The Other Miami Heat (Going & Coming, Part 1)

Loriel Beltran. "Sweat Sculpture (detail)," 2011. 1 gallon of the artist's sweat, plexiglas, wood pedestal. Courtesy the artist and Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami.

 The thing about Miami people who actively make, support and present art, is that they’re hot.

We see them through our lens all the time, January through December, day and night, indoors and out, and mostly they are all really sweating. With my partner Grela Orihuela, I’ve made many films about this city’s artists and art professionals, so I know. They’re sweating because it’s hard to work hard, consistently, to get things done despite the Miami hardships of boundless beaches, warm surf, whispering palms, Latin comfort food, all-night hooch, and the clutch of incessant socializing.

Working artists make work, working art professionals get it in front of viewers; when both persist in one place there becomes an art community. Those men and women who can live, learn and work in this particular community, and make traction in the sand of a tropical vacation paradise, are compelling characters for our Wet Heat Project films and events. They’re hot.

Some seriously sweating artists who continue to make Miami their home city, appearing in our documentary films 2008-2011. Top to bottom: Loriel Beltran, Bhakti Baxter, Robert Chambers.

But not all of them want to stay here. That is the fact behind recent efforts in local press, blogs, and social netting to muster an uproar about Miami’s notable artists packing off. Much of the resulting clamor concluded that a) the exodus is another sad deficit of a declining art credibility in the shadow of rising commerciality, or b) good riddance to the unappreciative and swell-headed.  All the polar, cranky opinions belie the big picture: significant departures are holistically balanced by meaningful arrivals.

Miami is the major American city most transformed by influx and egress of disparate characters. Each wave of incoming residents hammer out new personalities for the city with every generation. Repelled by change, prior residents make way, leaving empty households for the hopefuls…it’s the obvious urban cycle, enacted here with an often wild pace of fits and starts.

Moreover, all the rooting and uprooting is immersed in hordes of pleasure-seeking tourists, literally from every corner of the Earth. The overarching characteristic of Miami is a prodigious, dynamic throughput of people with intentions, and this is exactly what is demonstrated right now in our contemporary art citizenry.

The outcome is not a nihilistic, zero-sum art scene but an additive one, forever including all that happened/happens, generating influence that clearly draws people in, spreading out with those who leave.

The posts to follow, which will include new Wet Heat Project video segments, present vivid intervals in the timelines of our documentary subjects, artists and curators whose Miami experiences have been–and will be–essential elements of the city’s art evolution.

Stories will include the exit of Miami’s most successful young painter, a sculptor who came for a residency and lived up a tree, an artist from Germany making a big splash, and much more.

In our next post: a home-grown BFA grad who hitched up a U-Haul to follow an irresistible affinity for America’s best trash, and a young curator just arrived in town who is already building her place in Miami’s future history.

Artist Jessie Laino on the roof of her Brooklyn studio building; Miami Art Museum Associate Curator Diana Nawi, at the site of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, opening fall 2013.