Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Look, a lot of people don't consider Gramps a gay bar, but queer people flock to it from all around the globe for a reason: It's one of the most chill and accepting places to be, and it hosts a number of queer events throughout the year. It's the spot where DJ Hottpants brings you nonstop bangers while you dance until the early morning with Double Stubble. It's the kind of place where drag queens not only bring you back-to-back shows, but host bingo nights, challenging the audience with trivia and getting straight people to enjoy a night of Drag Race. It's a bar that offers great drinks and lets you enjoy a delicious slice of pizza while you flirt with a stranger. And it has been the home to Wigwood — where some folks can proudly say they've strut their stuff in a jockstrap while standing next to Gloria Estefan — since its inception. Queer folks love Gramps because it's the kind of home that accepts us no matter how we show up, even if it's our first time dressing up or going out on a date.
Scope Miami Beach is one of the few art fairs during Miami Art Week to set up a tent right on the sands of South Beach. Just off Eighth Street and Ocean Drive, a makeshift runway ushers you to the main entrance of the enormous white tent, whose mazelike interior is filled with a seemingly endless display of contemporary art by local and international artists. Among the most memorable works in 2019 were the audio art sculptures by Miami artist Alex Yanes. Known for his colorful wooden pieces, Yanes created a fully immersive installation starring a large speaker disguised as a fanged, snake-like creature wearing a crown. Guest DJs hooked up their turntables to the speaker for a truly arty party.
Gallerist David Castillo has been in the art biz longer than most TikTok users have been alive. The prominent collector has a natural eye for talent and can see potential brewing in an artist. The Cuban-American Castillo is no stranger to the immigrant tale, which might explain his penchant for showcasing artists who tell stories of identity through their work. A recent exhibition highlighted the work of artist Vaughn Spann, who through his "Marked Man" series tells what it's like to be a Black man in America. The paintings' "X" motif represents a figure standing with his hands raised and feet wide apart — a stance ordered by police when they want to search someone. Spann's work was on view at the gallery during Miami Art Week 2019 and was also displayed at Castillo's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. Castillo moved his gallery from its former home in Miami Beach to the Design District in early 2020. Could the move inward indicate a forthcoming change in the art world? Possibly — but regardless of where the David Castillo Gallery is located, the art it houses will remain top-tier.
Artist and activist VantaBlack (Chire Regans) memorializes the loss of Black lives through portraits drawn with white pencil on black paper. In 2016, she launched her practice alongside the Black Lives Matter movement after witnessing a string of gun violence among Black youth in Miami-Dade County. Since then, she's created hundreds of portraits of Black victims nationwide through her "Memorial Portrait Project" series, which now includes portraits of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Most recently, Regans has shared the stories of victims on a larger scale with her "Say Their Names" mural project, a public art piece that honors those lost to gun violence, police brutality, hate crimes, and domestic violence. The mural is located on the western wall of the historic Bakehouse Art Complex and serves as a community space for reflection and conversation. The text-based mural includes over 250 names of victims and "Say Their Names" in Haitian Creole, Spanish and English, all painted by Regans and a team of volunteers. In October, Oolite Arts presented Regans with its 2020 Social Justice Award, which honors artists "who have made a commitment to working for equality in their daily lives and artistic practice."
The work of Adam Vargas, aka Atomik, is not only all over Miami, but all over the world: The artist's signature grinning orange character adorns walls from Chile to Germany to Thailand. According to his online bio, the idea for the smiling citrus stemmed from the destruction of the Orange Bowl in 2008. As familiar as Atomik's art is to Miamians, the design has changed some over the years: The original styling looked a lot like the King Orange logo...so much so that the artist was eventually asked to cease and desist. The current iteration — a smile that takes up nearly half the piece, Pac-Man-style irises, and bold orange and green colors — includes a chipped tooth, a nice Tarantino-like touch. (The artist himself sports an imperfect set of choppers.) The pandemic hasn't slowed the Miami native down — "It's easier for me to paint because there aren't as many people on the street," he says — nor have a growing family or a move to Cutler Bay. Says the graphic artist, who's been painting for 24 years: "I'm not going to stop, no matter where I'm at."
Who knew that one of the most popular things to watch this year would be an underwater camera streaming live from an urban coral reef near PortMiami? Launched in February by Coral Morphologic, a duo made up of marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay, Coral City Camera provides a 24/7 window into the manmade reef, where an entire aquatic neighborhood has formed. Stuck-at-home people watching on YouTube fell in love with quirky recurring characters like Oval the tail-less doctorfish and Ramón, a yellowtail parrotfish, both of which became so beloved that they got their own lines of merch. Dedicated fans, of which there are many from around the world, keep up a running conversation on YouTube, and the camera's Instagram account has over 12,000 followers. The site has also become an educational tool and a case study for scientists observing how the corals are thriving in an urban setting. The project manages to combine art, science, and environmental awareness in a way that few are able to. But because every silver lining must have its cloud, the camera is now in jeopardy owing to a proposed expansion at the port. Its loss would not only be felt deeply by its fans but would threaten the future of the reef itself, no to mention the creatures that have come to call it home.
