Flagler Memorial Island, a tiny oval of sand and coconut palms in Biscayne Bay, is a strange appendage to the city of Miami Beach. It is a municipal park with no means of access unless you own a boat or have friends who do. ARTKABINETT social network of fine art collectors looks forward to visiting this private retreat in the midst of a busy metropolis -- maybe even host an eco-friendly party.
It is artificial, like the overdeveloped Venetian Islands nearby, but remains uninhabited and a little wild, with no electricity or facilities. It is home to a big white obelisk, but almost no one here seems to know what the monument honors or goes to visit it.
It would be hard to imagine a better refuge for anyone yearning to flee the gridlock, frenzied deal making and acres of art-filled booths that took over this city last week for the annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair.
And so on Friday a small group of artists -- with the cautious blessing of municipal officials -- commandeered the island for exactly that purpose: retreating there to stage a one-afternoon, extremely D.I.Y. exhibition that felt worlds away from the one back on shore.
The rules as set out by Miami Beach -- which wants to use the island for cultural projects but also to protect its unkempt beauty and ecosystem -- were not exactly art-world friendly.
Work could be moved into place no earlier than the morning of the show; none of it could alter the island or damage its plant life; no more than 300 people at a time could come out to the island; and all evidence of the showís existence had to be gone by the next morning.
In addition, during the setup and the exhibition, the island would remain open as a public park if anyone wanted to visit for that purpose, and some did.
ìI was out here yesterday morning getting a lay of the land, and I came across these two Cuban guys who had made their own stove, and they gave me lunch," said Shamim Momin, the curator who conceived the show. ìIt was really good barbecue. Iím not even sure what kind of meat it was.î
The exhibition is the most highly visible one mounted by Ms. Momin since she left the Whitney Museum of American Art last year to found LAND, the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, a kind of guerrilla nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster site-specific public art around the country and eventually, it hopes, around the world.
She said she formed the organization -- after a dozen years at the Whitney, where she served as the co-curator of two Whitney biennials -- because she felt a need to respond to the sort of hard-to-classify work being made by many younger artists now, work that ìalways seems to feel way too sanitized inside museum or gallery walls."
The island project, put together with the help of a new Miami art organization, Ohwow, had no walls at all, unless you counted the chain-link fence encircling the recently restored neo-Classical monument to Henry Morrison Flagler, a railroad tycoon responsible for much of South Florida's development.
The island was built in honor of railroad industrialist Henry Flagler (shown at right) in the early 1920s to look as artificial as possible, a circle with the obelisk at its center, appearing in early pictures like a sundial in the middle of the bay.
But erosion and the occasional hurricane have chipped away at it, so that it is now roughly kidney shaped, with the monument decidedly to one side, surrounded by a tangle of sea grape and wild tamarind trees.
The only suggestions that the island might not be in the South Pacific are a few metal trash cans and park signs prohibiting guns, fire and dogs.
Ms. Momin recruited a group of artists -- including a few with high name recognition these days, like Terence Koh, Jack Pierson and Hanna Liden ó who she thought would rise to the occasion of working off the grid. And indeed many of the works could not have functioned very well anywhere else.
Luis Gispert, who was raised in Miami and is known for lushly disturbing films that burrow into the cityís culture of excess, took on the role of professor on this Gilliganís Island, fashioning a nonworking antenna out of a large, upright, gold-painted palm leaf, which rotated in a clearing, as if searching for signs of life in the city beyond.
Marina Rosenfeld, who often works with sound and music, planted two loudspeakers (shown right) in a gumbo-limbo tree, but the speakers were covered with sound-absorbing Acousti Coat paint, so that they would perform the opposite of their intended function, if only conceptually. Rona Yefman brought an old Sony Trinitron television and stuck it in a grove. It was connected it to a portable generator and showed a funny, haunting video in which two fictional Tel Aviv gangs play a violent version of capture the flag.
Kate Levant and Michael E. Smithís work had no fixed location, because the 30-year-old man who was their ìwork,î Pat Chisholm ó a friend of theirs from Detroit, whom they asked to go live, eat and sleep on the island during the project -- rarely stayed in one place for long. Mr. Chisholm, an armored-car driver who met Mr. Smith many years ago in a substance-abuse program, said that Ms. Levant and Mr. Smith simply wanted him to experience the place, while they camped in the Everglades, and that they would come pick him up after it was all over.
They said, "Just be yourself," and I had to think about that for a while," said Mr. Chisholm, an animated, talkative man wearing a cap with the word ìinfidelî written in English and Arabic.
He came equipped with freeze-dried provisions and a Mylar camping blanket but was denied permission to bring along one of his many firearms. The only problem he encountered while sleeping alone on the island on Thursday night was a platoon of rats enticed by the smell of his dinner.
"I was worried that maybe the police would send over a helicopter with thermal vision and be able to spot me down there, you know?" he said. "But nope, didnít see a soul. It was actually kind of nice."
Despite the show's lawless aesthetic, Ms. Momin (pictured left), who runs the LAND's projects more or less with a full-time staff of two -- Taylor Livingston, the production manager, and William Parks, its exhibition coordinator -- tried to leave nothing to chance, charting everything from sunset times to tide schedules ahead of time.
But in the end it was the umbilical back to land, the boat, that proved to be trouble for them. Its inability to accommodate many visitors at a time on Friday afternoon led to a backup of angry people near the dock of the Mondrian Hotel, many of whom never made it to the island before the show ended at dusk.
"I'm really sorry that more people werenít able to get out here, but it's part of the nature of something like this that maybe things donít work the way everyone thinks they will," Ms. Momin said after three almost sleepless days.
She lighted a cigarette on the beach as the sun dropped behind the horizon. "If you didn't get out here," she said, "maybe this really didnít happen after all."
courtesy: Randy Kennedy/New York Times