BEST ART GALLERY 2004 | Casas Riegner Gallery | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Much competition hangs when it comes to this award. We're happy about that. Upstart gallery Rocket Projects in Wynwood comes to mind, with its community art activism and edgy programming. Then there's Fredric Snitzer Gallery, the darling of Art Basel with the strongest collection in town. And who can forget the Moore Space's stellar exhibitions by artists like Jim Lambie. Meanwhile, lost in the fanfare of big parties and large art crowds elsewhere, Casas Riegner has slowly established itself as a gallery willing to take risks while representing consistently strong and compelling work. From abstract artists like Eugenio Espinoza and Danilo Dueñas to installation pieces with slim commercial hope, the gallery also offers video, photography, and mixed media pieces that, like all the work here, never fail to challenge.

The Tom Hanks megahit movie Big connected with audiences thanks to the actor's uncannily guileless portrayal of youthful joy. Listening to Boog Sciambi broadcast Florida Marlins games on WQAM-AM (560), including the team's unlikely ascent to a World Series championship this past season, brought that same feeling to mind. Sciambi, an old-school announcer with an eager-to-please voice, sounded so damn glad to be there it was impossible not to be infected with his enthusiasm. The opportunity for Sciambi to broadcast high-profile games must have been a big chance for career enhancement, but what made listening to him such a joy was that, underneath the announcer, you could hear the kid whose dreams were coming true.

It was supposed to change the way people felt about urban transportation. A personal hovercraft destined to spearhead the brave new world of tomorrow? Maybe not. When the Segway Human Transporter was revealed to the public, the collective disappointment put a damper on the lofty dreams of creator Dean Kamen. To which he answered at Segway's first public demo, "So sue me." No. The world's first "self-balancing personal transportation device" did find a niche on the less grand avenue of carting tourists around urban centers. Add to that folks who don't mind looking like dorky computer geeks in public. The machine is a tempting joy ride into the world of advanced robotics. Indeed, the smooth ride and maneuverability in tight spots is big fun despite the dirty looks from pedestrians and bicyclists. In fact those dirty looks are the best advertisement for SHTs and their promise of a new and better tomorrow.

Faux sculpture (manatee, porpoise, et cetera) mailboxes have become a trend, but this is not that. The owners of this nice house have created an oceanic panorama of a mailbox, a swirl of fish and covellite, teal, aquamarine background that rises above trendiness and achieves the status of art. The mailbox-mural alone has probably increased property values 25 percent in this quiet backstreet neighborhood, where it tastefully provides an inanimate vista as wondrous and beautiful as those seen when actually diving or snorkeling. The artistic endeavor deserves applause, but please don't screw up what should be an example for all homeowners by bothering the residents. When in the South Miami area, drive by slowly, take in the view, ponder the wonders of the sea, and quietly move on. Just like a snook feeding along the shoals.

In late winter/early spring, South Florida is blessed with a flowering tree so magnificent that residents and tourists alike stand in awe of its beauty. Then why is it that almost no one knows what it's called? Is it because for most of the year, this quiet tree's most distinguishing features are a deeply furrowed trunk and asymmetrical crown? Or could it be that the "oohs" and "aahs" from residents and tourists alike drown out the name whenever it's uttered? Yeah, that must be it. If you can hear this, look for the tree that appears to be covered in a cloud of bright yellow butterflies. By then the Tabebuia caraiba's long, oval, grayish-green leaves will have fallen off to reveal yellow clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers. Be careful of these beautiful blossoms: Once they are on the ground, they are as slippery as the banana peels they resemble.

Naysayers were quick to bitch about putting ten million bucks into fixing up a nearly forgotten raceway in deep South Miami-Dade, but when the new version of the Homestead Miami Speedway opened this past autumn, it had its first sold-out race in nine years. The new variable-degree banking system increased the amount of banking and speed in the turns, and also allowed for three cars to drive side-by-side, which makes for exciting racing even if nobody crashes. This state-of-the-art system is thought to be the wave of the future, and with an estimated $120 million pumped into the Homestead area during NASCAR weekends, it's certainly paid off.

