Last Night an Art Show Saved My Life

Something is missing at the Rock the Tiki Luau, the Friday-night party at the Palms Hotel.

But what is it?

It's not sex appeal. There's doorman Rich, with his model good looks, reassuring the hetero-curious that there's no "construction-worker convention" under way out on the patio. No, packed elbow to elbow and stacked knee-high on lounge chairs, ladies and lads who it's safe to say have never donned a hard hat sip whatever cocktails have been recommended by this month's waiting-room mags: chocolate martinis, apple martinis, mai tais.

It's not DJ Le Spam. In compliance with the recent county ordinance mandating that Spam perform at all parties, he's spinning here.

So it's definitely not the old-school flavor. Taking turns with Le Spam, DJ Will Renart tosses Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" and Twilight 22's "Electric Kingdom," practically providing a history lesson for the crowd brought up on MTV.

But then not everything old school is too cool. As A Tribe Called Quest's "Jazz (We've Got)" oozes thick bass and sultry sax, a mildly aged New York gaffer saunters over to ask Renart to "play some hip-hop." Despite his Phat Farm shirt, our Fourth and Broadway fella must not be clued in on what hip-hop is.

Like they say, clothes don't always make the man.

But then not even the man necessarily makes the man. Take that guy over there who responds to a thwarted pickup with his best Positive K:

"You got a man? How long you had that problem?"

Long enough to get the hell out of here.

Over at Opium Garden, there's something missing too.

It's not the beats or the BET-stylin'. DJ Mr. Mauricio has the ladies leg-grinding on tables and the men in slanted Sean John hats champagne-glass-waving, needle droppin' a half-hour-long Neptunes megamix that lasts for about a half hour. Not one of the records laid by production team Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams spins for more than a minute and a half.

So you know the scene is not hurting for fresh tracks.

What's missing?

While pelvises scrub the floor to Benzino's "Rock The Party," a tall Yugoslavian woman is overheard answering her dance partner, who has innocently asked her what she does for a living, with that most South Beach of all occupations: "Nothing."

"No, I mean really," he tries again. "How do you make money and support yourself?"

She sticks with her story.

"I do nothing," she insists. "I wake up, go to the beach, sleep, and go out at night."

That's it! That's what's missing in the land of silicone and sand.

A sense of purpose.

It doesn't take an art critic to decipher the signs.

But then again, the art scene might be just the place to find parties for people who do something.

So Saturday night Clubbed sets out for the Design District, ready to trade in Renart for Renoir or whatever it is the art set is talking about nowadays.

First stop: the Daniel Azoulay Gallery for an untitled exhibition featuring the works of Elena Ehrenwald, Harumi, Gil Jacobson, Frederic Nakache, David Ottenstein, Meg Pukel, Doron Rabina, Alberto Rizzo, Bernadi Roig, Karen Thompson, Jorge Vera, and Harvey Zipkin.

Look, there are even a few familiar faces here. Local scene-ite Hope Gainer and musician Jorge Mejia peek at the contemporary photographs on display. The music is basically the same as on the other end of the causeway. Clubbed shies away from actually talking to anyone about the art. You mean Picasso's not an ice cream flavor at Baskin-Robbins?

Next door at Kevin Bruk Gallery, Nina Arias guides Clubbed through the works of Warren Isensee and Alex Blau. A few other island clubbies show up.

Word is out: no cover, free wine.

Hey, this art thing isn't half bad.

Over at the South Art's Contemporary Small Format 2002 exhibit in Wynwood, Clubbed is actually taken in by Patricia Bonilla's "Heart Experience," a collection of heart-themed pieces made by people from around the world.

Suddenly the artspeak flows more freely. Or maybe that's just the merlot and cheese.

Or maybe it's the conversation. While Dúo Chehébar-Navarro performs aboriginal and traditional rhythms from the Argentine homeland, painter Oscar Jamarillo discusses his work in a quiet corner of the gallery.

"My work is inspired by life, love, and death," he explains.

Wow, this art gig is definitely a big change from the Beach, where life is inspired by Botox, Ecstasy, and lap dances.

But then that's the world Clubbed knows best, so it's time to bid goodbye to the intellects and cap off this evening on Washington Avenue, maybe try out some of the new lingo on some of the local barflies.

Let's see, there's a potential new hang at the newly opened Lounge 16, where Crystal, the familiar face formerly behind the bar at Club Deuce, is mixing up cocktails and dishing out ale. Same smile. Same feisty attitude. Crystal and Clubbed reminisce about the day they met some five years ago at a nameless sex shop while a nameless person did the centipede on the floor. Performance art? Those were the days, indeed.

Clubbed remembers when only die-hard drinkers stopped by this dive on Sixteenth Street. In fact one night he even saw something of a Yoko Ono event here that he'll call "Two Drunks."

Fist hits face. Drunk hits floor.

As for the décor in the new digs, let's call it Pop Art. Leopard-print chair fashioned like a stiletto shoe. The living-room-styled lounge definitely has a Warholian factory feel. But out on the comfy futons, Clubbed's newly acquired artspeak falls on the deaf ears of a local cabaret dancer who has popped in for a glass or four of wine (and it's not even free over here!).

She doesn't want anyone slipping her some intellectual tongue. She's more interested in arguing that she is not a sex object (Surrealism!).

Oh, well, time to shift back into sleaze mode.

Shut up and dance on the table, why don'tcha?

Dadaism, anyone?

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Lee Williams