Friday, August 9, 2019


more from artforum


Niko Pirosmani, Bridge with Donkey, date unknown, oil on wax cloth, 36 5⁄8 × 46 1⁄2".

Niko Pirosmani


If the extraordinary paintings of the Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) are still too little known, it may be in part because, since his death, Pirosmani’s hard-to-classify art has almost never been for sale. Many of his existing paintings are concentrated in the collection of the Georgian National Museum, far from the art world in America. Sometimes referred to as the “Douanier Rousseau of the East,” Pirosmani, too, was self-taught....


Wang Xingwei, Shenyang Night, 2018, oil on canvas, 9' 10 1⁄8“ × 16' 3”.

Wang Xingwei


As pseudoscientific and dubious as the practice of physiognomy may be, it delivers judgments that are based on a fixed set of criteria. In the Chinese context, physical attributes such as the shape of one’s head are believed to reveal aspects of one’s fate....




Prince on his Ultimate Live Experience tour, Brabanthallen’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, March 24, 1995.Photo: Paul Bergen/Redferns.

WHEN A BAND, famous or unknown, leads with a hit it can mean only one of two things: They’re anxious to get the hell off the stage and go back to snorting rails at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée (or smoking crack out of a Bic-pen barrel at the Super 8), or they’ve got hits for days and can afford to burn them like Weimar Republic cash.
The first thing that greets you as you walk into “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” at New York’s staid and storied Metropolitan Museum of Art is Chuck Berry’s blond Gibson ES-350T—likely, we are told, the one he used to record “Johnny B. Goode,” the legendary song from which all rock ’n’ roll is arguably spawned. To your right is the gold-painted piano that survived more than fifty years of the fists and feet of Jerry Lee Lewis, and beyond that is blues lord Muddy Waters’s “Hoss,” worn at the edges, and a pristine Gretsch version of Bo Diddley’s “Twang Machine,” the cigar-box-shaped guitar he originally built from a piece of wood fitted with the pickup of an old Victrola.

Steve Miller’s Les Paul TV Special electric guitar, 1961,mahogany, rosewood, metal, plastic, 39 1⁄4 × 13 × 1 1⁄4". Painted by Bob Cantrell.

After that it’s just hit after hit, no time to even think about getting back to the hotel: the Fender Esquire-Telecaster “mutt” Bruce Springsteen wears slung over his back on the cover of Born to Run (1975). The Tele Keith Richards played on Exile on Main St (1972). Eric Clapton’s beloved Fender Strat “Blackie.” Eddie Van Halen’s homemade “Frankenstein,” its cratered back studded with plastic reflectors. The Beatles’ live setup, sans bass, is here, its spare lines a stark contrast to their rich body of work. There’s even a fragment of the Strat famously set ablaze by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, tastefully (and enragingly) devoid of char.
The exhibition occupies seven galleries, most of which are painted a dull lavender-gray that perfectly sets off everything from the 1948 Bigsby solid-body No. 2, a carved-wood juggernaut that recalls the heavy and ornate furniture occupying the museum’s nearby period rooms, to the circa-1995 horror-show Born to Rock F4B bass, a hollow mess of silvery aluminum tubes whose massive tuning pegs reside at the instrument’s bottom. In several of the galleries, fragments of classic songs play at an unobtrusive volume that would horrify their creators but is probably still sending the exhibition’s guards home with PTSD. Most of the instruments are presented in vitrines that are largely wall-mounted but occasionally freestanding, allowing viewers to inspect them from all angles.

Keith Moon of the Who’s “Pictures of Lily” drum set, 1966–67. Installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2019.

Garnering zero attention in one of these cases at the start of the show was Elvis’s unassuming Martin D-18 acoustic. Then a woman, pausing to read the label, gasped, “Elvis!” and suddenly the instrument was surrounded by women of all ages surveying the buckle rash on the back and gleefully discussing the gyrations that must have produced it. Nearby is Buddy Holly’s acoustic Gibson J-45, the split seams of its hand-tooled leather case putting the viewer in mind of the coroner’s description of both Holly’s jacket and his skull after he was thrown from a small plane into a snowy Iowa field alongside Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper “the day the music died.”

