Miami Politico’s Obsession With Dog Sculptures Draws Ire, a Night Out With Spencer Sweeney in Coney Island, and More Art-World Gossip
Plus, what mega-gallery is on a hiring spree? What artist has a feature-length film coming out on Mubi? Read on for answers.
Every week, Artnet News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops. If you have a tip, email Annie Armstrong at [email protected].
MIAMI PUBLIC ART GOES TO THE DOGS
Next time we all convene in Miami Beach, we can anticipate the city looking a little bit different—a little more canine, one might say.
For over a year now, the city has been roiling over plans for new sculptures to be added to Maurice A. Ferré Park, which sits just beside the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Why would more public art bring dismay to the masses? Well, because there will be 50 new sculptures, and they will look like this:
So how did we get here? It apparently comes down to one man: Joe Carollo, the former mayor of Miami and current commissioner of the city’s third district, who chairs the board of the Bayfront Trust, which oversees the park. Carollo doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. His detractors within and and without the community include the late Miami mayor (and the park’s namesake) Maurice A. Ferré (who once said Carollo “enjoys seeing people suffer“); Biscayne Bay Tribune publisher Grant Miller (who recently accused Carollo of calling in false noise complaints against a local restaurant after its owners backed a political opponent); and even the Economist, which reported that he’d earned the nickname “Crazy Joe” after calling a Miami police chief a “two-bit punk.” In 2001, he was arrested for allegedly hitting his wife in the head with a canister. So you can see why he isn’t exactly a fan favorite.
Earlier this year, Carollo, through the Bayfront Trust, announced plans to funnel nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to the animal project (as I’ll call it) at Maurice A. Ferré park in downtown Miami. Currently, the project is scheduled to materialize in late November, just in time for the jet-set hordes to descend on Miami Beach for Art Basel.
The sculptures have been commissioned from Art and Sculpture Unlimited, Inc., a local foundry, with the idea that Miami artists will be given prefab cats and dogs to paint. The idea left not a few Miamians a bit upset. According to a report in the Miami Herald: “Allan Schwartz, an attorney and art collector who walked his dogs daily in the park when he lived in the Marquis tower, questioned how the project could be called an art installation when there is no artist.”
One good question among many. I called up Miami mega-collector Mera Rubell to hear what she had to say about the whole thing, and while she confessed she didn’t really know anything about it, I detected a knowing laugh when she said vaguely that it would be good “to have an open, generous mind to creativity.”
One local art dealer put it more plainly.
“It’s really weird they approved that crap,” the dealer said. “I can’t speak for the city of Miami’s process, but only that it should change if what we’re getting is dogs and cats. I can think of other million-dollar sculptures that would work there. Like, how cool would a Louise Bourgeois large Mother Spider look? It would be gorgeous.”
Indeed it would. Aside from the aesthetic gripes, some people are asking why Carollo pushed this project so intensely. Unusually for a project funded by public money, the Bayfront Trust awarded Art and Sculpture Unlimited, Inc. the commission without an open bidding process, which led board member Cristina Palomo to resign.
“Why is this suddenly priority No. 1?” she said to the Herald.”Doesn’t such a significant piece of city land deserve more thought?”
Curiously, according to the Herald, a printout of the contract with the foundry, when it was circulated to Bayfront Trust board members, revealed it was originally sent to Carollo’s personal email address, along with that of his wife, Marjorie.
Yet Carollo denied any alleged family links to the firm. “We have no connection to them,” he told the Herald. “Anything my wife does for the city, she does as a volunteer and is not paid a penny. Those who insinuate anything unethical is going on are the same scumbags who are always trying to defame me.”
And what about the Pérez Museum, which worked with the Bayfront Trust to install the artwork currently in the park, a monumental work by Jaume Plensa? Franklin Sirmans, the museum’s director, told Wet Paint very politely over email that the museum “looks forward to partnership and collaboration with Commissioner Carollo and his team as we all work together to make Bayfront Park a special place for outdoor sculpture in downtown Miami.” The Plensa work will remain in the park, among the dogs, as it is. The artist declined to comment.
