Politics: Art Gratis Artis


Wreckers, Slugs and All That

By Jeffrey Bradley

In days of old, raffish folk eking a living from meager coastal margins would light bonfires—even erect an entire faux lighthouse replete with beckoning beam—to lead sailing ships astray. Once the doomed vessel foundered, these wreckers, by name, carted away any cargo that floated ashore. (The crews’ fate can only be shuddered at.) This land-based freebootery depended on the ability to dupe others with a false lighthouse, kind of like the one slated to be raised at the veriest tip of South Pointe Park.

Isn’t it funny how art imitates life?

SOFNA (the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association) has signaled strong opposition (“Importance: High”) to what it considers the biggest wreckers’ scam since towtrucks.

Apparently, there’s an Art In Public Places project afoot for that troubled park featuring—what else?—a lighthouse. Parsing an email that recently crossed our desk (parsing is a favorite of ours; same with dispatching the 17th Street Irregulars on covert spyful missions), we sense there’s parsing of another kind occurring. For SOFNA very delicately frames the issue not as one of “aesthetic” but of more dubiously “iconic” value. Well, that and a bit of blather over the “expenditure of significant public dollars”. But who’s  bean counting? After reading more warm fuzzies in the letter we finally get at what’s really eating these Gilbert Grapes: “We can and should do better.”

Figuring what day-trippers and visitors filled with world-ennui view as “HUGELY important”, whatever is there must “immediately say: Miami Beach”. We were thinking more along the lines of the giant HOLLYWOOD sign that would say instead MIAMI BEACH.


Flush from the latest installment of Art Basel Meets Woodstock (where outré’s so far out it’s in), cognoscenti giddily proclaim the Roy Lichtenstein Mermaid sculpture artistique nonpareil, or something very like it. Said sculpture languishes without the Jackie Gleason Theatre where, proponents say, its public artsyness screams “This is Miami Beach” while evoking a “fun, sun and fantasy” vibe. Good Ford!

When we were there it barely squeaked, let alone screamed. In fact it seemed to mutter, “Behold the failed Britto.” But what do we know from artsy-fartsy? We channeled the 23-skidoo stick figure of the Great One which looks like someone sketched a gesture that captured forever the and-away-we-go frenetic departure. Talk about iconic!

It could have been worse. Much worse. Imagine Mark Siffin had got hold of the lighthouse idea. He’d have slathered it with a kaleidoscopic concrescence of pulsating light before he linked it to his garish downtown advertising towers and endlessly stream swirling subliminal subtexts—hey, you can download the apps—in a weird blend of Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Max. You wouldn’t forget that.

And while we admire the genteel rowdiness of SOFNA’s environs, we couldn’t help notice the puffery behind the plaint. Unhappiness is hinted with a staid lighthouse, but nothing but concepts gets offered. And if the best advice they can muster is “give our world class city the artistic symbol it deserves”, at least there’s nary a hint of passing off Britto silliness or Keith Haring cartoonishness as High Art.
Say, here’s an idea. Forget that boring lighthouse and head-scratching icon stuff. Slugs is the thing! That’s it—lug those slugs cropping up all over the Beach like toadstools after a heavy rain down to South Pointe Park—right over that freshly-painted grass—and bunch ‘em into one big happy wormy family waving hello or good-bye. And why stop at 8 feet? The really big ones could be blown up just a tad shorter than the lighthouse. Can someone get Cracking Art cracking?

After all, despite a few ill-mannered bug-bashers that among other offences indulged themselves in snail-tipping and worse—one gastropod was hurled into Biscayne Bay—they seem to have arrived amidst general approval. (This despite our own late-night misadventure when unaware these monsters were works of art we took them seriously in the gloom of night and mists of rain and stumbled across a pod while surreptitiously crossing the golf course. As they loomed from the drizzle we seemingly slipped in a puddle of slime before we knew what had happened. We know better now, but then we broke for cover before they could pounce and rasp us to shreds with \murderous radula. We finally broke free; but under some menacing palms, while catching our breath, something the size and texture of a smaller slug fell from a frond and, despite every effort of wrenching it off, clung to our shoulder chattering madly.)

As we hurried home, for some calming conch chowder, we realized the sport of it, that they were really just friendly pieces of art. How could it be otherwise when we saw French folks break out some butter and salt near a fairly plump slug and later, near the Yeshiva, two larger ones wearing kipas?

They can make everyone happy. So, down with the lighthouse, and up with the sluggies! Spend all that money on creating the essence of slugdom—putting some real effort into it, we mean—and when you’ve produced a world-class gastropod that the world will remember, something that (make no mistake about it) screams “this is Miami Beach”, well, name that slug Arthur and put him at the tip of South Pointe Park where everyone sees him. And don’t forget his plaque!—the one that reads the Snail Officially Named Arthur. SOFNA, for short.


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