Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seems incapable of doing anything without a certain amount of chutzpah. The man seems physically incapability of acting with meekness or modesty. Sometimes it's hard to watch — like the time the multimillionaire mayor proudly uploaded a video of himself berating a FedEx driver for stopping in a street to deliver a package, an antic that was widely panned on social media. Other times, though, his audaciousness is exactly what the community needs. His administration pulled the long-delayed dream of Baylink, a rail system that would connect Miami Beach with the mainland, out of the graveyard of lost good ideas back into political thought and the realm of possibility. Often, it's hard to tell what the political ramifications of Levine's headstrong approach will be. This past March, he became the first sitting mayor of a Miami-Dade County city to visit Cuba in 57 years. Though the local political establishment of Miami was dead-set against it, Levine told the world he would welcome a Cuban embassy within his city's limits. His approach is fascinating to watch and has led him to be prominently featured in a number of national articles about the effects of climate change in Miami Beach. Vanity Fair even dubbed him "Bloomberg South." It's widely rumored that the former media magnate has his eye on running for governor of Florida in 2018, so it's not as if he minds the positive press. Levine's chutzpah can absolutely be an admirable advantage, though it's fair for voters to ask who is the ultimate benefactor, the City of Miami Beach or Levine himself?
Little Haiti is beginning to burst at the seams with new life. As galleries move north from Wynwood, this cultural enclave is quickly becoming the center for high art in the Magic City. One place that stays true to quality work, artists, and the neighborhood is Yeelen Gallery. It has been recognized by Vogue as a hidden gem to visit during Art Basel, and mentioned in the New York Times, so director Karla Ferguson and her husband, painter Jerome Soimaud, have much to be proud of. His exhibition "Black Freedom" described the faces and stories of Little Haiti in charcoal and graphite on large-scale canvases. This gallery has a longer history in the area than others that have popped up and is dedicated to "contemporary urban culture." It pushes back against gentrification by showing pieces by international artists who make work that speaks to both an art crowd and the neighborhood's unique mix of cultures. Yeelen concentrates not only on art but also on social practice, making it more than just a place to watch the walls.
Readers' choice: Wyn 317
It's not typical that a self-taught artist dude, learning how to mix oils in his old Edgewater apartment, hat on head, glass of vodka in hand, ends up ten years later selling out booths at Volta and Scope art fairs. But Farley Aguilar is no typical man. He possesses true talent. Not only has his obsessive nature served him well in developing his skill, but also his critical eye has continued to improve him. The Nicaraguan-born, Miami-raised prodigy didn't excel at Southwest Miami Senior High but found inspiration poking around the works of philosophers at the University of Miami Law Library — a school he did not attend. As an outsider artist, his images are cinematic, with spooky scenes and stories ready to be told. The colorful canvases feature humanity at its most haunting and warped. But you can't stop looking. A loner, Aguilar is forever critiquing the mob mentality and finding new ways to explore this human tendency he'll never understand. This is an artist whose brakes will not be pressed anytime soon. Expect him to keep on trucking all the way to the top.
The most surprisingly touching show this past year came with birds — live parrots to be exact. Bik Van der Pol is actually a Dutch couple: Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol. They create postmodern work that speaks both to the location where it's being shown and to the environment. So in response to the asinine move by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to prohibit use of the words "climate change" (which officials are now disputing), the artists created an installation at PAMM that highlighted the issue. They used live parrots in "Speechless," which was on display August 13, 2015, through February 21, 2016, and played T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland to these feathered dinosaurs. But the birds demonstrated their own personalities and let the love light shine. They sang songs from the American songbook and danced and formed attachments. In some ways, the most magnificent thing about the show was that it brought viewers closer to the natural world through the human-like qualities of these creatures. Though they returned home to Simbad's Birds & Pets, they will forever have left behind the message that climate change is real and that protecting the natural world is an essential part of life here on Earth.
Tim Chapman is an old-school journalist. He began photographing at a young age during Miami's first wave of Cuban immigration in the 1960s. For decades after that, he consistently captured the Magic City's seedy underbelly while working at the Miami Herald. HistoryMiami's "Newsman: The Photojournalism of Tim Chapman," curated by another longtimeHeraldphotographer, Al Diaz, honors the lensman's storied career and commitment to documenting South Florida history. The exhibit features Chapman's life's work, which he donated to the museum in 2013, as well as cameras, press passes, notebooks, and other artifacts. Chapman's photos, which will be shown through August 14, 2016, capture the essence of some of Miami's most tumultuous moments. One shot shows crack merchants trying to climb down from the top of Coconut Grove's Mutiny Hotel after they hear a distant siren. Another displays a Cuban baby being hoisted in the air after arriving at Eglin Air Force Base during the Mariel Boatlift. For Chapman, these moments weren't just news; they were the story of mankind in the subtropics.
No one threatens a lawsuit better than Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The racist cheese doodle hands them out like bite-size candies on Halloween. Of course, for every asshole, there is an equal and opposite jokester. If Trump is the best lawsuit threatener, New York-based artist Bryan Zanisnik is the world's best lawsuit bluff-caller. He was slapped with a cease-and-desist order by author Philip Roth in 2012 the very first day of a five-week performance piece that involved the artist's silently reading one of Roth's works in a clear container while baseball cards and uncirculated U.S. currency swirled in the air around him. Rather than back down, Zanisnik stuck his tongue out at the author and finished his series. Roth threatened a lawsuit but never did a thing — just like Trump. It left an impression on Zanisnik, though. So this past January 30, when Zanisnik debuted his latest installation at Locust Projects, the whole thing revolved around Roth's obsession with control and the artist's intent to stick it to him. Zanisnik built a forest of stucco pillars in Locust Projects' main space, each featuring tear-away holes that revealed hundreds of books written by and about Roth. It is a daring and hysterical work, and so far, Roth has been silent. Hip hip hooray, art lives to see another day.