This year, there was some new public art (for the benefit of those stuck in traffic on the I-395 Causeway) by Miami artists Jim Drain and Bhakti Baxter. "VIP Party" is a fake party in cargo containers at the Port of Miami, complete with searchlights and parked luxury cars. It's so exclusive, no one is there. Which is exactly the logic of everything this week; everyone wants to throw the biggest and best event; balancing a display of surplus with scarcity of access. It's really dumb.
The weekend is always, somewhat ironically, the most anti-climactic part of Art Week. All the fairs, institutions, and galleries have their big previews with gift bags, fun parties, performances, and open bars early in the week. By the time Friday rolls around, my "must see" list is oddly empty, but Collins Avenue is packed with people frantically trying to get into parties like South Beach is a vacuum and some hotel bar is hoarding oxygen.
This Friday, I literally didn't see any art. Like, anywhere.
Some friends and I were about to see a performance and reception hosted by MOMA PS1 when a friend of a friend's friend from LA convinced us to leave the line and follow him to an event Jack Shainman gallery was hosting at the Seven Seas hotel. I got there and was disappointed that there was neither art nor free booze, bought a drink or two, and left after a little over an hour to search for some art.
The closest thing I saw to art was this bedazzled ice cream truck almost collide with a Bentley.
When I came back a little later to gather my friends, there were about 100 people literally shoving each other to get through the door. I asked someone what was going on, confused as to what all the fuss was about; when I left, everyone was standing around a pool (that you couldn't swim in) staring into their drinks like a really boring David Hockney painting.
Someone told me Nick Cave had just arrived. Yay! I would love to see a performance! I can write about that!...Except... What? He's not performing? He's just sitting there? At a party? And everyone is trampling each other in 6 inch heels to get inside to just look at him? Why? Is Nick Cave a rare endangered baby panda born in captivity that everyone wants to see at this really awesome zoo before he inevitably dies?
This reminded me of the one time (Art Week 2011?) someone tried to get me to go to Basel Castle (which is this really overrated party with "global DJs" and "live painting" that happens every year at a place that locals say "Is just like a castle!" and everyone from places where Gothic architecture actually exists kinda smiles and plays along and doesn't have the heart to break it to them that its a shitty stucco miniature-golf-looking place). Anyway, two girls who were both named Kaylee (but apparently spelled it differently) were physically fighting over who was "the Kaylee" who's name was on the guestlist. It was so much better and so much more relevant than "live painting" could ever hope to be.
This year, after the Perez Museum opening, Dis Magazine threw a party at this place south of 5th street called "Story" and it was the absolute worst. But I think maybe that was the whole point? Based on the crowd shoving each other outside, it seemed Dis deliberately curated the best/worst examples of everything everyone hates about Miami nightlife: The guy who claims to be "really involved in the hip hop industry" and wears shoes that match his hat; the girl who monthly spends more money on her hair than I do on my rent; men who wear track jackets when it's 87 degrees outside; women who wear nothing even though it's air conditioned to 54 degrees inside; and all of their frenemies. Knowing Dis' interest in collapsing the spectrum of good and bad taste into one digitally-printed yoga-pants-with-stripper-heels mess, it seems highly likely that this whole event was staged as a relational aesthetics meta-statement about the nightlife spectacle (and different flavors of snobbery) in which the Miami art world is situated. Is Dis Magazine the Rirkrit Tiravanija of vodka and Axe Deodorant Body Spray? Have I lost my mind? Is this just what all the nightlife this far south on Miami Beach is like?
My suspicions that Dis deliberately threw an unenjoyable party were further validated by the fact that a lot of their staff were actually partying at a really fun event full of all the usual Brooklyn weirdos and MICA grads a few blocks away. That party was in a barber shop that is also a bar. You can get your hair shaved and drink weird open bar drinks and look at all the people you already know from New York or art school in a new, barber-shop-like context. Because in Miami Beach, every service-providing business transforms into a club at night.You can get a tattoo, or dry cleaning, or spray tan, or rental movie, or yoga class, or palm reading by day and then come back to the same place after a disco nap and it will be selling $17 cocktails and people are buying them even though a liquor sponsor is giving away new organic açai-infused mojitos with like 40 ingredients that you don't really want but drink because, hey, it's free and you just spent more money on one cab ride than you do on a month of MTA trips in Baltimore.
I love and hate this place so much. I (never) want to go home so badly. Like a zen koan contemplated through the imagery of Brazilian waxing, perhaps the Dis Magazine p(art?)y was an attempt to reconcile that dichotomy.
