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Miami as Idiom

If any city is poised to invent its own idiom, it is here.

In this sprawled out, inconclusive phrasing of a city.

If Miami were punctuation it would be a colon: porous and prophetic.


We are in the business of providing settings: balmy habitats for visiting artists to create work and a coastline to host visiting tradeshows selling art from elsewhere to collectors from elsewhere. Miami is known for its setting, but it’s also a scene, and it’s kind of great that no one is looking. As a visiting LA artist told me recently, We don’t even acknowledge that you have an art scene. 

Miami Style is the means through which new ideas are deployed and absorbed by our community. Our style is recognized not by content or materials, but by the infrastructure that moves it. Rates of acceleration are nuances introduced to this system. Faster is better. New ideas from elsewhere adhere to the shiny sticky surface of the city. 

Imagine a rolling Katamari ball that picks up all the crap and genius of contemporary art until it grows into something altogether unrecognizable as art, bigger than art, and constantly on the move.


Adhesion is style.

Sunlight is material.


Is it against art to discuss how to reach collectors? I don’t think we can talk about an art scene without talking about collectors. Audience is not external material. Communication with audience is intrinsic to the practice. How the work will be experienced is a technical concern of all art-making.

Of art and collecting, which determines which? If the art market is the base, then the art is its superstructure. If the collector is the superstructure, then the base is art. Let’s insert more of the art world into these binary roles. On the base team, there’s curators, speculators, academies, museum directors, auction house. On the superstructure team there’s artists, artworks. Wait, artists are the base. Who is the base? 

How to destabilize the system:

Invert the base and superstructure.


We live here in an Experiential Economy. Money is thrown at intangibles (euphoria, access, bottle service). For art to matter to this city, it must also be time-sensitive, fleeting, transient. Temporality is a new material. Instance Art is a style.

Objects are built for disintegration.
Temporary structures, built on the quick, unpermitted,
by artists practicing construction, are built for demolition.
Objects, having lost the quality of forever.
Preservation has lost its zing.
Luxury has left the object. Luxury
Is the event.

Flammable sheet of nitrocellulose. You burn it, it’s gone. Voids for Burning. Brookhart Jonquil. 2013.


Not since Christo surrounded the islands of Biscayne Bay had this city been flagged as the momentary center of the art universe. Pink islands sold helicopter rides, merchandise, hotel rooms, yes, but best of all the public project employed hundreds of volunteers and enlargened the city’s sense of cultural pride. When the Basel committee chose the Convention Center, Miami became again, inadvertently and transiently, the focal point of the art world without first having built an art scene. Collectors in Miami buy art that has been branded elsewhere and collectors from elsewhere come here to pick up art that was made elsewhere.

By the old Parrot Jungle in a house hidden by coral rock wall, valets in denim halters zip your car off to the new Pinecrest library parking. New social patterns are being determined by the way the guests do or don’t look at the art, which does not identify readily, as the artists in this show have practiced slights of hand during installations. This is an art opening in a newly built open house. House selling has been hijacked by the curator. The house as real estate has been swallowed by the art experience.

The house has become the site of the art production and consumption in Miami.

Condos with good views of the pink islands hosted parties for two weeks.


That Miami has defied branding its arts scene is a kind of clever branding. 

Before Christie’s sells the Wade Guyton original, he prints out duplicates all by himself: an act of auteurship brilliantly devised to outsmart the auction house while also up-valuing his own work. The artist is clued in to what it is that raises a collector’s heartbeat: feeling hip. New collectors want to own the same art as their friends, and that’s why speculation works, and that’s why buying art is like buying a cool pair of sneakers. Uniqueness has gone out of fashion. The artwork is repeated throughout multiple collections as a meme. Guyton’s painting sold above estimate to an unidentified bidder.

When everyone wants what everyone has, artists self-replicate to feed this lust, and make the same thing again and again. Feeding the frenzy, as a style, has gone out of fashion.

