Politics: Art Connoisseurs, Don’t Miss This Exhibit

Irv’s Rogues Gallery Isn’t One That Silly Hall’s Proud Of

To all of you out-of-town Art Basel aficionados gracing our Billion-Dollar Sandbar this weekend with your presence and your dollars (no offense, but your presence isn’t so much important to us as are your dollars, especially those of you inclined to drop six or seven figures on a pile of battered stools – $575,000 – or a glass cabinet of surgical instruments – $2.5 mil – as some of you did at last year’s shindig) –

Welcome.

You have come or returned to a city for whom the year just ending has been tagged by one of our city’s own planning board members as the “Year of Criminality.”

No, no, don’t bother trying to find that in your official Basel programs. Trust me, it’s not there.

While most of you will be congregating around our convention center and that huge white monstrosity that has swallowed up its west parking lot, and our local jewels, Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive, I did want to alert you to the fact that there are smaller and independent galleries dotting the cityscape that you should not miss.

Tucked away on a side street between the convention Center and the Bass Museum is one of those lesser-known galleries not on this year’s official program.

Just because it’s not listed doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. In fact, this gallery is SO not one the city wants its visiting guests to check out. They’d rather nobody, not even residents, venture there. It’s just that pooh-poohed.

I got a sneak preview of “Irv’s Rogues Gallery” myself earlier this week when I called upon its namesake, his mouth full of a corned beef sandwich he was just finishing wolfing down for his lunch.

I always thought you couldn’t eat in a museum, but I guess when you’re the curator, anything goes.

Irv didn’t want to divulge his last name for publication for fear that the city might sic on him its remaining code compliance goons (the ones who aren’t currently incarcerated anyway) and shut him down on a code technicality. Or for just looking at them the wrong way.

Besides, he can’t afford the thousands’ worth of Ben Franklin prints which any wayward code compliance officer would likely require him to empty out of his pockets to “make it go away, if you know what I mean,” said Irv.

Having written extensively this year about the exploits of the arrested, now convicted, code enforcers and fire inspectors, I knew just what Irv meant.

The first exhibit on my tour of Irv’s was his collection of mugshots of the various city employees who have been busted on corruption charges in 2012. One by one, the faces hung along the wall.

“Why do you have all that empty wall space there at the end?” I asked my host.

“That space signifies the unknown quantity of who-knows-how-many-others may yet be arrested or indicted. It represents all the others who are out there, ones who haven’t been caught yet or who never will be.”

Hmmm, I emitted, as we rounded the corner. There, I laid eyes on a 10-foot-high sculpture up ahead, one that bore remarkable resemblance to the enormous hand jutting skyward at the city’s Holocaust Memorial. As we got closer, it was a hand all right – but one that was flipping the bird.

“This is a paper mache structure made out of the RFPs and city contracts of every one of the 16 contractor firms implicated in the Gus Lopez kickback scandal,” said Irv. “The artist who made this intended it to represent the contractors’ and Gus’s message to City Hall, to the public, to the rule of law. Sort of, ‘we got ours, so here’s to ya!’”

Irv thrust his middle finger into the air at no one in particular to drive home the artist’s message.

Next, we came upon an abstract oil painting entitled, “Portrait of a City Manager in Fading Glory,” and I instantly recognized the lone figure of Jorge Gonzalez, surrounded by a circle of angry people – citizens and commissioners – all pointing their fingers at him.

On another wall, a watercolor depicted a glum-looking gang of pro-casino lobbyists from Genting Group, playing a round of poker, with one looking up at a clock on the wall. “Biding Their Time,” was the work’s title.

Do you think the artist’s message here could be that the casino gambling advocates figure their time will come someday and they’re just “biding their time” in the meanwhile? I asked Irv.

“Could be,” he replied.

Other works of art depicted other scenes from the city’s 2012: Memorial Day weekend, with its hordes of visitors, increased police presence, and worried residents. The bitter War Between the Tow Companies and the city’s eventual capitulation in granting them their requested rate hike. The protestors confronting Mayor Matti Bower on the steps of City Hall. The mayor’s confusing attempt to explain what part of her junket to Basel, Switzerland, with other city officials was paid for by taxpayers and which was personal vacation travel paid by her.

Has anybody from the city given you any grief over your gallery, I asked Irv.

“Nope. So far, they’ve kept their distance. It’s like they know I’m here but none of ‘em have been in to check out the art.”

“I think it’s because they’re all too familiar with it as it is,” I told Irv. “Kind of like they’ve lived it already, why would they want to be reminded of it? But I’ll tell my readers you’re here.”

Before I left, I asked Irv what his plans were for next Art Basel.

“Oh, I plan to be open, with whole new exhibits,” he replied optimistically. “As crooked, twisted, strange, and crazy as this city and its power people can be, I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store. I’ll be here.”