I read that Jimmy Page was lured into loaning his guitars by the promise of their being exhibited near the Greek and Roman antiquities. I bet his young heart woulda beat right out of his ruffle-and-velvet-draped chest back in the day at the thought of rock ’n’ roll being entombed in a quiet museum.

Guitar overload continues in the second room, with a Gibson SG belonging to AC/DC’s Angus Young, with whom the model is synonymous (though Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the first to bring it to the stage); Stevie Ray Vaughn’s beat-to-shit “Number One”; and Jerry Garcia’s custom “Tiger,” which allegedly took two thousand hours to make. In perhaps one of the exhibition’s most inspired groupings, St. Vincent’s angular, electric-yellow, 2017 triple-pickup Ernie Ball Music Man HHH (retail price: just under $3,000) is flanked on one side by Jack White’s cheap red-and-white 1964 Valco Airline (a model originally sold at middle-class catalogue retailer Montgomery Ward’s) and on the other by a circa-1973 natural-wood-finish Japanese Hohner of a type that Prince is reputed to have bought at a Minneapolis gas station for thirty dollars in his salad days. Later in the exhibition, you’ll have the opportunity to watch a video of him wrenching George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” out of his original gas-station ax as he looks into the eyes of Tom Petty: just two talented guys who would needlessly die of opioid overdoses. Shout-out to the Sackler Wing!
At the entrance to the third room, visitors encounter the chilly diamond-plate-metal-and-orange-glitter stage setup of a short-haired, post-therapy Metallica, which suggests nothing of the hot, wild, sweat-soaked pits the Bay Area thrashers notoriously catalyzed in their beery, metal-breaking heyday. U mad, long-haired bro? Yes, I am! The Roots’ setup, including Sousaphone (!), occupies one side of the space, across from a field of synths. A modified 1960s-era Hammond L-100 electric tone-wheel organ belonging to Keith Emerson looks positively modest next to the keyboardist’s behemoth customized Hammond C3/Moog synth stack, but don’t be fooled—the former was “retired after it burst into flames during a performance.”

View of “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll,” 2019, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Also here are a ton of basses, including the 1980 Ovation Magnum 1 that Kim Gordon played on Sonic Youth’s groundbreaking first three studio albums and the 1977 Fender P bass on which Chip Shearin famously tossed off the lick sampled by the Sugarhill Gang on their seminal 1979 “Rapper’s Delight.” At the edges of the room are various instruments considered largely outside the realm of rock but that are heard on sundry classics of the genre. Among these are . . . Patti Smith’s clarinet. I guess this is a wholly different instrument when you are not being forced to play it in middle school? Ravi Shankar’s beautifully carved sitar, trimmed with hand-painted white borders etched with blue and red flowers, glows near a Sonic Wave theremin, whose silvery box announces its capacity to produce “sounds of time.”
The fourth gallery holds the stage rigs of four different guitarists—Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Eddie Van Halen, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Each setup faces a different corner of the space, and above each is a flat-screen monitor on which plays a brief interview with the corresponding artist. The videos are neatly timed in a clockwise rotation—as Page finishes speaking on one monitor, Richards rumbles onto the next one, and so on. In addition to preventing bleed, the arrangement guarantees a sort of audience experience as viewers wander from one screen to the next, and thus promotes the sharing of stories: As a snowy-haired Page articulately fingered a drifting and resonant “Stairway to Heaven,” an elderly man next to me reminisced excitedly about being recognized, along with his friends, and cheerily hailed by Page and the other members of the Yardbirds as he sat in the front pew of a thirty-row church the band was playing in. I went home and looked this up, and I concluded that it could have happened: By 1968, the band had been reduced to playing high-school proms.

Eddie Van Halen with his self-designed “Frankenstein” guitar, 1980. Photo: Neil Zlozower/Atlas Icons.

