Lola Bar owner David Bick wants to do things differently. The New Jersey native arrived on Miami Beach eight months ago, intent on managing a business free from the pretension and shadiness common in the South Beach scene. "We don't run our nightclub like the average nightclub," he says. "We're very hands on and very friendly. People tell me that in South Beach you have to deal with all kinds of touchy people and that no one can be friends with everybody. Well I'm against that in principle. I'm all about relationships."
Local artists figure prominently in Bick's plans. Each week the artwork of a different Miamian is displayed on the cement walls of the bar's open-air industrial space. Last Tuesday the vivid landscapes of artist Regina Elizabeth Perry provided an intensely colored background for the attractive young crowd playing pool and socializing along the club's long, canoe-shape bar. A cable-access TV show filmed at Lola Bar that airs on the Beach some 40 times per week spotlights the art. Diminutive club magazine Ego Trip plans to feature a Lola Bar artist every month. For area painters struggling to promote their work, the publicity and exposure is welcome. "It's one of the ways we form goodwill with the locals," Bick explains.
Except when the art disappears.
Cameron Mikovich was the fourth person chosen to display his work at the bar, which is located on 23rd Street just west of Collins Avenue. A Pop-art painter heavily influenced by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Mikovich hung twelve paintings at Lola Bar on Tuesday, May 16. Three days later Mikovich learned five of them, valued collectively at $3000, no longer were on display. In fact no one can or will say where they are at all.
"Somebody stole them," Mikovich declares flatly. "And no one at the bar is doing anything to help me get them back. And no one intends to pay me for what the paintings are worth. I'm stuck. I'm out. I've got nothing."
The Miami Beach Police Department has launched an investigation. By this past Friday, a department detective had interviewed Bick. Not yet interviewed was John Hood, a Lola Bar consultant, who helped launch the club's roving-artist concept. Hood, an established Beach promoter (and a onetime New Times contributing writer), describes the local-artist theme as "a benevolent hype sort of thing.
"Bobby Radical was our first [local artist]," Hood explains, referring to a show that opened the last week of April. "Within one week we had artists banging down our fucking door. Mikovich, we liked his shit and booked him. Everything is cool, then all of a sudden he gets this weird idea we're not treating him right. I asked him what's going on and he says, 'You guys are really unfair; you're doing this and doing that.'"
The weird idea that Mikovich was being mistreated, of course, surfaced after the artist discovered his paintings were missing. He learned this on a Friday, the same day Hood left Miami for a trip to New York City. The timing of Hood's departure strikes Mikovich as more than coincidental. "Bick says Hood might have taken them or sold them," offers the artist. "Hood tells me that maybe Bick took them. Either way I don't have the paintings, and I don't have any money [for them]."
Hood claims absolute ignorance of the paintings' whereabouts. "[Mikovich's complaints] coincided with my going away," Hood admits. "I left on Friday, going to New York. When I came back there was this big drama. I still haven't gotten to the bottom of it."
So fervid is the finger pointing that Bick won't even acknowledge the paintings were stolen. For all he knows -- and he means this very sincerely -- the paintings could have been taken by Mikovich himself in some sort of scam. "It's still unclear to me what happened," Bick allows. "All I know is it's unfortunate that anyone is unhappy. We're all about relationships. We want people to be happy. It's definitely disappointing."
In the small South Beach apartment he shares with a roommate, Mikovich contemplates his loss. His living room is empty except for a computer, a folding chair, and a lone barstool. On the walls hang giant acrylic portraits of Al Pacino and Madonna. "The look is similar to a silkscreen, but I pride myself on actually hand-painting each of these in acrylic," Mikovich says. "I don't usually paint celebrities. I mean, who's going to buy a painting of Madonna except maybe Madonna herself? Most of my subjects are local models and other people I know from the fashion industry."
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Originally from Palm Beach County, Mikovich, age 31, began his art career ten years ago in Boston. He returned to South Florida five years ago after hearing Miami Beach was home to more artists per capita than anywhere else in America. He sweats out this hot summer afternoon in a black silk shirt and black pants. His long black hair is pulled back in a ponytail.
"I look at myself as like a rock star or any other celebrity," he says. "I've got ability. I'm gifted. I'm talented. I'm a self-taught artist, and I'm extremely aware of the value of my gift."
When the paintings disappeared, Mikovich complained directly to Bick. He says the bar's owner, in an attempt to be fair, offered him $500 to repaint his missing works. Mikovich rejected the proposal. "That doesn't cut it," Mikovich scoffs. "Five hundred dollars won't even cover my costs. And even if I did, the pictures are going to look different if I repaint them. I can't paint a picture exactly the same way twice. These were one-of-a-kind original works. The paintings are gone. I don't think I'll ever see them again."
Despite the morass there is no shortage of artists who hope to display their work at Lola Bar. Hood reports the club's walls are spoken for through July. Mikovich's stuff will not be on display. "It's very hard to be an artist in this town," Mikovich complains. "[You] turn around and literally everybody tries to screw you. It makes you think about giving up art altogether."