PRINT January 1988



I'VE NEVER BEEN to Miami. I've never visited a building by Arquitectonica. I've yet to watch an episode of Miami Vice straight through to the end (I think). I haven't read any of the recent batch of books on Miami, and I was feeling under the weather last summer when the excerpts from David Rieff's book Going to Miami came out in The New Yorker.

But when I was very young I used to sing the “Alabama Song” quite a lot. I thought I was lucky to have friends who were a lot older than me, so I didn't mind when they prodded me to join in and sing, “Oh show me the way to the next whiskey bar,” even though I had never been to a bar. But I was the kind of dreadful child who knew that the song came from the score of an opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill called Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and I've heard that the City of Mahagonny was supposed to be based on the City of Miami, and that Brecht and Weill had never been to Miami either.

All this came back to me a few months ago when suddenly Miami, which had been snubbed for years, emerged as this new site of excitement. “Oh show us,” I began to hum cynically under my breath, “show us the way” to the next intellectual subject, the next media subject, the next raw heap of experience waiting to be sampled, tasted with that special sweet and sour relish of fascination and contempt, chewed, spat out, and left behind. But then I remembered: I'm not 11 years old anymore, I'm now a contributor to the media myself, it's meant to be my job to get out there and do some showing around and taste-testing, why don't I get on a plane and start that article on Arquitectonica I've been wanting to write ever since my disappointment with the sets they designed for Nina Wiener's dance company two seasons ago at the Next Wave festival?

All the planes are booked so I think it over some more and hum a few more bars and a real sense of déjà vu sets in. That's the point of the song, that the next whiskey bar is just like the last whiskey bar, and will the next Miami be treated like the last call: Los Angeles—a place I've actually been, albeit before Hollyart? I spent some time in Los Angeles five years before Frank Gehry built his well-known house there, when the town's museums, galleries, and artists were more of an international secret, before LA became a favorite watering hole for the Arts and Leisure sections. It could be that this development of “high” LA culture, doing its precarious best to hold its banner in the air, like the top man on a pyramid of body-builders in Venice, is the development that put the gas in the planes down to Miami, adding it to the merry-go-round of revolving kulcher.

“If we don't find the next whiskey bar,” if we don't find the next pyramid of inert matter to climb, “I tell you we must die.” So on we jump on the sunshine skyway, looking for signs of the next hot place. Here is one, to judge from the postcard pictures of pretty colors, cocaine-rotted brains, nighttime violence, pink flamingos, not to mention Don Johnson's ankles. “O moon of Alabama, it's time to say good-bye.” Can we please stop chasing the Indians all around this blighted natural paradise, trying to get them to make us look smart? Or, if that's asking too much or too little, could we please have two piña coladas, a lobster salad, and a nice plate of ripe sliced mangoes? And make it snappy.

Herbert Muschamp directs the Graduate Program in Criticism at the Parsons School of Design, New York. His column appears regularly in Artforum.