The fifth room—anchored at one end by Lady Gaga’s circa-2014 Artpop piano in its custom case, a fantastic winged creation of clear plastic lit internally with LED lights, and at the other by the “Pictures of Lily” drum kit belonging to the Who’s Keith Moon—is an amazing carnival of color and kitsch. One of the best visual pairings here is Paul Stanley of Kiss’s Ibanez Iceman, with its cracked mirror face, next to a dawn-colored carved Ovation Adamas acoustic belonging to Nancy Wilson of Heart. Nearby is an eight-string Alembic bass owned by the Who’s John Entwistle, reported to be so loud that the roadies would migrate away from Entwistle’s side of the stage when he played it. Other people-movers on display include Don Felder’s cream-colored double-neck 1977 Gibson SG, on which he famously (some might say unforgivably) played the iconic solo on the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” and Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen’s first five-necker, made from a quintet of Hamer Specials and finished in a shockingly tasteful reddish-brown.
In the penultimate room, a strange mix of video clips plays, some capturing performers in the incandescent blaze of their primacy, others inexplicably showing latter-day versions of bands cranking through rote versions of the hits that made them famous years ago. The last room contains posters for decades-past shows, most of which epitomized what I overheard one woman describe as “dream bills.”
I read that Jimmy Page was lured into loaning his guitars by the promise of their being exhibited near the Greek and Roman antiquities. I bet his young heart woulda beat right out of his ruffle-and-velvet-draped chest back in the day at the thought of rock ’n’ roll being entombed in a quiet museum. Though rock is only seventy years old—not seventy decades—the show certainly makes it feel historical, the way a copy of Mojo or Rolling Stone does. Visitors seeking the spirit of the beautiful corpse so stunningly presented here are advised to turn their attention to less hallowed spaces—the bars, basements, and Bandcamp pages where tomorrow’s monsters are being animated today!
“Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” is on view through October 1.
Polly Watson is a musician, writer, and editor based in New York.
Jennifer Nelson, Democracy is a party, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 53 seconds. From “Anatomy of Political Melancholy.”

“Anatomy of Political Melancholy”


An appropriate setting for a show titled “Anatomy of Political Melancholy,” the Athens Conservatoire was envisaged as part of an ambitious Bauhaus-style cultural complex designed by architect Ioannis Despotopoulos, much of which was left unbuilt; in 1976, not long after the fall of the Greek military junta, construction was halted for lack of funding. ...





Look from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1995–96 “Anniversaire des 20 ans” collection. Photo: Karl Lagerfeld.

Thierry Mugler


I HAVE MADE A BREAKTHROUGH in the psychoanalytic study of fags, or psychofaganalysis—thanks to Thierry Mugler.
At “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime,” a retrospective of his oeuvre at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montréal,
I was able to answer a question that has long plagued psychofag-analysts.
The question: Why do fags so often create fashion?
The answer: They don’t create it; it creates them.

View of “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime,” 2019. Foreground: Zumanity stage costume, 2003. Background: The Wyldstage costume, 2014.

“Couturissime” displays more than 150 of Mugler’s designs. It includes runway showpieces, projections of runway shows and music videos, and costumes he designed for the Comédie-Française, a theatrical company that’s been around since Louis XIV ruled France. It’s accompanied by an adulatory catalogue that lays out the facts of his career but doesn’t even try to tell us why fashion makes fags.
Fashion makes fags so that fags make fashion.
“Since it is common knowledge that male homosexuals in extraordinary numbers are involved in fashion-creation,” Edmund Bergler wrote in Fashion and the Unconscious (1953), “there is a tentative discussion of whether or not the unconscious hatred of women typical for every homosexual has been responsible for some of the dress absurdities of the last half-century.”
Bergler was an analyst and an associate of Freud’s famous for his homophobia and his fixation on fag fashion designers. He believed that homosexuals dressed women as monsters.
Thierry Mugler is his nightmare.

Look from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1997–98 “La Chimère”collection. Photo: Alan Strutt.

“Couturissime” is a monster mash. There are vamps, she-devils, glamazons. There’s a fish-woman in a fishtail gown with fins. There are women who appear to be wearing parts of Cadillacs—dashboards, fenders, lights—or who appear to be Cadillacs themselves.
Fagginess, Bergler believed, begins when a baby sees his mother as a monster who withholds comfort on a whim. The baby begins to take pleasure in being denied. To counter this masochism, he aggresses against her, then goes gay.
Presto! A pervert.

