Much of contemporary art is about engagement and confrontation, about stepping out of our comfort zone and letting aggressive art penetrate our rusty brainpans. The nonprofit Bas Fisher Invitational, the artist-run alternative art space in Miami’s Design District headed by Naomi Fisher and Jim Drain, has organized a Weird Miami project with BFI curator Agatha Ware, transforming a city lousy with contemporary art into a free-floating conceptual piece.
Weird Miami incorporates an exhibition, the Weird Miami Visitors Center, which highlights the talents of Adler Guerrier, featured in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and Isabel Molos-Rigau, whose installation Our Fabric consists of a hand-woven silk sari with glue, ink and miniature lights.
BFI also has put together a series of monthly artist-led tours that take the public along on jaunts through the weird corners of Miami.
The always-thoughtful Guerrier led the first tour — “Untitled (How the other half lives)” — in July, applying his usual precise, micro-economic perspective on a strip of old-school Miami, Northwest Seventh Avenue and beyond.
“Whatever the community wants and needs, it’s right there on Northwest Seventh Avenue, which ties into the new urbanism,” Guerrier says. “We also went to the Flea Market USA, which really has everything, from barbershops to lemonade. Wig’s City is interesting as well. Then, we went to Shantel’s Lounge for barbecue and the Roundtable Bar down the road. We’ve all had a beer at Churchill’s a thousand times, but this is something different.”
BFI’s final weird quest, “Ripe Riparian,” to be led by Christy Gast in September, will focus on the Little River and explore the whole notion of living with water. As with all the other tours, details will not be announced in advance. Participants will hop on a bus in the morning with no idea where they will be going.
Each tour starts with the exhibition, which is terrific, a stroll through all kinds of local history and oddities. In one corner is Peggy Nolan’s installation, Bar Mitzvah Boys and Prom Queens (special moments in the history of strangers), a collage of old found family photos surrounding a rattan armchair and lamp. Alyse Emdur’s Weatherwoman with Lissette Gonzalez is a 20-minute video of the former Miss Florida and current WFOR-CBS 4 weather specialist showing Emdur the tricks of the trade: “You want to go with the flow and appear sophisticated when you point to the map.”
Nicolas Lobo and Kenneth Andrew Mroczek created an art book from a strange collection of artifacts left behind by a neighbor, from self-help drivel (“Success at the flip of a switch!”) to strange, obsessively detailed astrology-like readings done from business cards left by Realtors and a local female newscaster who had somehow crossed the man’s path.
Kevin Arrow, currently in the New Work Miami 2010 exhibition at Miami Art Museum, led much of the Aug. 15 tour, “Goodness Gracious.” The group included a few artists, a Cuban family from Kendall that wanted to get out of the house and vary the Sunday-in-suburbia routine, young addicted-to-the-breaking-trend couples and a feisty white-haired woman in sensible shoes who’d seen the Weird Miami ads on Metrorail. She was the sort of staunch all-American gal who could just as well be found on a tour bus in Rome or an expedition to discover lost tribes in New Guinea.
The crowd’s diversity spoke to the universal hunger for community and the quest for something — anything — singular in this increasingly homogenized city, a unique slice of Miami that can’t be found at the local multiplex.
Ground zero for Weird Miami is the Earth-N-Us Community Farm in Little Haiti, with a pen of emus, pigs and goats, a plywood hippie whimsy up in an oak tree inscribed with the dictum “A tree house, a free to be me house.”
Then, the group moved on to the nearby Magic City Farm, owned by Tamara Hendershot, an early South Beach pioneer who has gone from fighting sinister developers to tending her gardens, co-running the Little Haiti Community Garden project and growing vegetables with volunteers and residents.
MAGIC CITY FARM
Hendershot, a former outsider-and-folk-art dealer, has a fantastic property in Little Haiti. Magic City Farm consists of a main house, a boathouse and a collection of brightly painted old shotgun shacks made of Dade County pine and gleaned from a squalid trailer park down the block. A pig, dogs, cats and chickens roam the property. The chickens lay eggs right on Hendershot’s bed. The place is wacky, but everything is done in perfectly pitched taste: Bruce Weber shot Morgan Freeman there for Vogue.
Across Little River in El Portal, there’s a white-on-white fashion wet dream of a house owned by a photo-production type. Just down the block is a religious retreat, Kagyu Shedrup Choling Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Center, tucked into a normal suburban house, with a back yard adorned with stupas — ornate towers of worship — under construction. The property of another early South Beach figure — gallerist Robert Miller — is close to the perky-as-cherry-pie home of Iggy Pop.
Lush and funky El Portal is eerily like the Coconut Grove natives remember. Years ago, during a madcap midnight, I toured the neighborhood with Micky Wolfson of The Wolfsonian and a carload of Italian countesses. Wolfson, with inviolate aplomb, suddenly steered his Cadillac into a street swarming with dicey-looking people.
We all got out to survey the ambience. Everyone was perfectly nice. The same hospitality was extended in the roughest areas during the Weird Miami tour: Miami is always good for a few lessons.