Nina Arias, former curator at Rocket Projects, says the art business is no Sunday in the park
Nina Arias, former curator at Rocket Projects, says the art business is no Sunday in the park

Thou Art a Villain

Temblors above, business continues below; such is the topography of Miami's burgeoning artscape. But just as our city's established and emerging serious artists get ready to snatch the limelight from the poseurs -- at least for a few days, during Art Basel -- tectonic plates grind to create a little earthquake at Design District darling Rocket Projects.

Rockets, as the gallery is fondly nicknamed, was the breakout local space at the international fair in 2003, earning raves from Art in America for its abstract painting exhibit "Beautiful Pressure." Though this year has seen only so-so showings (Jen DeNike's video and photo installation "Worshipping False Idols" being a notable exception), everybody knows about its Zeitgeisty opening parties, where the artwork must hold its own against the competing music, alcohol, and jostling scenesters.

This street action can be credited greatly to Nina Arias, until recently Rocket Projects' curator as well as creative buzz generator. Arias made a typically dramatic exit in October: She was locked out of the building and handed a letter by her former partner, Nick Cindric, telling her she'd been fired and forbidding her to return to the gallery.

According to Florida Department of State Division of Corporation records, Cindric now has sole financial interest in the gallery. Documents indicate principal investor (and noted local videographer) Francie Bishop Good ceded control to Cindric this past September. Rocket Projects, which is at 3440 N. Miami Ave., lists a business office address on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. The original name of the limited liability company was Arias Cindric Projects LLC, though Nina Arias's name appears nowhere else on those papers.

"It's true that Nina was fired. That's right. She was canned," Cindric said this week. "And now I am responsible for Rocket Projects and am the owner."

Sources tell The Bitch that the gallery is behind on rent and in danger of having its utilities cut off. Some of the artists who helped Rockets make its name say they have not been paid for the sale of their work through the gallery; others have not had their work returned from shows past, and compensation for artworks damaged in transit is outstanding.

Geoff Chadsey, whose distorted images of urban teens were featured at Rockets this past July, worried in an e-mail dated November 5: "I'm wondering if it is just a fantasy that I will ever be paid for that destroyed drawing. I am also concerned that if, worst case scenario, the gallery goes bankrupt, my work will be impounded."

Chadsey tells The Bitch he was afraid to say more, "given that the gallery still has my drawings."

"I have a very good relationship and speak regularly with both Nina and Nick," says Oakland, California, painter Leah Modigliani. Modigliani adds that she did "write a little bit of a threatening letter" to Cindric over an unreceived payment for a painting she had sold through the gallery. "But that technique worked," she says. "I did get paid within five days of contacting Nick."

Cindric says that Chadsey may also expect a check soon.

He added: "The gallery is not in any type of financial trouble. I can't give you any more of an interview right before Art Basel, because this is all just going to be negative for the gallery."

The normally loquacious Arias also has little to say. "It's so clichéd for something to break big and then crash and burn this quickly," she muses of Rockets, which opened last year. She expects eventually to return to curating and promoting. "I come from a very grassroots level. No one made it easy for me to begin with. I'm a strong believer in karma. I have nothing to hide. And I know how to work."

Le Batard Looooooves Ricky

Did Ricky Williams, the wayward, impulsive, former Dolphins running back really mean to quit football this past July? Or was he simply thinking out loud, fishing for a bit of faith? After all, just weeks ago, Williams's attorney asked the NFL if he could return to playing next year.

Esquire magazine, in its December issue, asserts that Williams "had no real intention of quitting" when he phoned up then-coach Dave Wannstedt one weekend and retired. "He was looking for something to pull him back in," writes Chris Jones, who tracked down Williams at a hippie campground in Australia. Whatever Wannstedt said apparently didn't do the trick, because then Williams called "his best friend," Miami Herald sports columnist Dan Le Batard.

Le Batard, whose close friendship with the reclusive Williams is widely known, got a lot of play in breaking the story about the player's resignation. In his July 29 column, Le Batard acknowledged that his relationship with Williams did of course color his opinions. But, he argued, he was able to offer readers Williams's voice because Ricky wasn't talking to anybody else. "Am I too close to this story?" he wrote. "Yeah, probably. It was kind of unavoidable. But I support Ricky Williams. That's what you do with friends.

"I've tried to talk him out of retiring before, like just about everyone else ..." he continued. "But he sounded less confused and happier than I've ever heard him when he called Saturday. And so, objectivity be damned, I was happy for him."

Yet Esquire's Jones describes the reverse situation: "Ricky called up Le Batard, his personal media outlet, to hand over one last scoop in exchange, he says, for a favor: Le Batard would have to wait until Monday to write his story, for two pretty good reasons. First of all, Ricky wanted to call some of his teammates and let them know what was happening and why. Second, Ricky knew he had a tendency to change his mind about things -- maybe he hadn't stripped things down deep enough to find the whole Truth -- and the weekend would give him a window for reflection. Le Batard agreed, Ricky says. But Le Batard wrote a story that appeared on the Internet the next day, and everything blew up."