Carrollo did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls with requests to comment. But he made his feelings clear to the Herald: “Mark my words, these sculptures will bring busloads of tourists to the park. I envision people flocking to see this art. Miami will be known for its ‘Walkway of Dogs and Cats.’”
A NIGHT IN CONEY ISLAND WITH SPENCER SWEENEY
If you stayed in the city over July 4 like I did, you probably noticed that you could hear a pin drop. Luckily, the indefatigable Spencer Sweeney stayed in town too, and his excellent show of paintings at the Brant Foundation has been the talk of the town. He told me he’d be heading out to Coney Island to people-watch some dance parties and ride some of the old rickety rides, so I tagged along. Here’s the play-by-play, down to the minute.
7:12 p.m.: I make my way down the boardwalk to our meeting place, the old-school hot dog joint Paul’s Daughter. Spencer’s running a few behind because he’s picking up his old pal Lizzi Bougatsos, who I knew as the singer from Gang Gang Dance. While I wait, take the opportunity to check out the gnarly, creaking rides at Luna Park. It’s pretty amazing this place still passes safety mandates.
7:44 p.m.: Ah, there they are. Lizzi’s sipping a pinot grigio and Spencer’s got a beer. I follow suit and grab a Stella and sit down with them. Spencer seems delighted to be on the boardwalk, and tells me he comes here only once a year. “I like the mix of people, and I like the Cyclone. It’s really brutal—its one of the last wooden rollercoasters in existence. It’s really brutal, but I like it.” (At least three people have been killed riding the Cyclone since 1985.) He came here for the first time in the summer of ‘97, the first year he lived in New York. “It’s very Venice Beach, but it’s the East Coast version.”
Lizzi and Spencer, as it turns out, met later that year at Printed Matter, where she was working. At the time, it was on Wooster Street, just around the block from American Fine Arts, where they both ended up showing. “They really opened up the idea of being a gallerist and having a program that opens up into its own kind of performance,” Spencer says of the gallery. It was run by the late Colin de Land, who encouraged Alex Bag and Patterson Beckwith on their public-access TV show. The duo go on to reminisce about some of the underground touch points of the time, like the leftist political program Paper Tiger TV and Vox Populi, de Land’s other gallery with Pat Hearn. (The pair, along with Lisa Spellman, Matthew Marks, and Paul Morris went on to found the Armory Show in 1994.) “He was our mentor,” Bougatsos says wistfully of Colin, who died in 2003. It was the first time of many that his name would come up.
8:07 p.m.: We encounter a python that must be about 15 feet long. The sight of it caused me to shriek, which makes me feel like a real square when Lizzi tells me that she’s actually done a photoshoot with Bubbles, the famous python best known as the snake draped around Britney Spears at the 2001 Video Music Awards. “They’re really sweet, they just kind of wrap themselves around you,” she says. This is ironic to me because I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re supposed to fear.
8:11 p.m.: Spencer tells me about his interest in Aikido, the Japanese martial art, which he teaches. The trick, he tells me, is that “while you’re being attacked, you have to completely relax. It’s taken years for me to learn how to relax.” Peeking over at the sunset, Spencer says it looks like a Hockney painting. “Look how the radiant peach diffuses into blue.” Fireworks start going off, and it all starts to feel kind of euphoric. A new friend comes to meet up, the painter Gerasimos Floratos, whom Spencer greets with a bear hug. We go hunting for the next spot to grab a beer.
9:06 p.m.: Spencer has really been hyping up the bumper cars ride, which is called El Dorado. He tells me that the guy who did the ride’s sound design is Richard Long (not to be confused with the sculptor), a “fucking legend” and underground dance-scene mainstay who created the sound systems in legendary clubs like Max’s Kansas City and Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage. While we wait in line, we take swigs from Lizzi’s warm flask of mezcal, which tastes metallic from the heat. “I’ve never done bumper cars,” I confess. “Just put the pedal to the metal and steer,” Spencer says.