Look from Thierry Mugler’s Spring/Summer 1997 “Les Insectes”collection. Photo: Brad Branson and Fritz Kok.

“Couturissime” is a pervert’s paradise. There are corsets. There are clothes that look tattooed or that are pierced with hoops and studs. Vinyl, rubber, queer cuir—there are materials to please almost every paraphilia. Mechanophilia: He designed robot bodices. Formicophilia: He designed a dress after an ant’s carapace. Teratophilia: He designed a couture chimera in golden armor and sequin scales. Then there are dresses that mimic shellfish. Are such creations acts of zoophilia, or autozoophilia, or are they overtures to vorarephilia?
What is Mugler’s fetish?
Manfred Thierry Mugler was born in Strasbourg, France, and was raised there and in Vittel, near Nancy.
Nancy is a synonym for fag.

Mugler affirms that fashion is the fabric of fagginess and that fagginess is the faggiest of all perversions.

Mugler’s father was a doctor. Mugler didn’t become a doctor. His mother was a fashion plate who wore couture. He became a couturier.
Freud tells us that the fetish is the image of the final thing a subject sees, be it shoes or underwear or pubic hair (which becomes fur or cloth in the fetishistic psyche), before he sees that his mother is missing a phallus. For Mugler, it was Chanel, Cardin, or Courrèges: not cloth, not clothing, but high fashion, the hautest of the haute.
In my psychofaganalytic opinion, his fetish is fashion itself—constantly fleeting and fleetingly constant.
Mugler studied classical dance with the National Opera of the Rhine in Strasbourg, then moved to Paris. Fashion found him. He was a passive pervert, fetishizing clothes he saw on the streets, in the stores. In his mid-twenties, he turned from passive to active fag: He started creating clothes.
Though he had no formal fashion training, he started producing a prêt-à-porter line in his apartment-cum--studio in 1974. The earliest pieces in “Couturissime” date to 1978: unisex uniforms for some far-off planet’s armed forces. They bear the influence of Stalin’s tunics, sci-fi B movies, and Ronald Kolodzie, a designer who often outfitted Richie Gallo. Gallo was an American performance artist who looked like a sadomasochistic alien: a Martian who fell into the Mineshaft.

Linda Evanglista in a Thierry Mugler look for George Michael’s “Too Funky” music video, 1992. Photo: Patrice Stable.

In 1979, David Bowie donned a glittering finned gown by Mugler for his “Boys Keep Swinging” music video. It made Mugler the man of the New Wave moment. In 1980, the band Rough Trade released its first studio album. The album was art-directed by General Idea, and it featured front woman Carole Pope on its cover. She was butch as fuck in a militaristic Mugler coat. She sang about s/m, drag, Nazism. On the single “Fashion Victim,” she sang: “Montana, Fendi, Lagerfeld, Mugler, Kenzo, Chloé / I’m a victim of fashion and accessories.”
The album was called Avoid Freud.
Mugler got famous. By the early 1980s, his shows were spectacles: He sold tickets to see them and thousands paid. Critics criticized him for being misogynistic—shades of Bergler’s insistence that homosexuals hate women. Critics criticized him for his “Nazi” aesthetic—again, shades of Bergler and his insistence that kapos at concentration camps were sadistic criminal homos.
Nazism was a weird thing for Mugler to be accused of, considering that his signature suit—sharp shoulders, wasp waist, peplum—was an update of the victory suit American women wore in World War II. It was weird, too, considering that his shows starred drag queens, club kids, and icons of pop music and porn: They were more Weimar than Wehrmacht. It was as if the degenerates had destroyed the Third Reich, becoming sleeker, stronger, more super in the process. Arbeit macht fierce.
In 1992, Mugler presented haute couture for the first time. The couture in “Couturissime” is even pervier than the prêt-à-porter. There’s a dress that’s meant to hang from nipple piercings. There’s a robe encrusted with Swarovski crystals on the inside: Wouldn’t it hurt to wear that? There’s a riding-coat-style suit whose décolletage is decorated with crystals that look like ice and with faux fur that looks like snow. Frozen fur—it’s so Sacher-Masoch.
In 2002, Mugler exited the fashion world to concentrate on directing cabarets and costuming Cirque du Soleil. He left behind an archive of thousands of singular garments. He also left behind a line of perfumes: Angel, his first scent, has been a best seller since it was introduced more than two decades ago. The fragrance incorporates ethyl maltol, a compound that has long appeared in trace amounts in perfumes. In Angel, it’s the top note. It smells like candy. The secondary notes aren’t so sweet: Deep patchouli and musk deliver a whiff of feces, or perhaps of Freud. Fetishes, Freud says, sometimes find a foothold in fecal smells.
What isn’t Mugler’s fetish? The man has a fetish for fetishes. Or is it a fetish for fetishes for fetishes? A fetish for fetishes for fetishes for fetishes?
Perversions, Bergler said, always work their way to the surface. Mugler multiplies perversions and then the perversions pervert perversions so that perversions spill perversely across the surfaces of his clothes like sperm.
Mugler affirms that fashion is the fabric of fagginess and that fagginess is the faggiest of all perversions. Bergler affirms the perfect circle of this perversion: Since fashion allows fags to dress women as monsters, then boys will always see their mothers as monsters. This means that there will always be gay boys. This means that there will always be gay boys who go into fashion. This means that fashion—like fagginess—is forever.
Italics are mine.
“Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” is on view through September 8.
Derek McCormack lives in Toronto. His most recent novel is The Well-Dressed Wound (Semiotext[e], 2015), about the fashion designer Martin Margiela. I Am the Coin, 2010, a collaboration with the artist Micah Lexier, is currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

