Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
There is no such thing as a "typical" Karen Stephens part. Like the best actors anywhere, she's an invisible conduit for a playwright's unique creation, which, paradoxically, we cannot imagine existing without her. Thus, if Christopher Demos-Brown's world-premiere play Fear Up Harsh, which debuted in Miami courtesy of Zoetic Stage, receives productions elsewhere, Stephens' masterly lead performance sets a seemingly untouchable benchmark. Her lesbian army corporal — physically and emotionally bruised, desperate, and probably alcoholic — is as convincing a portrayal of a military veteran as we've seen onstage, with Stephens infusing her character's tortured memories and wry wit with lived-in intelligence. A few months later, she flawlessly inhabited another complex character — a brash, funny, Southern-bred maid with a heavenly secret — in GableStage's The Mountaintop. That secret torpedoed an otherwise provocative piece, but Stephens remained truthful even during its descent, culminating in a powerful soliloquy encompassing the past 40 years of African-American history that ebbed and flowed with the oratorical gusto of The Mountaintop's immortal subject, Martin Luther King Jr.
How do you know when an art gallery has catapulted into the art-world stratosphere? When collectors from Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris quickly buy out its entire stock at a major art fair. That was exactly what happened to Spinello Projects at the Volta New York fair, where major collectors plunked down serious cash to pluck 25 of Farley Aguilar's atmospheric paintings off the Spinello booth walls within two hours of opening its doors, to the delight of Anthony Spinello and his rising art star. Spinello, who has experienced a meteoric rise since he became a dealer in 2005, heads one of only two local galleries invited to participate in Art Basel Miami Beach the past two years running. It's no accident. The dealer has demonstrated a keen eye for spotting talent and represents locals ready to burst onto the national stage, from Aguilar to Santiago Rubino, Sinisa Kukec, Agustina Woodgate, Typoe, Manny Preires, and Antonia Wright. The main reason: He inspires fierce loyalty. For Spinello, the program he runs is a passion. He can often be found at his artists' studios or his gallery working elbow-to-elbow with the talents on their projects. Spinello has become known not only for producing edgy, thought-provoking, and seamlessly organized exhibits, but also for assembling a stable that functions as a family network of supportive talent rather than a roster of individual egos. In a business known for ruthless competitiveness, that level of loyalty is an all too uncommon trait.
During the past five years, Jillian Mayer has catapulted to national prominence as an artist and filmmaker who creates uncanny works that employ a postmillennial techno approach while blurring identities and parsing pop cultural memes. She burst onto the scene with her 2010 Scenic Jogging, in which the artist raced after bucolic screen-saver images projected onto Wynwood warehouses. That piece later won the Guggenheim's YouTube Play biennial, where it earned Mayer raves. The next year, Mayer followed with I Am Your Grandma — a viral, deliciously creepy gem in which she sings as the bizarre granny of her future progeny; it has earned 2.6 million YouTube views and counting. She also released Giving Birth to Myself, which headlined her solo show "Family Matters" at the David Castillo Gallery with a disturbing meditation on maternity where the sweat-soaked talent re-emerges as a baby slathered in acid-green slime. In 2012, Mayer and frequent collaborator and founder of the Borscht Film Festival, Lucas Leyva, snagged national headlines after their film The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke screened at Sundance and earned the duo inclusion in Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film." Last year, Mayer's clever How to Hide From Cameras, a YouTube makeup tutorial on how to remain anonymous in an increasing surveillance state, was a finalist at the Museum of Contemporary Art's popular Optic Nerve video fest, while her film #PostModem, yet another collaboration with Leyva, screened at Sundance. These days, not only is Mayer riding a hot hand, but the wildly creative artist has also proven herself a chameleon-like changeling who's startlingly at ease with forever reinventing herself.
David Beckham is smitten with the idea of constructing a new Major League Soccer Stadium at PortMiami and calls the site perfect because it reflects a city that "is all about the water, all about the culture." Becks is right. For evidence, simply visit the planet's most popular port to discover Coral Reef City, Bhakti Baxter's first large-scale public artwork in Miami. For his eye-popping project, part of Miami-Dade County's Art in Public Places program, the homegrown artist created site-specific designs for the port's toll collection booths that reference the site's unique role as gateway to the tropics. Baxter collaborated with Coral Morphologic, a Miami-based scientific art endeavor led by marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay to create the 18 unique designs that wrap each individual toll booth. Each delivers a stunning vision of our vibrant local sea life. To accomplish the feat, Baxter and his collaborators enlarged macro photographs of corals that inhabit the waters in and around Miami, creating a striking synergy between nature and art that captures our town's appeal as a pulsating paradise. The resulting explosion of the brilliant, rainbow-hued colors of the soft corals (technically known as zoanthids) delights not only the likes of Beckham and the millions of other visitors passing through on cruise ships, but also locals, who rarely get a chance to behold the mystery and beauty of the creatures populating our coastline.
