Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sarasota Trifecta, Part 2 - South Beach Babylon

It was only fitting that Susan, Steve and I went to the American Moderns show at the Ringling Museum before heading to Florida Studio Theater to see the art-themed South Beach Babylon.   The description of the show reads, "Commercialism and artistic integrity battle it out as a group of artists prepare for the celebrated Art Basel event.  Is it possible to create art without selling one's soul?"  In case you're not familiar with Art Basel, it's a modern and contemporary art extravaganza that's been going on since 1970.   Art Basel originated in Basel, Switzerland, expanded to Miami Beach in 2002, and made its way to Hong Kong in 2013.  It includes not only "traditional" visual arts but installation pieces, performance art and film.   I haven't been but it's definitely on my "to do" list.  Here's a link if you're interested in learning more. 

South Beach Babylon opens with Jonas, a discouraged young artist, driving aimlessly south. Having decided to pursue a career as an artist, he's now terrified of putting paint on canvas and letting people see his work.  He spots a billboard for the "New Face of Miami" that features a beautiful woman whose face has been cut out.  Intrigued, he finds himself veering off the highway, and he ends up in South Beach just as things are heating up for Art Basel.

In the opening scene, with salsa music pulsating in the background, we are introduced to the cast of characters whose lives will intersect with Jonas' over the course of the show. We meet Semira, the agent who knows everyone and everything that goes on at Art Basel.   There's Tony, the photographer who shot the "New Face of Miami" campaign, and Lennox, the model whose body graces the billboard that drew Jonas to South Beach.  (You get to see quite a bit of Lennox' body during the show, and it is quite spectacular. ) And then there are the artists participating in Art Basel:  Simon, a performance artist, and Chillie, an artist whose work is all about "color and shape."

The show is quite hilarious and very well-acted.  It raises questions about where the line is/should be between art and social statement and whether art should make you happy or make you think.   Simon falls firmly on the side of social statement/thinking with his intense performance pieces.  I loved hearing Semira (with her agent hat firmly on her head) and Lennox (with her ditzy model take on the world) describe his work and then listen to Simon's explanation about what he was trying to say. (Subjugation of some sort was usually involved.)  Having seen some installation pieces while gallery hopping in New York with Wendi, I'm embarrassed to confess that "But who would buy that?" is often my first thought. I understand that's not the point--and it's often very interesting to figure out what the point of the work actually is--but having to make a living is a fact of life.  And performance art is even more "out there" than installation pieces.

Damien Hirst with one of his
spot paintings
Chillie's art falls soundly on the other side of the equation and is clearly intended for the masses.  Again, I don't want to give away too much away  but it was impossible not to compare Chillie's work to Damien Hirst's spot paintings.  (Once more, Wendi is responsible for my familiarity with Hirst's work.  Last year she participated in the Gagosian Galleries' Complete Spot Challenge, touring eleven galleries worldwide to see the show.  You can learn more about the Challenge at  If you see the show and read a bit about the creation of Hirst's spot paintings, you'll immediately understand the comparison.

South Beach Babylon is a great summer theater offering.  It will make you laugh.  It will make you think.  It will make you wish that you were younger and worked out more.  And it's running through August 18th, so there's still time to see it if you're in the Sarasota area.  I am looking forward to finding out what Florida Studio Theater will be offering in the fall.  With two main stage theaters and two cabaret spaces, there's bound to be something fun.

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