preservation in Miami Beach




Albert Anis, Waldorf Towers, Miami Beach, Florida, 1937. Photo: Mickey Luigi Logitmark.
CRISP, LOW-LYING, AND QUIETLY BEAUTIFUL, the Art Deco boulevards of Miami Beach constitute what the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) calls an “Open Air Museum of 20th Century Architecture,” driving tourism and the city’s economy. The modernist curves and stacked ziggurats—designed to catch the breeze in each hotel room—suit a landscape built at the mercy of water. The white-and-pink, peach-and-aqua exteriors balance out the deep blue of the Florida sky. Walking down Collins Avenue with its oceanfront hotels, or the side streets with their three-story Moderne apartment buildings, the architectural effect is one of a well-curated environment where “good design” is an everyday pleasure and form follows function. This modernist truism, however, is an anachronism in the face of the city’s deepening climate crisis: Nothing about Miami Beach is functional, at least not anymore, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the old forms we have relied on—architectural, economic, and social—no longer hold.
Preservation in Miami Beach has always been about more than architecture. For decades, the sandbars of the man-made beaches have needed replenishing in order to give the illusion of their natural occurrence. And now, preservation is rapidly becoming improbable. Because of the area’s flat topography and porous bedrock, it is uniquely prone to continual flooding. This risks contaminating the freshwater aquifers and wells with saltwater and septic sewage, and all of the canals, pump stations, and sluice gates that currently prevent the ocean from intruding on the city won’t endure the estimated sea-level rise given current rates of carbon emissions. A 2015 study by the National Academy of Sciences proposed “lock-in dates” for around 1,800 endangered coastal urban areas in the US, the date by which a city’s future underwater fate is essentially sealed. Miami’s lock-in date has passed, making it one of the cities that lead study author Benjamin H. Strauss describes as “already lost.”

