"The Tempest" Meets "Lost" as Dazed Hordes Swarm a Miami Art Island

The crowd of anxious souls waiting on the patio of Miami's Mondrian Hotel to catch a wave-buffeted boat out to the small,uninhabited Flagler Memorial Monument Island for "The Island," a one-day-only exhibition organized by ShamimMomin and OHWOW's Al Moran, likened the experience to harrowing pop culture adventures like "Lost" and "Jurassic Park," with perhaps some "Gilligan's Island" thrown in. But, actually, riding out there felt more like being in the group of seafarers in Shakespeare's play "The Tempest," tossed onto shore by Prospero's storm. In this scenario, Prospero, of course, would be Momin, the redoubtable former Whitney curator who moved out west two years ago to found Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND), and who seems to have the preternatural ability to conjure exhibitions out of thin air (witness her sprawling "Station" extravaganza two years ago in a half-constructed building in Miami's Wynwood district, which came complete with elaborate "meth lab" installation by JonahFreeman and JustinLowe.)

"The Island" had its hitches — more than 2,000 people RSVP'd, and so mobbed was the Mondrian that many didn't make it onto a boat. Those who did had to grapple with a complicated and frequently changing system of letters scribbled on note cards, leading to weary art folk wandering around the patio muttering, "When does boat E leave?" and "I lost my letter thing, what do I do now?" And then there was the shoe snafu. In a bit of sponsorship-cum-product placement, a flip-flop maker provided a free pair toall island goers, and yet those who retained their dry landshoes — especially if those shoes happened to be closed-toe, as they were on, say, Los Angeles MOCA director JeffreyDeitch — turned out to be at a distinct advantage out on the island, the sand of which was populated by a particularly thorny little indigenous burr. And so the flip-flop wearers hopped around the place inpain, tugging burrs from their heels, and the regular-shoe-wearers strode about gloating.

Arrayed on one side of the Flagler Memorial Monument, the tall, cryptic Washington Monument-evoking structure that lends the island its name, were 17 artworks by contemporary artists du jour like BozidarBrazda, TerenceKoh, and HannaLiden. At first it seemed a motley display: among the first works to greet visitors at the boat landing was Koh's piece, an  extremely realistic life-size sculpture of a pair of skeletons lying on the beach; next to it was JackPierson's lit-up letter sculpture "FAME," in which that word was spelled out in disjointed letters, such as the ones you might find on carnival signage.

Looking improbably glamorous on the island's thin strip of beach in a flowing dress and clutching a pair of high-heeled sandals unfit for island-going, Momin explained that she'd asked the artists to think about themes of civilization and wilderness, the false dichotomy of nature and civilization, and the darker parts of human nature. As fodder for the show, she'd given them all a quote to ponder from JosephConrad: "The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look uponthe shackled form of a conquered monster, but there — there you could look at a thing monstrous and free."Perhaps we were, after all, in Caliban territory.

Further along, down the beach and into the brush, was a video by NaomiFisher, in front of which the four-woman performance group called SKINT was doing a sort of mopey, woman-cult dance accompanied by moaning. Attemptingto tease out some underlying motifs on the island, this reporter turnedmomentarily to a non-art-world-insider, RustyRuster, a retired New York garment district businessman who now resides in Miami and whose son, Evan, is a budding collector.

Asked what he thought of the SKINT dance, Ruster shrugged. "I have a lady friend who does that sometimes, after a few drinks." What else? "You know, it's dark," he said. "It reminds me of, well, death." Looking around at the other pieces on the island, Ruster remarked, "You know, I think thiswhole thing might be about death."

He had an excellent point. MichaelGenovese's sculpture, "Release and Let it Go," which was placed in the water just beyond shore, looked like a boat landing that has seen better days and is now in utter disuse; DavidBenjamin Sherry's piece "Permanent Impermanence" was a larger-than-life-size sculpture of a green giant-like figure who appears to have lain down to die a peaceful death in the grass; in Pierson's sculpture, "FAME" seems to have come undone, died; in Rona Yefman's video, teams of youth play a game of capture the flag on the streets of Tel Aviv, and itquickly becomes improbably violent, with even a possible death involved; Bozidar Brazda's piece "Mess Age" featured a group of vinyl records — an obsolete, or dead, medium — stuck into the sand à la Robert Smithson's "Yucatan Mirror Displacements"; Koh's skeletons were lovers united in death; lastly — it was the final piece on the show's winding path — and most literally, ScottCampbell's sculpture was a granite tombstone engraved on which are the words "Wish You Were Here."

The irony? Signs posted around the island reminded visitors, "No guns allowed."

So much of today's art dabbles in the dark and gothic, and in that senseperhaps Momin's show is just par for the course, but it's worthwhile to remember that locales adjacent to large bodies of water have long been associated with morbidity. Consider Koh's skeletons in light of Edgar AllanPoe's poem AnnabelLee: "[A]ll the night-tide, I lie down by the side / of my darling my darling my life and my bride, / in the sepulchre there by the sea, / in her tomb by the sounding sea."

With that, it was back to life, onshore.