and make jokes, and just sort of started sneaking little bits of memoir into it -- really just to see if my editor was paying attention and if he'd leave it in. And he did, and those parts ended up being the parts people responded to the most. Hopefully it'll be funny.
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American Canvas debuts on Ovation February 25 at 10 p.m.