Miami Beach has always been a preservation project on a mass scale. In 1910, Indiana-born entrepreneur and automobile enthusiast Carl G. Fisher came to town. The mangrove jungle and barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay that is now Miami Beach had already been partially filled and channeled with canals, the land marshaled into a middling plantation venture to grow coconuts. Envisioning the perfect beach getaway at the end of the Dixie Highway (which he had helped sponsor), Fisher loaned $200,000 to other local developers to complete the bridge over Biscayne Bay and to begin logging the mangroves, cutting drainage channels, and bringing in soil to turn the unlikely sandbar into an island.
The boosters succeeded in designating the town of what became Miami Beach in 1915, jumpstarting South Florida’s real estate bubble of the 1920s. Biscayne Bay was dredged, sections of the Everglades were drained to create dry land, and real estate prices rose by more than 1,000 percent over the next ten years. Fisher built a $65,000 beachfront house named The Shadows as well as the Flamingo Hotel, festooned by a rooftop dome with floodlights visible to ships at sea.
Luxury didn’t last forever: The combined catastrophes of the 1926 hurricane and the 1929 stock market crash ended the local real estate boom. As development became more modest, the fantastical artifice of the 1920s Mediterranean Revival style, all stucco walls and delicate loggias, gradually evened out into the streamlined silhouettes and winking, eyebrowed windows of Art Deco, Depression Moderne, and eventually midcentury modernism, reflecting Miami Beach’s new identity as a working- and middle-class resort.

“Eyebrow” cantilevered sun shades on a Miami Beach building facade.

The American adoption of the Parisian Art Deco style had come to embody a kind of exuberance synonymous with the twentieth-century boom of American capital. Manhattan’s skyscrapers, Detroit’s automobile industry, Los Angeles’s civic engineering—the modernist spirit infused them all with a story of ebullient progress untethered from the history-laden revivalism of the nineteenth century. During the 1930s, with its labor strikes and social welfare policies, its progressive social engineering and blossoming of public institutions, design courted populism. The people, modernists argued, deserved well-made things they could use. This was architecture for the masses, but it was also about mass consumption. In design as in all things, the preservation of American progress meant, necessarily, the preservation of American capital. As the Wolfsonian–Florida International University in Miami Beach contends in an ongoing exhibition, “Deco: Luxury to Mass Market,” Art Deco evolved into a truly American design style when “American designers adapted a style associated with European luxury to the demands of industrial mass production.”
Throughout the postwar decades, the distinctive structures of Miami Beach fell into disrepair. Founded in 1976, the MDPL succeeded three years later in having the island’s dilapidated huddle of Art Deco, Moderne, and Mediterranean Revival buildings designated as federal historic sites, defining the unique style of MiMo—Miami Modernism—in the process. The MDPL’s efforts can be pinned to a rise in the city’s fortunes. Andy Warhol asked for a tour of Miami’s Art Deco architecture in 1980; Miami Vice first aired in 1984, turning South Beach’s rundown streets into a backdrop for urban cool. Gianni Versace moved there in 1992, and the combination of queer bohemia and fashion-fueled luxury gave the built environment a campy glamour. It was de rigueur for cultural critics in the ’90s to single out downtown Miami’s architecture—particularly the rectangular doughnut of Arquitectonica’s Atlantis Condominium with a five-story palm court cut out of its center, famous from the opening credits of Miami Vice—as emblematic of the postmodern condition, empty of referents and narrative, a city of flashy anomie. That story of Miami is, I now think, wrong. Rather than give up on meaning, we must find other cultural and political narratives to help us live with the wreckage we have inherited. Whom and what we love, whom and what we save, and how we mourn the things we’re certain to lose are now becoming urgent questions of preservation.
Daniel Ciraldo, the MDPL’s executive director, defines preservation as “adaptive reuse,” thinking of a neighborhood not as “frozen in time” but as a collocation of “vital, thriving communities.” Miami Waterkeeper, an environmental group devoted to protecting South Florida’s watershed, follows a multipronged approach of advocacy, education, green infrastructure, and legal planning. But neither organization, understandably, is willing to admit in their public communications that Miami may be unsalvageable—that preservation, at this point, might entail a planned exodus from the city and careful, democratic decisions about how to preserve lives and lifeways.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, I went to Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant—arguably as old as Miami Beach itself—at the tip of South Beach to order their house specialty. The menu explained that the crab was “sustainably fished”: Only its oversize pincer arms are harvested, and the living crab is thrown back into the ocean where the arms regrow, possibly to be harvested again and again. Only half of the crabs die from the treatment—obviously a better survival rate than conventional crabbing—but to consider the embodied experience of the crab is terrifying. I ordered and ate the crab. It was delicious, but nothing about it felt good. The fate of the Florida stone crab feels eerily entwined to that of Miami Beach’s historic districts; you can’t help wondering if today’s efforts at sustainability and preservation miss the larger point.
The new buzzword for adapting urban environments to climate change and related natural disasters is resiliency—a term that does seem to imply some understanding of cities as part of their environmental setting. But as Ashley Dawson expertly notes in Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (2017), this jargon is hopeful but empty, seeking “to offer adaptive solutions without addressing the political roots of contemporary social risk and disaster.” At best, the language of resiliency offers adaptive solutions like green infrastructure and social planning for expected sea-level rise. At worst, it vaguely gestures toward a future fix, while untenable carbon emissions and development continue unabated. In general, resiliency promises progress as an automatic feature of social and political life; in this, it is an old story masquerading as a new one.
In 2017, the MDPL launched the Center for Resiliency and Sustainability to advocate for “historic preservation” as “a critical contributor to stated goals of long-term sustainability and social, economic, and environmental resiliency.” In a recent workshop at the MDPL, titled “Buoyant City,” University of Miami professor and architect Allan Shulman advanced an approach of optimism and creative design in the face of climate emergency, arguing that Miami Beach was too culturally valuable to let sink and that “retreat was not an option.” Rather, he said, the crisis was an “opportunity” to build an “adaptive and resilient city.” But this seems willfully naive or willfully shortsighted: Given Miami’s certain flooding within a generation, current proposals to raise sidewalks and turn Flamingo Park into a reservoir seem like desperate stopgaps.
Miami Beach Rising Above is the island’s initiative to address climate change, and it defines resiliency as the capacity of “a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks” occur. The chronic stresses and acute shocks that can be expected include king tides as well as coastal, rainwater, and groundwater flooding, which will result in the breaching of freshwater wells by saltwater and the sinking of septic tanks below the water table, contaminating the aquifer. Research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the streets of Miami and Miami Beach could flood every single day by 2070. Here are the unforeseen effects of American progress: The canals and channels first cut to drain the Everglades and fuel South Florida’s development—the ones that turned the mangrove jungle of Miami Beach into a plantation and then a resort town—are now the perfect conduits to bring seawater into the city.