But when we come south to Miami and proactively create the spectacle we all make fun of, what kind of ironically-puffy-painted-carpetbaggers are we? I find myself especially guilty of this, but like taking a photo of a hilarious typo on a shirt at a "luxury" outlet mall it's sometimes just too tempting to resist.
#NADAWAVE, a project by Jon Santos, offers a better alternative. As an extension of the NADA art fair, Santos brought performers and DJs to the Sandbar, a kind-of-divey bar across the street from the hotel where the fair takes place. Here, dozens of blocks north of the South Beach glitz, artists, curators, and collectors mingled with local regulars over cheap (by Miami standards) drinks and a changing selection of cumbia and reggaton mixed into more obscure tracks. It was the first time I've ever felt over-dressed in Miami Beach. We danced with a cop using his flashlight as a strobe light! The floor is covered in sand! It was such a welcome oasis of fun after the stressful escape from the Seven Seas portico.
Next year, can we have more of these? No guest lists or ironic VIP areas or sincere VIP areas or dress codes or mean-spirited meta-commentary or weird drinks that taste like candy you would be so pissed off if you got trick-or-treating?
Saturday morning, I woke up and promised myself I was devoting all day to seeing art. No private parties. No far-away events involving hour-long traffic jams. No standing in line. No drinking. Really.
I headed to Untitled, a fair that's only a year-old, but is curated with enough maturity that it sometimes (almost) feels more like a museum than a commercial art fair when the work isn't addressing its own salability. I also love that Untitled is cleverly (and conveniently) located on the beach. (Like, actually on the sand, in a tent.) Pitching a tent for an art fair is such a smarter move than trying to find large vacant space (usually on the inconvenient fringes of the city) and it actually filters natural lighting for the art work inside beautifully.
Several installations even addressed the "architecture" of the space; in one, crooked scaffolding playfully peeked through a hole cut in the flooring, revealing the sand underneath. Alternately, the piece could be seen as a fallen component of the tent's support structure crashing through the floor like that scene in the new Hunger Games movie where they destroy the arena.
The piece made me think of the Situationist rallying cry "sous les pavés, la plage". In French, it functions as a double entendre, meaning literally "under the pavement, the beach," a reference to protesters tearing up cobblestones to hurl at riot police, revealing the sand below. The phrase could also mean "beneath the city, there's a beach," a reminder that the constructed tedium of regimented life in capitalist society (or convention center architecture) is just an artificial membrane between the individual and experience. I think of this phrase every time I fly into Miami, where, when seen from above, the thin ribbon of beach seems squished against the ocean by the weight of the endless sprawl of freeways and high-rises above it.
Some of the strongest work at Untitled addresses the site of the art fair in a far more sophisticated tone than the "I'm in Miami, Bitch!" pieces I've come to expect from so many of the satellite fairs or events.
The blog ArtFCity.com had a small booth that was the smartest possible way a blog could be transposed to the context of commercial art fair. Full disclosure: AFC's editor/curator, Paddy Johnson is a friend and I have contributed to AFC in the past and covering one of the Basel weekend's after-parties for the blog. But honestly, I don't love them because I've written for them, I've written for them because I love them. And I love them because they are so fucking smart.
The booth exclusively showed collections of work by digital artists whose work typically exists divorced from obvious objecthood. Here, however, the work has been packaged and sold as a series of highly commodifiable products... albeit commodities that subtly reference the absurd superfluousness (speaking "practically," not economically) of their existence. I love details like the cursor on the "album cover" of the above collection of sound art.
This scroll is an exquisite corpse produced by more than a dozen net artists. It's "played" by a turning a wooden hand crank in a ridiculously cumbersome box that references the sleekness of the screen by negating it. It made me think of the oddly clunky old video monitors dotting Basel last year or the year before, when Marina Abramović "performances" were being sold as video documentation for astronomical figures at the height of her post-retrospective popularity.
There's also a "luxury" USB drive, carved from a single sapphire. It contains net art or videos (and even screensavers) from 11 contemporary artists and is packaged in a custom jewelry box with artist-designed ribbons. In an odd case of Basel zeitgeist, I happen to have curated a show during Miami Art Week 2011 that featured a similar "hand-crafted" SD card in a custom jewelry box by Miami artist Brinson Renda, featuring videos she produced while living at the Creative Alliance residency in Baltimore.