Appreciation of art is paid for in cash. Purchase value is the dominant gauge for valuation of anything. Even public radio beseeches our money, lest we be called out by friends, and shamed by Ira Glass on the air.

For art to matter in our Experiential Economy,
it must be time-sensitive, fleeting, transient.
Temporality is valued and infinity feels old.


Where a work of art is made has been a concern lately and for a very long time we have been asking, What is the site of the work? Making work in this place and putting work in that place or making it in situ. Now we ask if the work has multiple sites, if the work is being experienced in place after place: 

Site is multiple. At each specific site occurs another instance of the work. The work may happen simultaneously in multiple sites if the channels are widely in place.

A cluster of bungalows off of Venetian Causeway and Farrey Lane, beside the Standard Hotel, is a hive for making and selling art. One home offers limited boarding or eating spaces serving daily specials by artists who live upstairs. Another bungalow practices art with perfumery tactics. Membership to any of these homes is by committee and financial commitment to experiencing lifestyle art. And on a bayfront lot there is ample greenery and a swimming pool for making art outside. Artists build their own temporary shelters for durational squatting.

Artists have left the warehouse.

And downtown, multi-media dance hall cum pleasure domes stimulate neural pathways with sound and light. Artists are redesigning the lifestyle people want to buy into.


Lawn Interactions occasionally appear on suburban front yards as commissioned works by artists practicing landscaping strategies. Foliage and grass has been trimmed into mostly unnoticed shapes, influenced by hair buzz fading and crop circles. The angle at which the grass is cut is a choice. All fringes have been stripped from the palm frond. Secret ivy has been planted, weeds are being hybridized for beauty, dogs are lured to burn patterns in the grass with their urine. At that house on Poinciana an artist, lying horizontally on the lawn, forces his body to roll, with self-propelled momentum, as if he were rolling down a hill. His body’s false response to the gravity of flat land depicts an illusion of a hill. Rolling on Flat Grass.

Here, dangerous art can happen because no one is looking.

We don’t talk about an art “practice,” or having “strategies.” No “dialectic between” or “No more “working it out” or “getting it” or not. No “unpacking” or “teasing out” or “resolving,” We’ve developed new words for ideas we don’t even have yet: Superfice and Superbase. We invent new idioms to talk about art and sometimes we don’t talk about it at all.

We have a public perception that the city is being improved upon by art forces: Festive PAMM banners along US1 renew this perception during morning drives. Citizens have the impression that art is saving this city. Lots of people have a little crush on the idea of art, and this crush is a malleable instrument. Good curating can save a city from itself.


There’s a bit by Louis CK in which he unequivocally asserts common wisdom then supposes its exact opposite. (See “Of Course but Maybe” on You Tube). Of course art should not be made with the collector in mind. But maybe, the entire history of art appreciation has been dramatized by this precise thread: who sold what to whom. Maybe the value of an artists’ work will always be measured by the importance of the collections that house them. Of course, art should not belong solely to the rich. But maybe they are the only ones for which is has value: ecstatic mindblowing value.

Audience is not external material. Communication with audience is intrinsic to the practice. How the work will be experienced is a technical concern of all art making.

Artists are thinking about how their work will be absorbed by the domestic interior of the house. Painting walls in a home with the liquid chemicals found on site. Chemical Painting, Nicolas Lobo, 2009.

Brain waves, electromagnetic fields, eye contact, human energy are also materials for making art.


You may have noticed more Ferraris on the roads lately, and one conclusion is that more people own Ferraris. More people are not buying Ferraris, but a rise of short-term rentals of special fast cars proves us to be a city that values expensive speed. Those who value the temporary illusion of owning a Ferrari willingly pay for the fleeting thrill. Let art be a fleeting thrill. Art doesn’t have to last or yield a profit. Invest in ephemeral pleasure. Buy objects built for disintegration. For the thrill of the ride.

The quest for the spirit object is the new deviance.
Its materials are fragrance, particles, heartstrings, trust. 


