Two current museum shows in Miami deal with the conundrums of pop culture. But while the subject is essentially the same, both the time periods and the aesthetic terrain they cover are entirely different.
At HistoryMiami Museum, “Miami Rocks: The Miami Pop Festival, May 1968” — starring Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa — is a straight-forward nostalgic wallow drawn from the landmark concert at Gulfstream Park. The Bass Museum of Art’s “DESTEFASHIONCOLLECTION: 1 TO 8,” an arcane exploration of art and fashion organized with the Geneva-based DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, is uncomfortably contemporary.
The Miami Pop concert began on a half-baked whim, as things often did in the 1960s, in the kitchen of Michael Lang’s Coconut Grove house over coffee one morning with his friend Ric O’Barry. The two happened to be reading about the Monterey Pop festival in the Miami Herald and thought it might be fun to make their own pop in history.
In that era, Lang ran a head shop in the Grove, The Head Shop South, with the usual bongs and fetishistic images of Timothy Leary. O’Barry trained dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium for the television show “Flipper.”
“Miami Rocks” opens with a wall of old news photos, including shots of the 1968 Liberty City riots and a barefoot Coconut Grove flower child girl slogging through the dirty streets. A nearby video monitor plays a news clip of a local television reporter interviewing Lang in his head shop during an investigative series on marijuana use in Miami. The unflappable Lang politely dodges questions about a Chairman Mao poster in his shop signaling a “communist conspiracy” and whether or not he considers himself “a good American.”
America was blowing up in 1968, but Miami, in many ways, was stuck in its own eternal 1958 universe: an article about the “Miami Pop” concert in the Miami Beach Reporter, included in the “Miami Rocks” exhibit, is surrounded by Miami Beach Reporter ads for shows like “This is Burlesque!” at the Place Pigalle.
The majority of the concert photos in the “Miami Rocks” show come from Ken Davidoff, who was then 19 and working at his father’s photo studio in Palm Beach. “Miami Rocks” contains several arresting images, including Hendrix on stage and a young Linda Eastman — who would go on to marry Paul McCartney and pass away in 1998 – greeting Hendrix as he stepped off a helicopter. The exhibit also features concert footage of Hendrix at Miami Pop, mounting his guitar on ‘Foxy Lady” and the essence of 1968 cool. Just off the stage, a straight-up nerd, who is actually wearing a tie to a rock concert, looks on balefully.
For a native Miamian, “Miami Rocks” is a touchstone of longing, loss, and memory. In July of 1970, my mother drove me and a female classmate, my first date, to a Hendrix concert at Miami Jai Alai Fronton. Hendrix’s guitar solos seemed a bit self-indulgent that evening, and I opted to leave the concert early with my bewildered date; the ultimate rock legend died two months later. That moment was either the stupidity of an ineffably lame 14-year-old kid from Coral Gables, or the stirrings of punk.
In the late 1970s, I moved to an atmospheric dump, dubbed The Cave by my friends, on Bayhomes Drive in Coconut Grove. Ric O’Barry and his family were my neighbors, occupying a beyond charming $150-a-month cottage called Bayrock; musicians like John Sebastian, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills and David Crosby were in O’Barry’s orbit on Bayhomes Drive, either as neighbors or winter visitors performing nearby at The Gaslight coffee house. In the 1980s, I wound up writing about the neighborhood for the Miami Herald’s long-gone “Tropic” magazine.
Unlike so many 1960s stories, everything worked out fine for O’Barry and Lang. O’Barry, who now lives in Ribe, Denmark, became an animal rights activist and founded The Dolphin Project, rescuing dolphins around the world and having his life work featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.” For O'Barry, the 60s live on. “Some of the early Grove music crowd appeared at Dolphin Project benefits,” he says, “and now we work with people like Slash and Harry Styles. Music is still fun and still good to me.”
In August of 1969, Michael Lang co-produced Woodstock and defined his entire generation in one grand gesture. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, which established a model for such socially-conscious concert events as Coachella and Glastonbury. Lang, who now lives near Woodstock, is working on a 50th anniversary concert and a Woodstock Broadway show.
“There are so many similarities between the 1960s and now,” he says, “Nixon created so much divisiveness in America, just like the current Trump administration. Woodstock gave people hope and there’s still an opportunity for social change.”
At the Bass Museum of Art, the exhibition “DESTEFASHIONCOLLECTION: 1 TO 8” is an epic leap from 1968 Flower Power. From 2007 through 2014, the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art – initially working with the Benaki Museum in Athens – brought in artists, designers and other fashion world figures to curate a capsule project reflecting on the intersection of art and fashion. The Bass exhibition, designed by architect Edwin Chan and featuring such talents as Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli, is the first time all eight editions of the exhibit have been shown in the United States.
Over the years, DESTE has pulled together some choice treats from fashion land. In 2008, photographer Juergen Teller combined a tie-dyed metallic silk Bernhard Willhelm stage costume for Bjork with his own photograph of Bjork in the same Willhelm outfit; in the photos, the hardest working woman in show business is wearing clown makeup and sprawled out like a corpse on a bed of kelp.
The 2009 exhibition, curated by designer Helmut Lang, features an elegant 1920 black silk dress from Louise Bourgeois’ personal wardrobe. In 2013, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architectural firm, worked with Maison Martin Margiela (Splatter Replica sneakers), Leg Avenue (Jumbo nylon fishnets), Philip Johnson’s 1949 Glass House, and photographer Matthew Monteith for a photo series called “The Look”: the surreal-and-often silly photographs, aping the arch look of Johnson’s garden parties, feature models wearing Leg Avenue fishnets in provocative poses.
To my taste, the DESTE show could use more fashion world exuberance and pure beauty and less darkness. According to the DESTE catalog, the film by Athina Rachel Tsangari, “The Capsule,” draws on the “sadomasochistic, satanic, vampiric types” in the accompanying drawings by Aleksandra Waliszewska. It’s unsettling to watch, with young actresses in Chantilly silk lingerie from Bordelle by Alexandra Popa acting out sadomasochistic scenes in a nunnery-meets-boarding-school setting. Within the DESTE show, pointlessly topless models are photographed in the postures of porn stars.
Artist Charles Ray's publication created for DESTE, called “Emperor New Clothes,” consists entirely of photos of nude young female and male models. in the fashion poses of the catwalk: it feels obvious and forced, a simple exercise in titillation.
The experience of seeing “Miami Rocks” and the DESTE show in the same day is an interesting lesson in how little life changes. Sexism was rampant in the hippie era – for starters, take a look at the leering text and images Coral Gables High’s 1973 yearbook. In the contemporary era, we have abhorrent fashion photographres of the "brutal chic" school, tone-deaf old guys like Woody Allen, reviled film producers liked Harvey Weinstein, and at the top of the heap,. a president and former beauty pageant producer who grabs about grabbing women's crotches. Swimsuit competitions are eliminated from the Miss America pageant, quite rightly, but contemporary art and fashion become ever more graphic.
Art and fashion, at least for now, seem to be getting a virtually free pass in the #MeToo era.
IF YOU GO
What: “DESTEFASHIONCOLLECTION: 1 TO 8”
Where: Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
When: Through September 2
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
Admission: $10 adults; $5 seniors and students; children under 12 free.
Info: Call 305-673-7530 or www.thebass.org
What: “Miami Rocks: The Miami Pop Festival, May 1968”
Where: HistoryMiami Museum, 101 Flagler St., downtown Miami
When: Through September 30
Hours: 10 a.m-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday
Admission: $10 for adults, $8 seniors and students, $5 children 6 to 12, free for children under 6
Info: 305-375-1492 or www.historymiami.org