The Lotto and Indian gaming gobble the gambling pie in South Florida, leaving the pari-mutuels crumbs. Gulfstream, located next to Aventura at the county line, belies this paradigm by continuing to present high-class racing, comfortable seating, diverse concessions, and other diversions within a still-lovely venue. That was most obvious at the beginning of 2004, when 21,000 turned out for this season's opening day. A mind-numbing, heart-pumping reunion of punk supergroup Blondie provided an inventive, charming, "Atomic" sonic blast matching in quality the group's August 4, 1979, show at Sunrise Musical Theatre. The band drew thousands of rockers who wouldn't know a saddle from a sawbuck. Meanwhile an ace, eleven-race card ended with three handicap (meaning better horses must carry more weight to even the odds), $100,000-guaranteed stakes races, including the Mr. Prospector Handicap (named for the horse who set the six-furlong-course record in 1973), which showcased Cajun Beat -- among the best four-year-olds in the nation -- and close challenger Gygistar. The exhilarating music and thrilling races made one wish every day were opening day.

Take it from Adora, the hardest-working drag queen in Miami, the legendary Tiffany is the original transgender bomb. When looking for a special guest star for the final Adora and Ivana Noche Latina show at the Cactus Bar and Grill, the only choice was Ms. Arieagus. "She's fantastic," Adora says. "She's super nice, a legend, and unbelievably professional." Arieagus, born in Alabama, began her career performing at Pensacola's Red Garter in the early Seventies. She toured the state and much of the world. With some 30 years experience she has more than 40 titles under her skirt, including Miss Continental USA and Miss Universe. She called it quits in South Beach in the late 1990s and moved to Fort Lauderdale. "I was getting too many parking tickets," Arieagus explains, exuding Southern charm. Adora brought her out of retirement at the recent memorial tribute to South Beach diva Sexcilia, who died in January. At the final Noche Latina she sealed the deal with powerful singing and a silver cocktail dress that wouldn't quit. Now 50, Arieagus makes rare appearances on the nightclub circuit. She spends most of her time working as an HIV case manager for Center One as well as helping raise funds for the Kiwanis, the American Cancer Society, and various HIV-related organizations. Her next step? The White House.

In Miami you don't ponder the now-mythical life of Che Guevara so much as argue about it. The legendary Argentine guerrilla's name is cursed, cried over, or simply shuddered at for the loss it represents to so many Cuban exiles. In fact Menéndez's own father, who fled the island in 1960, was as wary as anyone else while paging through Loving Che, asking sourly, "Why did you have to print so many pictures of that son of a bitch?" As Menéndez's title suggests, her novel is an attempt to grapple with those emotions, with that revolutionary moment's enduring appeal to new generations. Forget dry historical accounts: Menéndez conjures up a sweaty love affair involving the protagonist against the backdrop of Havana's 1959 convulsions. Menéndez crafts passages that cement her as one of our city's finest voices of the Cuban experience, one whose ability to create lyricism out of pain is rare.


Surfing South Beach

For the first time since the Sixties, and maybe ever, there's a thriving surfing community in South Beach. On most winter mornings, up to 400 rowdy surfers litter the ocean, straddling variations of long and short boards. No, our beaches haven't suddenly developed the kind of overhead breaks enjoyed by surfers on the West Coast, or even north of Palm Beach where Atlantic swells make it to shore without being intercepted by reefs and islands. But a growing number of local wavers have discovered that from fall through the beginning of spring, when South Beach receives consistent doses of swells, barreling peaks accompany the incoming tides, big enough for carving. The best known local surfer, Ron Keindl, a former lifeguard, often helps keep order, separating "kooks" from the more experienced riders who might slam into them. "Don't go down there thinking you're going to be the man," he cautions. There are rules, he adds, and "a definite pecking order."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®