The thing I love about these devices is that their absurdity is only matched by their necessity; we live in an absurd world governed by an absurd market system (Oh, hello, $5 Perrier in a city where there's free Perrier at every event). They concede that saleability on the art market (as much as we all love to talk about how horrible it is because blah blah blah rich people) remains a necessary source of funding for artists, curators, critics, and the production and distribution of culture. I really hope someone ends up buying something.
Several other booths featured artists who highlighted the tension inherent to digital work existing as an object:
In Clement Valla's "The Universal Texture (39° 6'58.57"N, 84°30'5.00" W)", a satellite image's incomprehensible perspective is grafted awkwardly back into real space. In the same booth, curated by New York's Bitforms Gallery, this piece grabbed my attention when I saw the word "abortions" flash out of the corner of my eye.
It's "Zero Noon" by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The device resets every day at noon and scans the internet, accumulating statistics about everything from how many 911 calls have been made regarding bear attacks to (yep) the number of abortions performed since noon that day in real time. I really wish it kept track of how many people thought it was a touch screen and tried to swipe it like an I-Pad to sift through the statistics... because I have a feeling that was ALMOST as many people as had abortions since noon.
Just like Pulse, Untitled was all about art about modernist architecture.
These oil paintings by Luis Alfonso Villalobos at Curro & Poncho are some of my favorite. They make me think of those dramatic seascapes where lonely lighthouses are battered by waves. Perhaps modernism remains a beacon of optimism in a sea of contemporary malaise? Perhaps the wealthy patrons of architecture and art fairs are planning a floating retreat for when the ocean finally swallows up the pristine white homes of Miami Beach?
I'm totally in love with this mini-retrospective from the estate of Karlheinz Weinberger. The Zurich-based photographer shot homoerotic portraits starting in the 50's as well as documenting emerging subcultures in the subsequent decades. There's an indescribable naivety in both the teenage models as well as how the photos are staged. They're equal parts endearing (like Amos Badertscher's Baltimore Portraits) and uncanny (like Cindy Sherman's self portraits).
I was so happy to finally see some work by MICA grad Jacolby Satterwhite. He was invited to do a piece for Untitled's Special Projects series.
Even though we went to MICA at the same time and had mutual friends, I don't think I ever actually met Jacolby. And here, I totally missed his performance. I just got to see these digital prints. Which lead me to believe that if Jacolby is anything like his work, he's probably pretty fun.
Part of the magic of the art fair is seeing young emerging artists in the same room as historical oddities like Kalheinz and established commercial artists... all brought together by the common thread of commerce, which is a surprisingly good curatorial impetus if this fair is any indication. I practically jumped out of my shoes when I saw this Jessica Stockholder from across the fair.
Stockholder has always been one of my favorite artists... as a "recovering painter" I'm so drawn to her color sense and mark making... bringing the best of painting to the more "relevant" media of assemblage and installation. Her smaller sculptures never have quite the same impact as her immersive environments, but they're still such cozy little microcosms of color and texture and diversity of material that they make me want to crawl inside anyway. The same booth, from the Madrid gallery Max Estrella, was also showing these images of wrapped street furniture.
I loved these... and I can not remember the artist's name. I do recall noting that both the gallery and the artist were from Madrid, Spain because Madrid galleries are ruling Art Week this year... I think it's because Art MAD MIA (a fair that brought Madrid-based artists and gallerists to Miami last year) didn't happen again this year. I'm guessing a lot of the same galleries decided to come to other fairs anyway, because this year Miami feels like little Salamanca. Spain will always have a special place in my heart, and it's artistic proclivities towards work that balances the political with a sense of fun, beauty with content, irreverence with polish always make Spanish galleries stand out at international fairs.
By the time I left Untitled, I was a little overwhelmed by the stack of business cards and notes I had accumulated. I asked Jenny Ames from LA's legendary Ace Gallery to give me an insider's tour of Scope, another tent fair down the beach from Untitled.
Walking to Scope, we passed this. I have no idea if this is part of the fair, but everyone seemed to be really into it:
Inside, Jenny took me on a whirlwind tour of the fair, and showed me her favorites:
These are weirdly proto-cinematic multiple exposures from Adam Magyar's "Urban Flow" series at Gallery Faur Zsófi. Multiple people explained the process of producing them to me about 3 times and I still don't necessarily understand it.... but the effect is really interesting. The figures repeat in various times/places across the tableau, but the background is rendered a motion blur.
These are "Neon Noose" lamps by Tom Fruin in front of "Chanel Cross" by Skullphone at Natalie Kates Projects. Be still my heart.
