Little Haiti Country Club
8267 NE 2 Ave, Miami, Florida: July 25 – August 22, 2014
Miami’s artists who have been around long enough to have seen and inhabited the city’s waysides—those places just beyond the reaches of gentrification and development, but whose fate will likely meet both—know a familiar narrative. It goes like this: We jump from ruin to ruin and ride out the final stages of spaces bound to meet a very different future, lingering in the dingy moments that comprise its past before it is razed, renovated, or beautified in anticipation of a soon-to-be-changed neighborhood. In the dead of summer, with the hustle of the art fairs and the perfume-soaked, diamond-crusted upper level affairs on holiday, the artists can assemble themselves in their sweaty lair in true form. In this instance, it takes the shape of an exhibition of artists who are working, or have worked, in Little Haiti.
To suggest that this is a different kind of membership, the name is aptly Little Haiti Country Club (LHCC). The un-whitewashed, patchwork condition of the former Royal Assembly Kingdom of Elohim church is the perfect backdrop for the show, which also includes music, performance, and other ancillary programming. Alex Saa, property manager of Miami Spaces and art enabler, conceived of the Little Haiti show several months back but hadn’t been able to materialize it. After being offered the space by donation from developers, he asked Little Haiti veteran and Miami fixture Bhakti Baxter to curate the exhibition.
The show has grown organically—with a few self-selections—and, in the end, includes 30 artists. The calendar is also active with everything from potlucks to late-night dance parties. It is a clubhouse, but the underground kind with iffy bathrooms and a rotating selection of Tecate and Budweiser rather than a place to break from golf over filet mignon. It’s not SoHo House; it’s where artists really work and play.
Much of the work in the exhibition quotes the neighborhood or responds to the space itself, assuming a particular dialect of Miami visual scene: a foraged, hunter-gatherer self-reflection. The rooms—with varying treatments such as flat red carpet, wood paneling, and stone—are temporary locations for objects and situations that allude to the larger fabric of the neighborhood.
Sarah Newberry’s “Churchill’s Pub” is literally a swath of this fabric—a stretched pool table felt stained with years of boozed-soaked billiards and brawls plucked from the Little Haiti staple. Johnny Robles’s meta-photograph “Blue Bubbles” pictures the space where it hangs next to the door in the sky-blue entry. Brandon Opalka’s “Florida Flag” is composed solely of materials culled from the building, and is accordingly a junked-up mosaic of the state flag. A small painting by an artist known only as James, who paints buildings all around the neighborhood, hovers defiantly by fishing line perpendicular to the wall.
Now in Saa’s collection, it was found in a trash pile. Other pieces incorporate air conditioners, terrazzo, broken glass, surfboards, pianos, and handmade parking signs that have had a life outside of the artwork. In this context, like the space itself, they represent the transitory and ephemeral debris from a city dissolving and developing at lightning speed. The continuing performance at the point of entry sets the tone and signifies you are entering a special cocoon.
Appearing almost like Zorg’s secretary in “The Fifth Element” Tara Elizabeth Long, set up at the end of the long entry hall with her subwoofer and electric blue hair that matches her installation “The Blue Room,” receives visitors. After cleansing them with a tidal wave of bass, she invites them to enter her magical but ordered world, manifested here in the all-blue details adorning the blue wall and table—blue artwork by others, pictures of dolphins, and coloring books with blue markers, among other items. She then offers them a Tarot card reading—something done less authoritatively and more as a gesture of extension.
Having a stranger help you distill your own narrative carves out a suspended moment; for a few minutes the indeterminable bath of chaos we float in is broken into legible fragments, even if it’s just randomly selected pictures. This seems a fitting way to acclimatize people to LHCC. Although an underground art scene is at its core, LHCC isn’t without the hand of development and the impending change it hastens. How and why else would an old building with few other frills be equipped temporarily with Wi-Fi, AC, and new lights? Does LHCC define Little Haiti’s unique character? No. But it does convey a part of that whole: its resident art scene, at this passing moment.