Last week, as the New York art scene decamped to South Florida for the psycho beach party that is Art Basel Miami, they must have been surprised to have been greeted with a lick of Gotham gloom. For the entire week, New York–based sculptor and performance artist Desi Santiago, working with the arts and culture nonprofit BOFFO, hijacked the pristine white art-deco Lords South Beach hotel and turned it into a black-painted den of iniquity ruled by a giant inflatable fortune-telling dog (cat?) named Gypsy.
For the piece, "Perrier Presents: The Black Lords by Desi Santiago," the artist accessorized the hotel's exterior with cartoonish canine features—a 25-foot head, a pair of glowing red eyes, a set of claws framing the entranceway, and a 20-foot tail—to give it the appearance of one unified architectural beast. (And OK, yes! Gypsy does look more like a cat than a dog. "When we installed, we had to cut off her snout because we had to get as close to the side of the building as possible for the eyes to really work," says BOFFO executive director Faris Al-Shathir.)
Gypsy's real-life analog is Santiago's 10-year-old lab mix, who is something of a recurring theme in his work. (Here she is in pink lights, her tail wagging in the doggie version of a suggestive neon sign.) For Miami, though, Santiago wanted to go bigger. "He does a lot with subculture and gypsies and the idea of fortune tellers," says Al-Shathir. "So Desi was like, what if Gypsy could really talk to you and tell your fortune?"
Over the course of the week, some 2,000 revelers consulted Santiago's savant dog. Viewers passed under her red claws and entered the hotel's courtyard, where an altar with slot and a button waited. Seekers wrote a question on the back of a card and dropped it in the slot. At the push of the button, Gypsy would boom "Yes," "No," or "Maybe" to a backdrop of carnivalesque special effects (smoke! shooting lasers! blinking lights!)—and the scurrying of interns, who were trying to keep dissatisfied fortune seekers from pushing the button again, thus changing the fate of everyone in line behind them. "50% of the people asked about having sex," observes Al-Shathir. "And then the other things were about work and success." He adds, "We kind of made a Magic 8 Ball."
Today the repainting job begins, Lords South Beach will go back to shell-colored white, and Miami loses its only all-black architecture. But this may not be the last of Gypsy the fortune-telling dog. "We've collected all the fortune-telling cards, so it will be a body of work after it's over," say Al-Shathir.
All photos courtesy of Matthu Placek/BOFFO