Miami has an enviable number of art museums, but did you know that it also has a wealth of private art collections open to the public? At the top of the list is the Rubell Museum, whose collection would make world-class art institutions green with envy. Work by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, and Charles Ray can all be found here — assuming it's not out on loan for an exhibition somewhere. Recently, the collection left its longtime home in Wynwood for a new, 100,000-square-foot campus in Allapattah. Built out to museum standards, it offers 53,000 square feet of gallery space for the display of the Rubells' permanent collection as well as curated special exhibitions. The Rubell Museum is currently open Wednesday through Sunday while adhering to CDC guidelines, with facemasks required and visitor capacity limited; admission is $10 to $15.
The pandemic has left people feeling disconnected in various ways. Disconnected from their friends and family, disconnected from the world, and disconnected from their history. In a word: unmoored. That's why places like the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU are more important than ever. The museum's mission is to tell the story of Miami's Jewish history, and that comes through in its exhibits as well as its location. Visitors to the museum, which is housed in what was once a set of synagogues in Miami Beach, will feel an immediate connection to its religious roots. The permanent "MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida" exhibit comprises a winding tapestry of Miami's Jewish movers and shakers from the past 200 years while also shining a light on pioneer families and the immigrant experience. People you may not have known were Jewish or even connected to Miami are all enshrined here in a series of pictures that present a gestalt of the city's history. The exhibit is getting a facelift, so expect an even grander display once the museum (currently closed because of the pandemic) is back up and running. JMOF also hosts traveling exhibitions, which in 2018 famously included a collection of paintings by Tennessee Williams. During its closure, the museum has continued to present virtual programming, accessible on its website.
In the midst of a global pandemic and all the road bumps that came with it, the Coral Gables Art Cinema was the first local arthouse to reopen its doors. In addition to avirtual screening room, Gables Cinema has been offering in-person screenings of the kind of programming they're known for, from classics like Meet Me in St. Louis and Hausu to new releases like Let Him Go, Martin Eden, and On the Rocks. Plus, the theater's new seat-selection system and reduced capacity make for quite the refreshing update in the COVID era, allowing patrons to navigate how far they can safely sit from others while also enjoying the feeling of being back at the theater with an audience.
Anyone who has witnessed Keisha Rae Witherspoon's stunning 13-minute directorial debut, T, knows exactly why she is our choice this year for "Best Film Director." Her playful, experimental short — a futuristic faux documentary that follows three grieving participants in the annual T Ball, a fictional Liberty City event where people who lost a loved one assemble to model R.I.P. T-shirts and costumes to honor their dead — has toured a number of festivals and even won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at Berlinale this year. It's the kind of debut that highlights the filmmaker's visionary eye and her ability to offer the audience an intimate portrait in a short period of time. That's not all. Witherspoon was the inaugural recipient of the Lynn Shelton "Of a Certain Age" grant this year, the final iteration of her film 1968 < 2018 > 2068 is set for its virtual premiere this winter, and she's already working on an untitled feature she describes as "a post-alien-abduction black sci-fi drama set in Opa-locka." We can't wait to see what's next.
All hail the drive-in theater! In an era when going to the cinema might result in your death, drive-ins are a veritable lifesaver. And if you think the trend is tacky or dated, you clearly haven't been to the Swap Shop & Thunderbird Drive-In Theater in Fort Lauderdale. Throughout the pandemic, the drive-in has been providing us with a cinematic experience we can enjoy from our very own vehicles, not via glaring LED screens but with actual projectors. Not only do you not have to endure pesky teens texting and old folks answering calls from their grandkids, but you can control the audio from your car radio while enjoying any number of new releases (or the occasional classic) at the sweet, sweet price of $7 per person ($2 per kid 11 or younger; kids under 4 get in free). Even when you're watching a new movie, catching a movie at the Swap Shop feels like a timeless experience.
At the end of Harmony Korine's 2019 vaudeville comedy The Beach Bum, a reporter asks Moondog, the titular bum played by Matthew McConaughey, for his secret to life. "I like to have fun, man," Moondog answers. "It's why I like boats, I like the water, I like the sunshine, I like beautiful women, a lot. Man, I get all these things going — man, they're all turning me on. My wires are connecting upstairs and I start to hear music in my head, you know?" Against the backdrop of Miami, Hollywood, and the Florida Keys, freewheelin' poet Moondog bounces from boat to boat and woman to woman in what can only be described as a stoner fairytale. Life comes at him fast, leading to his eviction from a waterfront mansion in Miami and sending him to a homeless encampment underneath the Julia Tuttle, a short stint in county jail, and up to one of Broward's dime-a-dozen addiction-recovery homes. But through it all, Moondog remains buoyant, treating it all as just another adventure. The Sunshine State is his playground, and landmarks including the Miami Marine Stadium, the Hollywood Broadwalk, and Key West's Schooner Wharf bar become all the more beautiful through the lens of cinematographer Benoît Debie, who splendidly depicts Florida just as it is: a sunny place for shady people. Moondog, a most lovable deadbeat, savors every minute of it. "This life gig's a fucking rodeo," he says, "and I'm gonna suck the nectar out of it and fuck it raw-dog till the wheels come off."