It’s a noble thing to try to build environmental awareness by way of the arts, and I have no doubt that film legend and activist Robert Redford had every sincere intention when he backed a project, The Way of the Rain Miami, by his artist wife, Sibylle Szaggars, that had its world premiere in the city last week.
The mixed-media piece, whose setting was colorful enough (right), consisted of a montage of music and dance together with artwork and video by “artistic director” Szaggars, and was inspired by weather phenomena over the Southwestern skies of the couple’s New Mexico home. The show also featured an appearance by Redford himself, and was trumpeted in big fashion by The Miami Herald, with a front-page story in its Sunday entertainment/arts section. At the very least, the one-time event promised to be an ambitious example of performance art with a serious message.
Not quite. Way of the Rain turned out to be a senseless jumble that, at nearly an hour, seemed almost twice as long. It was hard to see what any of it had to do with Miami — or the environment for that matter — though Redford was perplexingly quoted as saying that Szaggars hoped to address “threats to the Everglades and the rising sea level.” (Guess I missed that part.)
In an awkward segment of the work, the screen icon delivered some platitudinous readings about the precarious state of the earth that lacked the deeply felt intensity of his dedication to environmental issues. I don’t begrudge him supporting his spouse, but in my mind, this affair was less a statement about the environment and sustainability than about a famous movie star promoting his less than stellarly gifted, though well-meaning, wife.
It was surprising to see it all presented under the auspices of the National YoungArts Foundation (the performance took place at its Miami campus), with its renowned history of fostering emerging talent. But then again, Redford the actor has had a long-standing association with the organization. And in this story of celebrity and connections, I thought about the potential number of truly accomplished and anonymous artists, young and otherwise, who perhaps more rightfully deserved such a prestigious showcase for their endeavors.
A few weeks ago, the arts world was stunned when a vase owned by Ai Weiwei, on view at Miami’s newly renamed Perez Art Museum, was smashed by a South Florida-based painter in a protest against the museum’s paucity of representation of local artists. In a strange way, I felt the same sort of frustration at Way of the Rain, where tickets ran as high as $125 for a pointless sound-and-light show that didn’t merit this level of attention.
Oftentimes, and sadly, it’s less about what you create than who you know. (Or, in this case, who you happen to be married to.)
(Photo / middle: Carl Juste / The Miami Herald)