Wynwood may be the heart of a growing global graffiti movement, but some of its murals are surprisingly soulless. Whether they depict a cool-ass dragon perched atop a mountain peak or cartoon characters committing acts of violence, many are brilliantly drawn but little more, like flashy wallpaper for warehouses. Few of the works strive to stir something inside passersby. On the southwest corner of NW Third Avenue and 27th Street, towering gold letters spell "I remember paradise" against a rainbow background. The mural, by Londoner Lakwena Maciver, is meant to invoke human longing for a lost era. "We all have this sense that there is something wrong with the world but that once there was something perfect," Maciver told New Times. It's a beautiful painting, and one that has formed the backdrop for Beyoncé Instagrams and glossy magazine spreads. But it's actually the mural cater-cornered that makes us nostalgic. There, a heavily tattooed man holds a gorgeous woman in a tender embrace. A shuttered doorway is transformed into a birdcage. The mural, by Peruvian duo Entes y Pésimo (Beings & Dreadful), perfectly captures modern-day Miami: young, Hispanic, interracial, part tattooed thug, part tender romantic. The man's face is pensive, his stance protective. The woman, unashamedly in love, stares straight out at you. How wonderfully disarming to walk through Wynwood on a weekend night, past posturing dudes and pretending chicks, and stumble upon such intimacy.
The eyes of Miami are stoned on Elmer's and see everything. The sleepy sentinels keep watch over Wynwood at NW 27th Street, make their mark on the Margulies Collection facing I-95, boldly impress passersby on Biscayne Boulevard, and peer down from above the kitchen at the bayside Standard Hotel. Whatever their location or color scheme, they are stacked by the dozens, sometimes even hundreds, and leave an impression whether or not you know the name of the man who wields the can that created the memorable work. The ignorance stops here, because the local artist deserves your recognition. "AholSniffsGlue" is not only the funniest street artist name in town, but it also gets to the heart of the whole droopy-lidded genius of his best-known trademark. But lazy eyes aren't all he draws. He's had solo exhibits of his multimedia artwork at Gregg Shienbaum and Mercenary Square and has been part of group affairs at Scope and Wynwood Art Fair. But it's the half-mast eyes that are his calling card and most notable addition to the Miami street art scene. Next time you see them, call it out: "AholSniffsGlue!" You'll look cool in front of your friends.
At the end of the 19th Century, a swarm of locusts ravaged South Africa, wiping out croplands and forcing local tribesmen to seek work in the recently discovered gold and diamond mines. For his first major project in Miami, South African sculptor Nicholas Hlobo, who is known for his sprawling, room-engulfing installations, used the colonial-era disaster that decimated a way of life as the inspiration behind a sweeping, experimental opera sketch called "Intethe," which translates to "locust" in the language of the Xhosa people from his native land and also references the gallery's name. At Locust, Hlobo deftly channeled the ghosts of colonialism with a haunting collection of eight monumental steel sculptures swaddled in mantles confected from truck tire inner tubes and swathes of lace. Bristling air valve nozzles and rainbow-hued ribbons also added to the baleful nature of the works. Hlobo collaborated with local Haitian musicians Papaloko and Loray Mistik during the opening performance to underscore notions of shared identity throughout the global African diaspora as part of the edgy work. Also referencing issues of racial, sexual, and gender identity, the powerful exhibit projected subtitles in the Xhosa language onto the mystifying stage Hlobo had set, while white-clad musicians summoned the spirits of their ancestors through ritual drum beats and bellowing conch shell blasts. Visitors to Locust were also treated to the spectacle of Over and Under, a massive hand-loomed expanse of canvas, spilling from a floor-to-ceiling scaffold created by homegrown talent Frances Trombly in the gallery's project room. The results of Locust's striking Art Basel offering made for an eclectic showcase that became laser-engraved on Miami's collective memory.
Ever since Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) joined the nascent arts community blooming near Biscayne Bay, the area has rapidly become a favorite among local arts lovers eager to experience a more laid-back art walk than the boisterous Second Saturday version that transforms Wynwood into a jam-packed spectacle a few miles away. From PAMM's home off the MacArthur Causeway to Flagler Street on the south end, downtown Miami is home to some of South Florida's cultural heavy hitters, including the MDC Museum of Art + Design, CIFO, and Cannonball, plus a tightly knit cadre of artist-run spaces and a growing gallery scene. At the DWNTWN Arts House, some of the Magic City's venerable alt spaces, such as Dimensions Variable and Bas Fisher Invitational, hold sway in the 20,000-square-foot creative depot that also houses the TM Sisters' studio and Turn-Based Press. Just a few blocks south, Primary Projects offers some of the region's edgiest programming at its new space, while the Aluna Art Foundation on West Flagler Street and HistoryMiami offer a raft of equally intriguing exhibits at the area's southernmost fringe. There's plenty of parking and easily accessible public transportation, including the free Metromover, while watering holes and eateries such as the DRB, the Corner, and Will Call provide the grub and spirits without visitors having to queue up at a food truck rodeo to fill the gullet after feeding the soul. Check it out beginning at 6 p.m. every first Friday of the month.