These are enormous paintings by Javier Arbizu at Rêverie Arts. I'm so impressed by the scale of this and the fact that they're oil paint washes on unprimed canvas... meaning there's no room for error in producing these. Working at this scale... just thinking about how delicate this process is literally made me physically anxious.
The style these are painted in, conversely, made me totally miss pushing wet paint around a canvas:
We both loved this series of anonymous businessmen adrift by Danish artist Peter Ravn at Galleri Ramfjord from Oslo, Norway. This year, there was a noticeable trend of life-size figures that were really creepy. Although these weren't our #1 favorites (a sculpture of a man stretched horizontally as if by photoshop stole the show) Jenny pointed out that the detail of the mask coming off the one figure's face added another element to these that we really liked. They're by an artist who goes by Porkchop at Parlor Gallery of Asbury Park, NJ.
Creepy masks are the hot new trend. Does this have something to do with Lady Gaga's Art Rave??? What the hell is an "Art Rave"? Ads for it are playing on the radio everywhere here. I might be more OK with her if it mean more creepy masks everywhere:
These are by Paul Insect at Mexico City's Fifty 24MX Gallery.
Thank's Jenny Ames for taking my hand when I was lost and totally overwhelmed by the prospect of navigating another fair on my own!
I have never been happier to spend a Saturday night in bed catching up on sleep and writing instead of outside a club hoping my name is on a girl's iPad with the magical list of who gets to stand next to a cooler of Red Bull that was designed by a street artist and commissioned at great expense by a marketing firm.
I have an annual ritual of going to drag brunch at The Palace bar on Ocean Blvd. on Sundays. It's pretty great. It's drag queens dancing in traffic while you eat (see: drink) brunch. Then, I head to the convention center for the last day of Art Basel to see the main event. Art Basel itself is such a weird vibe on the last day; every gallerist is either ecstatic at huge sales or desperate to recoup what they invested showing unsold work. It's nice because they usually ignore everyone who comes on the last day. Its oddly an emotional climate that feels much more honest or appropriate than the optimistic energy of the previews... where everyone is trying to figure out if whoever walks into their booth has the money or cachet to help their business. I have neither, so whenever people figure that out (its usually shortly after looking at me) there's a flash of disappointment in their eyes I've come to loathe. I'd rather go to the fair on the last day, where the expectation is that visitors are tourists who wandered into the convention center in the misguided hope of catching a celebrity sighting in the last few hours of the fair, and see a look of pleasant surprise if I ask a question that's somewhat intelligent or at least functions as a complete sentence.
The fair looks a lot like these Eric Fischl paintings at Mary Boone. And much like these Eric Fischl paintings at Mary Boone, everything in the fair is extremely self-referential and either totally overrated or utterly despised on account of the fact that everything costs more money than will ever pass through the average human's hands in a lifetime.
Ok, I'm just going to say that I really really like Art Basel. I know I'm not supposed to, but I do. And you probably do too, otherwise you wouldn't fly to Miami to see it, so stop whining to me, whoever you are, stranger I just met in this gallery full of weird Warhol commissions I've never seen before. I like that the fair brings what I call "B-Sides" of famous artists out into the open. The kind of work that never became part of the art history cannon and therefor isn't in museums or monographs, but nevertheless is interesting and can help fill in the gaps in one's understanding of an artist's career. I like that Basel commissions work from emerging artists and gives them a (pretty good) shot at fame and fortune. I like that every relevant (and some not-so-relevant) living artist essentially has one big show together once a year under one enormous, enormous roof.
This year, this pissed off so many people:It's a recreation of Meg Webster's "Food Stamp Table" from 1963, adjusted for contemporary Florida food stamp allowances and food prices. There's always a murky gray area about the ethics (or taste level) of discussing issues of income inequality and poverty at Basel. Some see it as a cheap shot to assuage/exploit some kind of guilt rich people have ("See? We really do care..."). Others see it as a way for artists to subvert the institution by inserting politics into a spectacle that has the attention of the rich. From my point of view, it's gallerists who insert political artwork into the fair to add to the spectacle. A lot of rich people really like art about money- even if it's about a lack of money- and everyone else HATES art about money so it just makes rich people love it more. I mean, I really hope that, yes, someone eating a $25 appetizer from the stupid cafe and drinking a $20 glass of Ruinart looks at this piece and sees what $4.60 of food a day looks like and suddenly decides to __________ to fix the problem of poverty but then again if the 1 percent gave a damn about inequality, they probably would've done _______ already because they do actually have nearly omnipotent power and wealth to accomplish said _______.