SHAMEFUL

The Beach Commission’s November vote to approve rate hikes for Beach Towing and Tremont Towing was shameful. Utterly shameful. It wasn’t the hike itself that was so tawdry as much as it was the Commission’s subservient kowtowing to the sleazy towing tycoons and their hangers-on who wouldn’t even open their books to the city beforehand.

 Commissioners went against their own administration’s recommendation not to okay the hike. Others – like Jerry Libbin and Ed Tobin – wisely questioned the city’s rush to lavish presents upon the tow creeps. Mayor Bower chastised the city for its “failure” to harvest the companies’ receipts for figures. Libbin mockingly asked, “Why bother to audit? Just give them what they want, why make a show about it?”

Which is precisely what a majority of the dais did. They surrendered the city’s superior bargaining position as well as their own dignity.

Deede Weithorn, amid the battlefield smoke between the two companies in 2011, said if they couldn’t come to terms, she’d propose banning them from city tows altogether and shipping the whole tow business to Terminal Island. She voted for the hike.

Earlier this year at the Commission’s retreat, Tobin announced he intended to introduce a measure at a future regular meeting to evict the tow companies from the city once and for all.

Ed, that idea is still fresh and merits consideration. You’ll likely find little opposition from the public should you choose to bring it up.

OFF-OFF-BROADWAY

Last Friday, while shopping in a SoBe thrift store, who should I happen to converge paths with but David Letterman’s cue card “boy,” on vacation here while his boss’s show was on a brief hiatus and Dave was in D.C. last weekend to collect his prestigious Kennedy Center Honor

Tony Mendez, who’s been facing Dave for 25 years’ worth of monologues, told me the Late Show host was overwhelmed at being named an honoree, even sharing an emotional hug with staffers, including Mendez, after it was announced.

The Cuba native, who surprisingly is two years older than his boss but doesn’t look at all his age, works for Video Cue, whose head, I learned, is Johnny Carson’s one-time cue card guy.

Mendez, who doesn’t hail from Miami but who owns a get-away here that he visits when not in NYC, also confided in me that his gut tells him Letterman won’t retire while rival Jay Leno is still at The Tonight Show.

It’s Letterman’s “competitive” nature that won’t let him give up his chair before Leno, Tony told me. Earlier this year, Dave’s CBS contract was extended to 2014.

About his trade, Mendez shared that while Leno, as did Carson, prefers to have his cards laid out in front of him, Letterman prefers to have Mendez just in front of him, off to the side, feeding him his cards, one by one.

The Letterman studio in the Ed Sullivan Theater is famously kept chilled (as Dave has put it, “to keep the comedy fresh” but as Tony explains it, “to keep people alert.”). Despite this, on the rare occasions that the camera cuts away to show Mendez, he is often seen in shorts.

His purchases at the thrift store? What else? Three shorts for $5 each. So next time you catch him on camera, he might just be wearing shorts that originated in… South Florida.

THIS WEEK’S ASS-WIPE TROPHY GOES TO…

Mass transit is a noble and necessary service. Regrettably, we have myopic agencies and officials in our region charged with delivering this service who deliver a woefully mediocre service. One senses this mediocrity would be unacceptable in many other metropolitan areas either in this nation or in others.

Last weekend, I took the Tri-Rail to Lauderdale for an event. The train was 13 minutes late arriving at the station at which I embarked, didn’t leave until after another nine, and was nearly a half hour late in arriving at the Lauderdale station.

The return home was not without another lengthy delay. And it’s not the first time I’ve had to wait exceptionally long for a weekend train. A month ago, on a Boca-bound trip, the train was not on schedule, going or coming.

Worse, weekend trains inconveniently run only every two hours.

Are work week commuters subjected to such delays? I can’t imagine these occur as frequently on weekdays. Do they? I expect that commuters wouldn’t stand for it.

Even Mussolini, the myth went, could make the trains run on time. What’s your excuse, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority?

ASSISTANCE APPEAL

Two Thanksgivings ago, I was invited to dine at Casa Carlos Restaurant, a small, family-run diner in the Gables, beloved by locals, near Bird and Ludlam. Though proprietors Carlos and Carmen Ramos have since closed shop in favor of a less-stressful home catering business (Latin Bistro Cafe Catering), I was invited by mutual friends to enjoy a holiday meal catered by the couple this year.

I learned the news last week that two days after Thanksgiving, while they were out catering an event, the couple’s home burned. They lost their pet dog, furniture, clothes, everything. The house will have to be gutted and rebuilt. In the meantime, they have received assistance from the Red Cross and church friends.

To assist them in any way, even just to hire them as caterers, email them in care of South Kendall Community Church at skcc@southkendallcc.org.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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