Archive for December, 2007

Immediate Gratification
December 16, 2007

Out of the box and into the fire, if I may mix some clichéd metaphors.

Wow! – Miami’s grand, intricate plan is definitely some out-of-the-box thinking: fund progressive and visionary urban projects with money earmarked to fix slum and blight.

And Yikes! The shell-shock of its announcement puts the plan squarely into the fire of public skepticism. No wonder, since we’ve learned to expect (and accept) the glacial pace of progress and political will. Healthy skepticism is appropriate and necessary.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the projects involved in the plan Miami passed this week: a tunnel to the port, museums, streetcars, stadiums, affordable housing, et al. I would argue that some of those should have been funded and completed long ago, but a lack of vision and gutsy leadership has kept this potentially-coolest place on earth from taking its place on a current list of world-class cities. I’d also argue some of the projects on the list that qualify as the private enterprise of the wealthy should not see one dollar of taxpayer money that’s not an interest-bearing loan.

Most of the criticism and concerns of the Miami upgrade start with the words “that’s a lot of money …”

Boy, it sure is. But we can continue slogging along as a coulda been, or decide to make the investment to actually be. Think of projects that could have and would have evolved into components of a world-class urban culture if someone had actually started them decades ago. Baylink, for instance, comes to mind. A trolley loop connecting the urban centers of Miami Beach and the mainland seemed to me a no-brainer. But political whining derailed it.

On this latest visionary plan, public scrutiny is crucial. Your input is crucial. I say, give the leaders we elected thoughts, concerns, opinions, questions, comments, ideas and analysis, then let them lead. The idea that this should be decided in a voter referendum would be a great if everyone who cast a vote would commit to understanding what a CRA is and how it functions, and actually read the details of the plan. Care to guess what voter turnout might be for that one?

Bam-Basel-ed
December 11, 2007

A tour-guide-led group clustered around a pedestal deep in the womb of Art Basel. On the pedestal perched a pair of shoes. Men’s shoes, leather, laced-tied. Shoes – that’s it, and not particularly fashionable ones, at that. The price tag: $16,000.
“This artist also works in homosexual themes,” the young woman told her tourers.
“Maybe it’s the way the laces are tied?” said one of the tourees.

My personal Art Basel m.o. is to “do” the show on its Sunday. The serious collectors are all but finished, the locals come out to test-drive their art appreciation, the atmosphere has that pleasant exhaustion thing going for it.

As much a part of the art to see and experience is the crowd itself.

If contemporary art is a window of current zeitgeist, then its Sunday afternoon crowd is a living, breathing, emoting, posturing work of performance art on its own. From the sublime to the ridiculous, much like the art collections.

A young metrosexual to a gallery rep staring at a large, loud oil on canvas take on consumerism: “Fabulous. Just fabulous.”
“Five million,” said the rep, “and worth every penny.” Mr. Met didn’t answer – but did strike a pose, staring intently…

Two well-coifed 60-ish women studying a life size impressionist painting of a nude beach scene: “No, I think he is looking past her, he is not even looking at her.”

Two couples, golden years, transplanted Northerners I’d guess… “You know those art classes they give at the (?), I think I’m gonna take a painting class.”

The Leger smalti mosaic was a wow. So were photo portraits of young women in their kitchens, outfitted with thick suicide bomber belts made of magazines and books. The Picassos – humbling, the slow-motion video of popcorn kernels bursting – mesmerizing. 

I love bring my daughters to Art Basel, though this year I lost out to their more pressing activities.

Last year, my little one commented on a small, graphic Andy Warhol – simple black and white flowers on a fuchsia background.
“I could do that,” she said.
A man walking by who heard her looked down and told her so earnestly, “Yes, you could. But he thought of it first.”

What a simple, telling lesson in art appreciation.

The art that I love, that sends me, that hangs on my walls: tropically-colored cubist pastels I bought in Havana from a street artist named Antonio; dreamy watercolors from a local artist in Isla Mujeres; my daughters’ art class interpretations of Georgia O’Keeffe’s florals, Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Henri Rousseau’s post-impressionist jungles. I have on display some my own mosaics, acrylics and photographs. (I started college as an art major, but a broken right wrist mandated a change of direction).

I often wonder, would those earn a second take, a moment of contemplation, a fun comment or two from the Sunday crowds at Basel?

Headline this Legacy
December 3, 2007

I have an admission to make.

Before last week, I had only a vague notion of who Sean Taylor was. I could not have guessed what team he played for, nor even that he was from South Florida. Not that I’m not sports-illiterate, just dispassionate. I’d take the symphony over a sports bar, the editorial page over the sports stats.

So now I know Sean Taylor, more about him than I’d ever imagined I’d know. I hurt for his family, admire the loyalty and strength his loved ones describe.

The reason I have come to know these things about him is pretty obvious. Taylor was a revered sports hero, and when something happens to a celebrity, the nation responds. His life and death are scrutinized, analyzed, eulogized, aggrandized 24/7.
The police chief comes out to publicly proclaim “we will find the killer”.
News managers cut into broadcasts with the slightest developments in the case.
Thousands (millions?) of people who never met him hold memorials, keep vigils, stand for moments of silence, send condolences.

A gunshot, a river of ink.

Which brings me to Jeffrey Johnson. That name ring a bell?
He’s not a pro ball player.
Not a celebrity.
He is – he was – a 16 year old high school honors student shot and killed in Liberty City last year while he was showing off the car he had earned for his good grades. Think he could’ve been a role model? I think so. Think his family is forever devastated? Safe bet.

Has his death stopped one soulless thug from getting, wielding, firing a gun? Nope.

I could’ve launched a hundred names of people whose lives ended suddenly, senselessly. Johnson’s name just came to mind first, of all the sudden, senseless, sad murders I’ve had occasion to cover. He should have been a celebrity. Could’ve been, eventually, maybe. But when he died he was just a high school kid from the inner city.

You know what I hope Sean Taylor’s legacy will be.