Personal essay from Norman J. Olson

a trip to Miami August 1, 2011

by:  Norman J. Olson

I normally do not do shows of original art, so this summer of 2011, I decided that since I retired from my day job and had some extra time…  I would see about having a couple of showings of my originals…  I am not sure why…  but bringing art out of my personal space, which I normally do by publishing drawings and paintings in literary journals, is really important or at least feels really important to my image as someone who does art that has some public importance…  and is not just a personal or therapeutic exercise…

the first was in Jay Gallery in Seoul, Korea…  that was cool because I love what is going on in Asia these days and so was very excited to go to Seoul, have my art there, etc…  I have written about that trip elsewhere…  the second art show was at Naomi Wilzig’s World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) (now called the Wilzig Erotic Art Museum) in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach, Florida…  this amazing museum houses Naomi’s vast collection of sexually oriented art objects ranging from ancient sculptures and artifacts from the far corners of this planet to contemporary American paintings and drawings…  I am a huge fan of this museum because I am fascinated by sexuality and how artists have given serious or sometimes not so serious consideration to this most human range of activities… 

I knew Naomi had traveling shows of erotic art in her museum and although my art is not strictly speaking “erotic” in that it is seldom intended to inspire sexual feelings in the viewer, it is certainly full of nudes and deals often with the various subjects around human coming together, sexual and otherwise…  and of course, my subject is often simply the nude and while female nudes are welcome everywhere, male nudes are not…  especially if they show any sign of sexual arousal…  and since my works show plenty of hard ons, I thought that WEAM is one place where my work would not be out of place and where all the pussies and dicks would not surprise and offend anyone…

Naomi has been very supportive of my work and was willing to put up a show…  I sent her images and she selected the works to be hung…  and we settled on the month of August 2011 for the show…  I framed the works and packaged them in homemade cardboard packing crates and brought them to Miami in late July…  and they were put up on a wire rack in the center of one of the rooms at WEAM…  I am writing this August 14, so the work will be up for 12 more days and then I will go down and pick it up…  the cheapest way for me to move the art is as checked luggage using my wife’s employee passes to fly down and back…  and there are usually seats to Miami at this time of year…

so, Naomi scheduled an opening reception for August 1, 2011…  my wife and I flew down July 31, 2011 and she had found an interline rate at one of the fancy downtown Miami hotels for that night…  I had worked out the bus routes in advance…  I know that Miami is a city with some pretty tough neighborhoods, so one needs to be careful where you go on public transportation and it is always best to travel in the daytime…  many years ago, when my kids were small, my rental car was attacked in Miami when I accidentally drove through the wrong neighborhood after getting off a cruise ship late at night…  I was very lucky to get out of that situation with my skin and learned for sure to be very careful in bad neighborhoods… 

it must be due to the cab drivers lobby or something but while there is a direct bus from Miami airport to Miami Beach, in fact, there are several…  there is no direct bus from the airport to downtown and since the fancy hotel did not have a shuttle, we had to take two buses to get from the airport to downtown… and since Miami Transit no longer uses transfers, we had to pay two fares or $4 each to get from the airport to downtown by bus (a distance of about five miles)… 

we caught the #J bus at MIA with no problem at about 2 pm on July 31 and a half hour or so later got off on Biscayne Blvd to transfer to the #3 downtown bus…  there was a Denny’s restaurant and since we flew down coach and had not eaten, we stopped and had lunch there at the corner of 36th Street and Biscayne Blvd…  I had the $2 pancakes which were very good and it is amazing that a meal can fill one up for $2…  anyway, we then caught the bus to downtown…  it was a very hot day and I am quite paranoid about being on time for buses, flights, etc.  I made Mary go to the bus stop about 20 minutes before the bus was actually due, so she was pretty warm by the time the bus came…  the bus was nicely air conditioned when it did come…  and very full…

all of the buses we took in Miami were quite busy stopping at just about every corner for people to get on and off…  the bus riders mostly looked like service workers, some wearing fast food uniforms….  with a sprinkling of middle class people and tourists…  most of the bus riders were dark skinned black or Latino and every bus had at least a few people who looked absolutely down and out homeless…  and a few very tough looking teenagers…  people were uniformly polite and friendly to us and the very few other tourists we saw on the buses…  when we got downtown, we asked the bus driver for directions to the fancy hotel and he did not seem to know where it was but gave us directions that seemed to be exactly opposite of where my had drawn map (from Google screen) was showing us to go…  but he was so friendly and helpful that we did not want to make him feel bad, so we waited until the bus left and then followed my map a few hot and sweaty blocks to the hotel…