9:36 p.m.: Gerasimos is rolling a joint while we walk among the street vendors. The group decides that the best merch are clear plastic balloons with roses inside of them. It is approximately now when I realize that Lizzi has been dusting ground-up mushrooms into her and Spencer’s drinks (you know, the psychedelic kind).
9:57 p.m.: We’re waiting in line for the ferris wheel, and Lizzi and I get to chatting. Turns out she’s spent a lot of time in Atlanta, where I’m from, hanging out with Lonnie Holley, one of my all-time favorite artists. The group is getting awfully giggly by the time it’s our turn to step into one of the metal cages, and Spencer is enraptured by the paint job on the wooden door leading to the ride. It looks something like this:
10:07 p.m.: We’re on top of the ferris wheel, and Gerasimos lights his joint. Lizzi takes out her Yashica T4 and starts snapping photos. Everyone is quite punchy.
10:18 p.m.: We’re back down, and the performance artist Kembra Pfahler is there waiting for us. The Cinema of Transgression figurehead, whose work delighted in the macabre and the shocking, is in head-to-toe black, including a head-cover, with bright red lipstick. I suggest we go on the Spook-O-Rama next, as Spencer and I were discussing the excellent Diane Arbus photo of the old horror ride, and I am stunned to hear that Pfahler, an embodiment of Goth aesthetics, is afraid to ride it. Naturally, this makes me more scared. Kembra and I rode in a car together, and we miraculously survive. I remember how much I hate jump scares.
10:50 p.m.: We encounter some of the nightly dance parties that break out on the boardwalk. Lizzi and Kembra are like moths to the flame of one blasting moombahton music, and I follow. The four of us dance for what could have been five minutes or an hour. With my phone on 4 percent battery and about an hour on the train ahead of me, I leave them to it, the glittering lights of Coney Island disappearing behind me.
Nicodim Gallery has picked up Paris-based painter Liang Fu … Beloved and mysterious downtown musician Blaketheman1000 has written a rap song about fellow downtowner, the critic Dean Kissick, and recorded a video for the tune at O’Flaherty’s current show by collective Bobo … Gagosian is hiring a few new positions, including a cataloguer and a front desk associate … Martine Syms has a new feature-length film coming out on Mubi, titled The African Desperate and starring Diamond Stingily …
Renee Cox, Kimberly Drew, Hannah Traore, Charlie Jarvis, and John Rivas celebrating the four year anniversary of Storm Ascher’s Superposition Gallery with a party in Sag Harbor, which turned into a garage party due to the rain *** Daniel Arnold and Naomi Fry talked photography at Arnold’s current show at Larrie on Orchard Street *** Darren Aronofsky and Dustin Yellin seem to be on vacation together in Kurdistan *** And here’s another unlikely duo: Eric André and FriendsWithYou in Portugal *** Sophie Matisse, Umar Rashid, Jenna Gribbon, Mackenzie Scott Torres, Sam McKinniss, and Chase Hall at a dinner party thrown by Dodie Kazanjian and Alison Gingeras at Newport, Rhode Island’s Isaac Bell House for the new group show ***
WET PAINT QUESTIONNAIRE
“Immersive Experiences” have become the butt of so many art-world jokes. Typos on wall texts and questionable presentation tactics have caused those in the know to turn their nose up, but the “experiences” continue to be rolled out.
Last week, I asked which artists you would least like to see have an immersive experience, and curator Lolita Cros wrote in naming Piero Manzoni. “Glad his ‘artist’s shit’ stayed in a can!”
Ben Lee Ritchie Handler, global director at Nicodim, suggested Peter Saul. “Reality is such a bad trip right now, it’d be a nightmare to put it on blast.”
Eric Firestone gallery director Lily Snyder agreed with me that the worst possible immersive experience would be Paul McCarthy, adding that Carl Andre would also be a pretty bad one.
My next question: What’s the best Hamptons party you’ve ever been to? Email me at [email protected].
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