Jones found the eccentric millionaire athlete staying in a seven-dollar-a-week tent, doing bong hits, cleaning up in poker games, and forming a unified field theory of the universe which his swamp guru Steven dubbed the Corn State. He speculates in the article that had Williams been able to talk things out with his coach and had Le Batard not "jumped the gun," Williams would still be a Dolphin. Of course with Williams, you never know what's going on in that now-dreadlock-free head. He had, after all, failed several drug tests, was facing suspension, and is famous for odd behavior related to his social anxiety disorder.

In an e-mail response to The Bitch, Le Batard allows that Williams did ask him to wait until Monday, but he demurred and his friend understood. "I told him there was no way, as a journalist, I could sit on a story that size after he had already told his coach Friday. He told me to handle it however I saw fit and immediately boarded a plane to Japan. We put the story on the Website Sunday morning."

Danza's Not the Boss of Miami

Earlier this month the marketing geniuses at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitor's Bureau put together a vacation package giveaway, including rooms at the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort, for the studio audience of The Tony Danza Show. Because MIA is a rundown money pit held hostage by American Airlines, the lucky 140 travelers will be flying into Fort Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines, which, like most discount carriers, eschews our expensive flea market of an airport.

None of this disturbs The Bitch so much, however, as the prospect of chance encounters with roaming packs of Tony Danza fans, which would cause fur and dentures to fly. Is the Tony Danza demographic really the target the so-called Capital of the Americas wants to go after? A-O, O-A! Translation: Um, no.

Good Parties Make Good Neighbors

The Bitch just doesn't get the whole condo-opening-party trend, and often huffs that she wouldn't go to one of those events even if there was one across the street, but then there was one across the street, and what could she do but investigate the situation?

The situation, as it was this past Friday night, was basically an enormous circus tent thrown over an open bar and about a ton of somewhat crushed sushi, the telltale sign of the of the sponsorship largesse of Ocean Drive magazine. The location was the site of Onyx 2, a 50-story condo scheduled to be built on the bay at the end of 28th Street.

Dana Murphy, a 28th Street resident and outspoken Onyx 2 opponent, isn't happy about the prospect of living in the shadow of the giant structure or dealing with the inevitable traffic problems it will bring. He was even less happy about the high rollers celebrating on Friday: "It's not enough these guys are out here trashing our street every day, now we have a massive party with commissioners strolling around, everyone parking in my yard and my neighbors' yards, and the bass rattling my windows. The whole neighborhood is pissed off, but I guess the politicians who are supposed to be looking out for me consider that okay as long as somebody's making a lot of money."

Back at the party, Realtors tried to get revelers to buy property, any property. Barry Kraemer of Skyline Properties told The Bitch that while Onyx 2, with prices starting at 400 large, was clearly out of her league, he could get her a studio in Midtown Miami, the condotropolis to be built on a former railyard, for, oh, about half that.

The Bitch laughed, and not just because her personal economic system depends entirely upon the marked-down, day-old croissants at Wild Oats.

"I'd never live there anyway," she told Kraemer. "It's a brownfield! The ground's full of arsenic and lead!"

Kraemer, who boasted he knows Midtown's developers "really well," said the contaminated earth (the builders have cleansed the brownfield enough to bring toxic chemicals in the soil to legal levels) was news to him: "I've never heard about that. I'll look into it."

Tara Reid was on hand to exude a celebrity presence. She was totally nice, posing gamely for scores of photos and chatting cheerfully with The Bitch about the inappropriateness of wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

The real star of the evening, though, was none other than the psychic sergeant, José Rocha of the Miami Police Department. Sergeant Rocha was going about the business of managing the aforementioned traffic jam, pleasantly preventing one martini-toting guest from driving off with drink in hand, and escorting The Bitch across Biscayne Boulevard. Rocha, who is Nicaraguan, says he's always wanted to be a cop, and plans to work his way up through the ranks and -- who knows? -- may become the first Magic City police chief from Central America.

Sergeant Rocha claimed that he has special abilities, and offered to read The Bitch's paw. When she skeptically declined, he revealed the following: "You like it when things smell good."

"Um, who doesn't?" asked The Bitch.

"You have an especially acute sense of scent," continued Rocha. "And you like the color orange. And vanilla."

All true, so the astonished Bitch asked if Rocha had insight about actual important stuff.

"No way," said the sergeant, who by this time also had rescued a kitten from a tree and changed a few flat tires. "I'm 28 years old and I've been married and divorced three times, so I don't have much vision about romance."


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