Maybe this piece would be less problematic if the wall text weren't so hilariously patronizing in its explanation of what EBT is to a group of people who don't do their own grocery shopping. I think I overheard that this piece is for sale for $15,000. Geez. Really? $15,000? Did they buy all these ingredients at the convention center snack cart? I just realized that I totally should've tried to buy this with my Independence Card for $4.60 but I think a week of grocery shopping in South Beach decimated my balance.
At any rate, that broccoli looks a little brown. If I had $15,000 I'd spend it on a painting of broccoli that you won't have to cold-store like that frozen blood thing Charles Saatchi bought that melted all over his freezer when the power went out.
Rich people man, blood on their hands; blood on their kitchen floors.
These fair-goers made the most of "Questo Spazio Non Esiste" by Michelangelo Pistoletto. Tragically, this work missed the #artselfie hashtag Dis Magazine launched last year to document all the possibilities or turning any shiny art at Art Basel into your very own self portrait.
Other than art about Basel, art that looks like other art is really popular this (and every) year.
Nan Goldin's "Odalisque" at Matthew Marks Gallery.
This is David Salle's "Diorama" at the Skarstedt booth. This painting is really gorgeous. I love that the top canvas seems to reference both abstract expressionism and the famous series of yarn paintings that Warhol produced to recreate Ab Ex compositions through photographic processes. I love that the bottom canvas looks like a bottom.
This is Donald Baechler's "The Smile and The Falling" at Cheim & Read:
I was totally convinced that this was a painting of Isa Genzken's "Rose II" (a sculpture that graced the facade of NYC's New Museum last year). When I asked the gallery attendant, she said no. I then showed her the tattoo I have of Isa Genzken's "Rose II" and she was clearly very taken aback by the similarity between the two works (and definitely not by the fact that I showed her my armpit tattoo in the middle of the convention center).
This is Sherry Levine's "After Courbet: 1-18"
I'm wondering if the vertical orientation of the frames (as opposed to the horizontal composition of the Courbet postcards) was intended to reconsider the painting as a portrait (rather than a landscape or still life or "wish you were here" souvenir)?
Also wondering if the grid is intended to disempower the images through reproduction? To empower the female figures through an intimidating wall of images? Maybe the grid is just the default form for those who cut their teeth in the heyday of postmodernism and all it's grid-loving glory.
Postcards showed up again in Para & Romero's booth in the Art Positions section of the fair. Positions is usually the highlight of the fair, where galleries from around the world chose a single artist to represent them at the fair, offering opportunities for larger projects and installations.
The booth was totally filled by postcards of sunsets arranged by color by artist Oriol Vilanova. This is a tactic I've seen so many times... last year there was even an installation in the same section of the fair using postcards to create a landscape. Are postcards even still a thing people mail? What's the deal with art made out of appropriating images of sunsets? Does anyone ever take their own pictures of sunsets anymore?
Interestingly, Parra & Romero is also based out of Madrid, along with Nogueras Blanchard, also showing in Positions. I asked them if they noticed the huge boom of Madrid galleries at the fairs this year. They agreed it had probably increased after Art MAD MIA, but didn't seem like they had a lot of free time to see the other fairs. They were showing Juan Lopez's "Convex Look", a wall drawing with video projections representing the odd, kaleidoscopic remixes of the built environment created by convex surveillance mirrors.
The modernist landscape got even more love in "Memory from Brazilia" by Laerico Redondo at Silvia, Cintra+Box4's booth:
Another Brazilian gallery showed work by Lourival Cuquinha that addressed Miami's unique situation between the rest of the United States and Cuba. I really liked the flags of the two countries recreated using their complimentary-colored currencies. Hands down, Tang Contemporary Art stole the show with Wang Yuyang's "Breathing Series - Finance Department." It's one of the most complicated installations I've ever seen at an art fair... It's a pretty convincing replica of an office, complete with silica models of office supplies, fast food, and corporate furniture. Here, however, everything subtly pulsates as if inhaling and exhaling. It's one of my favorite things I've seen this year and exactly the kind of project that Basel does so well; big budget and showy, but really really good. Sure, this piece is partly about money, like everything else here, but that's not the whole story. People can bash Basel all they want, but it's pretty incredible that someone from Baltimore can stand in a breathing Chinese office on the beach. There are so many unlikely experiences like this, facilitated by the fairs' enormous access to capital and global reach. The predictable decadence and its backlash can sometimes test one's patience with the art world, but I always find something this special to bring me back.