Miami Beach during Hurricane Irma, September 10, 2017. Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP.

Nonetheless, luxury real estate development continues in Miami Beach and offers an effective way to gauge what is, in fact, now being preserved there. The island city hosts around 14 percent of Miami-Dade County’s property value, on less than 1 percent of the county’s land, and the ultrarich purchase condominiums as investments that appreciate at a rate of 5 to 10 percent a year. The unfinished condos at 87 Park on Collins Avenue, designed by the prestigious Renzo Piano Building Workshop, for example, sell for between two and sixty-eight million dollars. The entrenched desire to preserve capital is one narrative that has not yet been broken.
“The Greater Miami and the Beaches’ Preliminary Resilience Assessment,” funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, is a graphic-heavy set of PowerPoint slides in bright colors, with vague bullet points about new “Programs,” achievable “Strategies,” and recently founded “Working Groups.” “Living with water” is floated as the city’s new brand for tourism and stormwater management. Resiliency, it seems, means branding and marketing clichés, because resiliency, even in the face of the increasingly dire facts, cannot disabuse itself of entrenched narratives of economic development and American progress—of the belief that it’s possible to, in the strained metaphor of the Assessment, “bounce forward, not just bounce back.”
The people and city of Greater Miami deserve much better. We are running out of options, and soon we may only have a choice about how best to mourn what has vanished. Inevitably now, Miami will flood—the seawalls will breach, the pumps will be inundated, the oceans will acidify, the sidewalks won’t be raised high enough. If we cannot preserve the architectural historic districts for more than a few more decades, we should bend our collective will toward preserving its best features: its minimalist version of beauty, its initial democratic and civic ethos, its playful belief that form and function ought to be married by thoughtful design. For what is now being preserved in Miami Beach is the moribund promise of American progress, a desperate bid for security against the coming king tide.
Jessie Kindig is an editor at Verso Books, and her essays have appeared in n+1, the Boston Review, and Jacobin, among other publications. by VANTAG || stage three by VANTAG || stage three

stage 3 had:

- 3 logos x
- 3 colors