It's Saturday night during the Wynwood gallery walk when a crowd huddles in front of Artformz Alternative (171 NW 23rd St., Miami), a small red gallery in the heart of the district. Suddenly a piece of fried chicken flies from the back of the mass — T-shirts, fashion mullets, inked arm sleeves, and a few obvious tourists — and drops to the ground.
From nowhere, a five-foot tall banana-yellow chicken approaches, picks up the crispy treat, and takes a bite. Someone begins to loudly hum the melody to "The Chicken Dance," prompting the human-size bird to bust out the song's accompanying jig.
"The sky is falling!" the wayward poultry abruptly screams before running down the street.
Wynwood art walk
A few side-stares and a head-turn follow.
Moments later, the giant fowl leans on a parked car about a block east, her feathered head pulled to the side so she can sip from a plastic cup of free champagne.
An older man with wild, thinning hair eagerly approaches. He slaps her on the back. "That was a great metaphor," he says with an inscrutable smile, "for Bush and the stock market!"
A sloppy passerby, his shirt moist with sweat, overhears and quickly interjects. "Yeah," he says, taking a drag from a cigarette, "it represented the liberal mindset that this country needs."
The bird, a New Times staffer in costume, was a Loon-inspired social experiment designed to gauge the art seriousness of the crowd at the Wynwood gallery walk. Since 2003, the jaunt has drawn thousands to an area between North Miami Avenue and I-95 from NW 10th to 36th streets on the second Saturday of each the month from 7 to 10 p.m. It's a night for artists, critics, and local "appreciators" to check out innovative local talent while indulging in the galleries' gracious and often heavy pours of free alcohol.
Call it a bohemian booze bash with paintings.
"Why wouldn't you consider a big yellow chicken art?" ponders Rob Burr, a twentysomething rum distiller, computer tech, and self-proclaimed gonzo journalist. "I just saw an exhibit that was nothing but a bunch of rocks against a wall, and that's considered art."
The chicken, dubbed Cluckita, squawks loudly in Rob's face and offers him a piece of chicken.
"I mean, art is life," he continues, swinging a half-eaten drumstick above his head and wiping his sweaty forehead with his shirt sleeve, "and the chicken is alive; therefore it's art."
Sporting glasses and combed-back dark hair, Marshall Fray, a critic of all things creative, approaches while scribbling on a notepad. He asks what Cluckita and I are doing.
"I'm an artist," I say. "I'm spreading my love of art and chicken."
"This chicken?" he asks, tilting his head in bewilderment. "Or chickens in general?"
"All chickens," I say, grabbing a breaded breast and flinging it across the street toward the Kevin Bruk Gallery (2249 NW First Pl.). "Fetch," I command Cluckita. She dances as she crosses the street. People snap pictures as she's almost hit by a car.
"What happened when the chicken crossed the road?" I ask Marshall.
"It represented the separation between the chicken and us."
And thankfully, the car.
I walk to Cluckita and find out what happens when I cross the road: I get bum-rushed by a plump woman with frizzy red hair.
"Are you from Pollo Tropical?" she asks, raising her disposable camera and quickly taking a slide show of photos like a paparazzo.
"Yes," I say, turning my bucket so she can clearly see the brand. "Would you like some Publix chicken?"
Cluckita and I decide to check out some art, so we walk toward Gallery Diet (174 NW 23rd St.), where Samantha Salzinger's "A Strange Day in July" — a whirlpool of disaster paintings meant to investigate the modern human desire to romanticize catastrophe — is being exhibited. As soon as we waddle into the clean, well-lit white gallery, two petite spectators in incredibly tight clothing, Jessica and Jennifer, immediately demand pictures.
"Sure, but you have to answer a few questions first," I say. "Think of it as an art pop-quiz."
Jessica bats her long lashes and gives me a baffled listen-bitch-I-just-wanted-to-post-the-picture-on-Facebook look. Jennifer, who's slightly taller than her brunette look-alike friend, vomits up the word "Okay!" without any kind of additional thought.
"All right," I say. "Who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?"
Both girls stare at me with wide brown eyes. One blinks blankly, then the other. I swear that somehow, somewhere, the sound of a tricycle bell rings.
Cluckita shrieks — their time is up.
"Renoir?" says Jennifer, biting down on her full lips.
I ask a related question: "Can you name one impressionist painter?"
"Like, a famous painter?" Jessica asks. "Or could it be, like, a friend of mine?"
"Can you name the three primary colors?" I ask.
"Red, white, and blue?"
"Okay, what is it about art that you like?"
Jessica, who is standing in front of a painting of a gray tornado, is quick to respond. "I like all the colors," she says. "They're pretty. And it makes me happy."
Walking out of the gallery, Cluckita and I are immediately bombarded by people, the flicker of cameras, and random shout-outs.
"That chicken is racist! He eats chicken!"
And: "Are you the chicken from Family Guy?"
After about 2,897,749,287 gazillion pictures of people flashing smiles, middle fingers, and peace or surf's-up signs with Cluckita, we're left with a group of about five or six guys, all stylishly unwashed, with hard faces that exude a we-listen-to-bands-you've-never-even-heard-of vibe.
Cluckita head-butts one guy with disheveled hair and glasses.
"She has chosen you," I say as Cluckita begins to booty-dance in front of him.
"How do you know the chicken is a she?" he asks.
"Because I've seen her vagina," I say, adding a profound question: "What would you rather have sex with — a chicken with a woman's vagina, or a woman with a chicken's vagina?"
He walks away.
Next comes Fernando, the black sheep of the crowd. He looks as if he's in his sixites. Wearing a pale yellow polo shirt and khaki shorts, and armed with a suave, European attitude, he questions what a hen's main reproductive organ is like.
"It's filled with feathers," I say as I pull a piece of chicken from my bucket and hold it up to Fernando's nose, "and it smells like this."
"Yes, that is okay," he says, signifying that a romp with a clucker isn't entirely out of the question.
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All fun and fuckery aside, the hard-boiled question remains: Do these people really think this chicken is art?
Sarah, a full-figured woman in her midthirties — whom I meet outside Locust Projects (105 NW 23rd St.), where Clifton Childree's spinning horror-porn/maze called "Dream-Cum-Tru" is on exhibit — has a theory.
"Well, it seems like everyone wants to take your chicken's picture," she says, tying her strawberry-blond hair into a ponytail as a group of thuggish boys gets a group photo with the exhausted pullet. "And when I went to the Louvre a few summers back, all anyone seemed to be interested in doing was taking pictures of themselves posing with the Mona Lisa. So in a sad way ... yes, she's art."
Hmmm — maybe we should've named her Clucka Lisa.