Xxavier Carter performed "Sisyphus and the Myth of the New World" in Sayulita, Mexico, without incident.Screenshot from sisyphus/YouTube
What happens when your performative art exhibit is effectively shut down by Miami Beach Police during Art Basel?
Well if you're Dallas-based artist Xxavier Edward Carter, you incorporate the subsequent police report as part of the exhibit and slap a price tag on the ordeal: $13,000.
The pricey performance art piece commenced on Thursday, December 2, with Carter hitting rocks into the ocean with an aluminum baseball bat while buck-naked on Miami Beach near 17th Street — eight miles south of Haulover Beach, the only clothing-optional beach in the area.
The 35-year-old had flown in from Dallas to perform his live exhibit, "Sisyphus and the Myth of the New World" — Carter's interpretation of the Greek legend in which the aforementioned mortal king cheats death, only to be doomed to spend eternity rolling a boulder up a steep hill, then watching it roll back down every time he pushes it to the top.
Carter has performed similar iterations of the same exhibit in Sayulita, Mexico, without incident. (See video below.)
Carter tells New Times his work sets out to highlight imbalanced power dynamics between people of color and authority figures. That description turned out to be more apt than he predicted when a dozen or so Miami Beach police officers descended Thursday afternoon mid-swat, halted the performance, and, Carter alleges, threatened him with jail time.
The artist had planned to stand nude on the beach for an hour while batting small rocks toward the horizon. He says he was barely five minutes into his performance when an officer approached on a four-wheeler.
From that moment, Carter says, the remainder of his public performance was spent explaining to officers that not only was this an actual exhibit with Satellite Art Show but that the nudity and rock-hitting were integral to the work.
"CARTER ADVISED OFFICERS THAT HE IS A PERFORMING ARTIST IN TOWN FOR ART BASEL AND WAS DOING A VIDEO PRODUCTION FOR THE SATELLITE ART SHOW," reads an incident report, which was provided to New Times by the artist and Miami Beach police. "OFFICERS MADE CONTACT WITH THE ART SHOW MANAGER MS. KRISTA CHALKLEY WHO WAS ON SCENE AND CONFIRMED THEY WERE DOING A VIDEO PRODUCTION FOR ART BASEL."
Carter says the officer told him he could continue hitting the rocks into the ocean if he put his shorts on. He says he obliged. Moments later, however, a swarm of uniformed officers had surrounded the now shorts-clad artist.
"I just heard, 'Sir, put the bat down and turn around. I turn around and see a wall of police officers," Carter recounts. "Their paranoia about the whole situation being projected on me was kind of ridiculous."
Carter was not charged with a crime. According to the report, he and the curator hosting the exhibit failed to obtain a performance permit.
Carter tells New Times that officers warned that if a minor had strayed near the exhibit, he could have been charged with indecent exposure and penalized with jail time and fines. ("Exposure of sexual organs...in public" is a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida.)
"If I was a clean-cut-looking white dude or white woman, this wouldn't have happened," Carter insists. "They were treating me like I was a pedophile or was going to kidnap a kid, and like I was actively doing harm to children. Like, c'mon — you can obviously see this was a performance. But they weren't having any of it."
Miami Beach police spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez says the department has not received any complaints connected to the incident.
As of Monday, Carter yet to receive any inquiries for his $13,000 work of art.
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Michael Majchrowicz is a staff writer at Miami New Times. He studied journalism at Indiana University and has reported for PolitiFact, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Post and Courier, and Tampa Bay Times.