we joked that we were probably the only people who ever checked in at that hotel who arrived via the local bus… and  when we walked through the glass doors into the palatial marble lobby, dripping wet from the very humid 94 degrees outside, the front desk person had the bellhop bring us bottles of cold water…  and then she gave us a huge suite looking out over the water for $76 a night…  so, we had a really amazing hotel room with four big windows looking out on a spectacular view of Miami’s waterfront…    so, after ohing and ahing about our fancy room for a while…  we went for a walk along the waterfront to Bayfront Park where we found all kinds of inexpensive restaurants serving various mildly ethnic foods…  and had a great dinner…  then we walked along the waterfront looking at the lights across the water…  the bridge and the headquarters buildings of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines the lights of which shimmered in the water….  appropriately, I guess…  the night was warm and gorgeous and huge powerboats would come by looking at the people on shore who were looking at the people on the boats and so everybody was seeing and being seen…  then we walked back to the fancy hotel…

the next morning, we took the bus back to the airport to meet my daughter and son-in-law who came down for the opening…  we met them and took the express bus to Miami Beach which costs $2.35…  first, we waited a half hour and tried to take the free hotel shuttle, only to find that our Miami Beach boutique hotel was not one served by the free Miami Beach hotel shuttle…  as we often observe to each other while traveling it is really really hard to get good information when traveling…  what the fares are, where the buses go… where the rail lines go, how you pay…  where can you walk and where can you not walk…  etc. etc…  things are often a little different in person and a detour that only takes 20 minutes by car can cost hours to one walking or using public transportation and so much of the information available about traveling in the usa is of use only to motorists…

anyway, the Miami Beach express bus called the “Flyer” ends up at the northern end of South Beach at 16th and Washington Streets…  we stayed at something called the Haddon Hall hotel which was a very funky South Beach hotel with mix and match furniture in the room and blond woodwork from the 50s? 40s? 30s? in the room…  but the beds were comfortable and the hotel had a nice pool…  most of the boteque hotels in South Beach do not have pools and was only 3 or 4 blocks from WEAM…  and two blocks from the ocean…  it also had a huge lobby and two lounge rooms with overstuffed furniture, books on the walls and in one a large tv…  so, for $89 for the four of us, it was very nice… 

we parked our stuff at the hotel and walked down Ocean street across the street from the dunes that lead to the beach… and had a nice lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes…  with some fancy drinks…  and then walked on the path across the dunes to look at the ocean…  the beach here is wide and white sand down to gorgeous turquoise water…  my daughter and son in law waded in the ocean a bit…

then we walked back to the hotel, changed and walked the three blocks to WEAM…  where Naomi greeted us with her usual charm and grace…  I thought my work was very nicely hung (maybe since this is an erotic art museum, I should say “well hung”), and I thought it looked great (of course, all artists always think their own work looks great, even if they do not admit it!!!  as my brother used to say, “the monkey likes the look of his face in the mirror”)…  I had a great time talking about art to the few people who showed up and showing off my beautiful wife, daughter and son-in-law…

at ten Naomi came up to me carrying her purse to say goodnight…  we were leaving and she was leaving…  she looked like the lovely grandma that she is…  a lovely grandma who happens to own the best museum of erotic art on the planet…  it is great to see people my age and older who are still alive to the music of life…  when so many of my peers seem ossified or stuck some place back in the good ol days… 

anyway, at ten, we took the elevator down (WEAM is on the 2nd floor) and walked out into the warm, tropical Miami night…  we walked over to Ocean Street where the restaurants, clubs and bars were going full blast, never mind that it was Monday night…  and beautiful tourists in tank tops, bikini tops and flip flops were everywhere… the South Beach night is lush and the vibe is hot and friendly… 

our trip back to Minneapolis was uneventful…  on the bus from Miami Beach back to MIA, I sat next to a very tanned and pretty woman from Italy…  her equally tanned and pretty husband was across from us managing two massive suitcases…  as I talked to them and looked at them, I thought of Italy, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael (who died so young) and of all the amazing art that has been made down through the years…  I felt honored and humbled to think that I could deserve the name “artist” and in my own small way was doing what those great minds and hands of the past had done…  after all, a blank surface is a blank surface and they had the same paints and brushes, pens and papers that I have to use…  well, they did not have the ball point pen, but then I do not have good quills…  well, WEAM amazing as it is, is not the Sistene Chapel and I am not even a small blip on the History of Art radar, much less Michelangelo…  but still, if Michelangelo had put his work at WEAM nobody would have had to hire Daniel De Voltera to paint over the genitals of the blessed or the damned…

about my trip to Miami August 1, 2011

we flew into Miami like

turquoise gods.  banking over the blind

white sand,

gliding above ragged palm tree grids,

we rode the old MD80

to the ground…

in bubbling heat, we walked from the terminal to the bus stop

on the J bus and later the 3, we

saw tattooed teenagers

as sad and sleek as Da Vinci angels,

a young black junkie with paralyzed fingers

and scarred veins,

and

a broken man with a rope for a belt

and Ezekiel’s beard…

I called those buses the limos of lost dreams

and with our own dreams

in our hands, we glided like cardboard ghosts

through the pastel desolation

of Miami…

of course, as we sweated from the downtown bus stop

to our fancy glass and marble hotel,

it was clear that we were not gods or ghosts, just

very white, very hot, very lucky tourists

from Minnesota

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