Surely we can foresee that not-too-distant day when “nightclubs” will be operated by art dealers who commission artists—guides to create ecological-experience places that will resemble Cerebrum, NYC. Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema. 1970.

Now that feeding, organizing, and educating challenged communities has been accepted as art practice, we can begin to open up ways to think about artists as service providers. Social practice fails to excite when its didactic, political, or progressive policies are acted out via the existing channels of corruption that have already failed these communities. We will invent our own channels for teaching and educating and feeding and organizing people. If our methods are accepted as a catalogued art practice, we invent a new way. 

Artists applying the strategies of healers, masseurs, analysts.
Artists, without warning, becoming providers of services.
Clandestine engagements with the public.


Being made in Miami by an artist living here is not very requisite but preferred.

If the piece brings forth the essence of the artist who has, by making or shaping or being, encoded the thing with genuine self, then its collector, being with that piece, will feel something of the artist left in the object.

Desire for objects has fizzled.
What collectors really want to collect
Is the artists.

Buying art from a gallery is not sexy. It’s pretty square. What’s sexy is not knowing how to possess something, or if it is even available. When you step into a gallery, you are bound by the simple exchange of this for that. For collecting art to excite us, the currency of acquisition must be hidden, and the art no longer staged for merchandizing. The gallery model is outmoded. Acquisition and collecting are outmoded. Art as merchandise is a turn off.

Bordellos are not sexy for this reason: before you even go there, you already know how to get it.


The house has become the site of the art deployment in Miami. Art has been domesticated. Artists recognize the home as the ultimate context for the work.

Art-auction psychology relies on this feeling: In the instance the high bidder feels possession of a work, its emotional value increases. All bids are frenzied attempts not to lose the lot you just briefly held.

Installed in homes temporarily, artworks travel from home to home, experiencing multi-situ meanings as it moves amongst audiences between neighborhoods, suburban or condo. Members to this club receive works curated for their durational enjoyment. The curators deploy the art from the studios into the community. Say a painting has been from Cocoplum to a condo in Brickell, to Coconut Grove, to Gables by the Sea, to Biscayne Village, where someone refused to let it go because they felt it already belonged to them. If the current owner is unwilling to part with the piece, it can be sold between members, possibly rousing a bidding war. Of course this sounds despicable. But maybe it’s awesome.


Christo said pink was “so Miami” then. Surely soon our own artists will invent a new color story for Miami besides sherbet scoops. New Miami palette, painted en plein air please. If painting must go on it must do so in this light. If painting can still excite anywhere, it is here, a city we never really look at directly. Our vision here is a cocktail of blinding rays and drive-by sightings, unique optical conditions that arouse painting.

Movie Projected at the Sky: Artist-made movie is projected from the new Miami Marine Stadium at midnight. The fourteen-minute film plays continuously through the night. Black sky is the surface, with neither shape nor dimension, onto which the video is projected and seen. Photo-images, streaked across cloud surfaces, appear sculptural. Color is particles in the open air. Even though the movie plays continuously, every fourteen minutes are unique. Every moment is singular, depending on the mood of the sky.

If NYC is where a bad review can topple your career, Miami is where you can fail gloriously and spectacularly, which should be often, if the stakes are really being pushed. Having nothing to lose is the best condition for making art and the greatest reason to make it.


Miami is the means of moving art ideas between audiences. Rates of acceleration are styles introduced to this system. Faster is better.

Miami’s art scene now finds itself in a ghettoized sweet spot, off the radar of art scenes both east and west America and beyond. Let’s linger here, playing with fire while no one is looking, which is when all the good stuff happens.

Miami is where neon goes to die. Neon sculpture. Peter Liversidge. 2009. Is neon dead? Of course. But maybe, neon, as a material, hasn’t even hit its stride. Maybe neon is our style: destabilized elements in constant kinesis, never inert.

Miami is known for its setting, but it is also a scene,
and it’s kind of great that no one is looking.


This essay is presented in partnership with The Miami Rail, an editorially independent expansion of The Brooklyn Rail that provides critical coverage of art and culture.

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