Between the usual Art Basel madness and the gala opening of Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Magic City enjoyed more than its fair share of fantastic exhibits in 2013. Only one, however, featured Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage dressed in drag portraying a 17th-century German dwarf. That honor goes to Eve Sussman's "Rufus Corporation," a blockbuster at the Bass Museum that not only reaffirmed Sussman as one of the most important contemporary artists working today but also marked the museum's growing profile on the local scene. The stellar exhibit boasted a series of films, photos, installations, and videos, including the star turn by Dinklage. Sussman cast him in her 89 Seconds at Alcázar, a 12-minute film that garnered international attention when it debuted at the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Dinklage took the part — as Mari Barbola, a German dwarf made famous in Diego Velázquez's enigmatic opus Las Meninas, a scene from the Spanish court of King Philip IV in 1656 — before he catapulted to Hollywood fame. The movie re-envisioned what transpired among the Spanish royal family, their servants, a dog, and the painter at their summer palace more than 350 years ago, transporting Bass visitors to an opulent age. But for all of Dinklage's star power, the show stealer was Sussman's feature-length video-musical The Rape of the Sabine Women, which reinterpreted the founding of Rome in an unforgettable way. Originally shot for the big screen, the 80-minute movie was transformed by Sussman into a five-part installation that turned spectators into actors in an epic production. Sussman presented the haunting imagery shot in the Mediterranean with modern actors on 30 screens, including sprawling wall projections; a stand-alone, house-like construction near the rear of the museum; several postcard-size video monitors; and a massive installation of TV sets piled randomly on the floor, reminiscent of a technological junkyard.
Let's face it: Baselites are damn hard to impress. Each year, the jaded international art-world cognoscenti flock to the 305 for Art Basel, an aesthetic winter bacchanalia where the latest contemporary trends and talent compete for attention with the über-exclusive VIP list for over-the-top private soirees. But in December 2013, for once that wasn't the case. That's because everyone from locals to the visiting glitterati were all left agog by the new Pérez Art Museum Miami. When PAMM opened on Biscayne Bay with a raft of blockbuster exhibits, including a survey of Chinese star Ai Weiwei, it was the 21st-century museum's stunning building that left tongues wagging. Designed by award-winning Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the stunning cultural showcase was inspired by "Stiltsville," the tiny village of shacks rising from Biscayne Bay. The result is a bleeding-edge shrine to PAMM's growing collection that anchors the east end of the 29-acre Museum Park. The site will also be the home of the nearby Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, designed by Grimshaw Architects and scheduled to open in 2015. From the moment visitors enter PAMM — which boasts 200,000 square feet of space — they're left with the sensation they've stepped into a sculptural artwork. Outside, hanging gardens tower 60 feet overhead beside views of the water and Miami's skyline shimmering in the languid breeze. Destined to remain the Magic City's creative hub for years to come, the museum has already made an impact through its series PAMM Presents, taking place every third Thursday, when it delivers internationally acclaimed talent and performers for an eclectic range of dance music and experimental sounds on the bay.
Yeah, we know Miami is the only urban metropolis wedged next to two national parks (that's Biscayne and the Everglades, you rube). But that doesn't mean it's easy to find a jewel of urban quietude amid that concrete jungle. That's why Vizcaya is such a miracle in the Magic City. Nested in the heart of Coconut Grove, the estate was built by agricultural magnate James Deering in the years after World War I and modeled on an Italian Renaissance villa. Elaborate gardens spill through mangroves to the edge of Biscayne Bay, while the house itself is a stunning faux-European masterpiece. Yet the place exudes pure Miami charm, from the local limestone and native subtropical foliage to the regular stream of weekend quinceañera photo shoots along the water's edge. Next time your urban fervor spikes, there's no need to flee an hour and a half into the midst of the Glades — simply head to the mystical respite in downtown Miami's backyard.
For a perfect ensemble cast, actors' responsibilities are twofold: They each have to create a character that is distinct and three-dimensional, and they have to collaborate to create a fictional world that is, in most cases, as plausible as the one beyond the proscenium. If there's one bit of miscasting, the audience becomes conscious of a "performance" — and then the simulacrum crumbles. This was never the case in the Alliance Theatre Lab's unforgettable Savage in Limbo, in which director Adalberto Acevedo's five actors played together with the harmonic richness of a musical quintet with decades of experience. The setting was a broken-down bar where a handful of broken-down lives converged. These desperate, frantic, rootless barflies included Shira Abergel's 32-year-old virgin, Valentina Izarra's hooker-attired sparkplug, Curtis Belz's romantically scattered lunkhead, and Breeza Zeller's professional drunk, slumped in melancholy perpetuity over the bar. Christian Vandepas' barkeep presided over this carnival of lost souls with weary disillusionment while clinging onto a thread of hope that quietly unfurled. Collectively, these actors formed the emotional nucleus of a place in which no one ever wants to wind up, but it must have struck many viewers as painfully familiar.