South Florida

From the archives: Naked on the set

BY LYDIA MARTIN

A nude woman grabs her pink raft and runs towards the Sagamore Hotel swimming pool filled with about 140 nude women on pink rafts Oct. 8, 2007. Spencer Tunick photographed hundreds of nude volunteers at the Sagamore Hotel on Miami Beach for an Art Basel installation.
A nude woman grabs her pink raft and runs towards the Sagamore Hotel swimming pool filled with about 140 nude women on pink rafts Oct. 8, 2007. Spencer Tunick photographed hundreds of nude volunteers at the Sagamore Hotel on Miami Beach for an Art Basel installation. Miami Herald

This article was originally published Oct. 9, 2007.

People really do come in all shapes and sizes. In South Beach, they tend to be toned and tanned. They favor Brazilian waxes. And silicone.

What else is new? Still, you couldn't help but muse about the state of the South Florida physique Monday at the Sagamore Hotel, where more than 500 people showed up to be photographed in the nude by famed New York artist Spencer Tunick.

There was a surreal quality to the day: strip the folks who populate one of the sexiest locales in the world of their designer labels and shades and all the cultural signifiers that suggest they're hip, or well off, or taking a stand against this or that, and what you have left is almost transcendental.

You have just the body. And after so many hours of seeing so many parts of so many men and women, even that concept seems to fade. Until there is just . . . spirit.

"At first I was nervous. And then there was a point where I just felt relaxed. Just serene. At one with the day," said Janine Sloan, 59, a psychologist from Coconut Grove who was photographed in the Sagamore pool.

The first group of volunteers crowded 15 of the hotel's balconies that face east. When Tunick, perched with his cameras on a cherry picker, gave the word over a bullhorn, they dropped their clothes. There was some nervous chattering at the start of the day. But later there was silence, as the Sagamore became a sort of museum where living art milled about or posed.

NO PRADA, NO NADA

Tunick, who has shot naked mobs all over the world, including a record-breaking 18,000 volunteers in Mexico City in May, wanted the crowd in nothing but their birthday suits. No jewelry, no glasses, no Prada, no nada. The subjects made a valiant effort to look straight ahead. Never down. Never to their sides. They got to know their neighbors' faces pretty well.

Then came the second shot: 140 women on 140 hot pink rafts floating wall to wall in the Sagamore's pool. Until the water disappeared and the pool surface was just neat rows of flesh and pink plastic. Then 140 guys went in the water on 140 green rafts.

"I think this is an important day for the city, " said Dahlia Morgan, director emeritus of the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, a clothed volunteer. She said the pink rafts invoked for her an earlier art project in Miami, Christo's Surrounded Islands.

"Christo was possibly the first to do colossal-scale art. To have this now, and to have the community serve as participants, I think is spectacular, " Morgan said.

Although there were large numbers of the young and the shapely, there also were plenty of older bodies and rounder bodies. But, as usual at a Tunick installation, there was no sexual energy.

"It's not a peep show, " said Kitty Higginbotham, who works in property management and is the girlfriend of Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, who was on hand to welcome Tunick. He didn't get naked. She did.

"It's very liberating, " Higginbotham said. "And it's an honor to be part of the art world."

Kimane McKenzie, 24, a website designer from Fort Lauderdale, was stressing when he showed up.

"I'm very nervous right now, " he said, voice shaky. "But I've been bungee jumping, and I know the feeling. You hope for the best, and when it's over, you feel great. I do it for the thrill seeking, I guess."

One of the last shots had the most South Beach flavor, as hundreds of naked participants shook champagne bottles and hoisted them in the air. Tunick clicked and clicked as the bubbly shot up and showered down.

"Everyone was just so polite and wonderful," Tunick said when he finally put the cameras down. His Sagamore images will be unveiled in December during an Art Basel brunch at the hotel. "To see all those guys wiggling to get onto all those green rafts, it was just very fun. The whole day was great. It was such a collective effort, " Tunick said.

NOT 'A NUDIST EVENT'

After the champagne shot, scores of naked, sun-burned people jumped in the pool, making it overflow. Tunick, whose images can fetch between $30,000 and $50,000, implored volunteers to get the crowd dressed again.

"We don't want this to become a nudist event, " he said. "We want them to put something back on to hang out right now."

The installation ended with a thank-you barbecue for participants. After his break, Tunick picked up his cameras again. The installation was back on. And now he wanted everybody partying topless.

The T-shirts, bikini tops and sarongs immediately fell back off.

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