A pleasantly goofy, neon Keith Sonnier installation greets us at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. In this piece, which was installed here in 2001, colorful straight lines and arcs morph into innocuous, giddy smiley faces that span the length of the baggage claim area, and probably go unnoticed to the people checking their phones, waiting around for their bags to show up, internally panicking that their bag didn't even make it on the plane, that it's on its way from Baltimore to San Antonio instead, that they're going to have to buy all new clothes and they hadn't budgeted for that kind of thing....
Maura's bag arrives. We find the rental car shuttle, and proceed to the Hertz desk. I sign the papers, and say a little prayer while I hand over my credit card. We load our things into a 2016 yellow Kia Rio hatchback. It was one of what appeared to be only two compact cars left, but we would've taken it anyway even if there were more selection; it's not exactly the El Camino in which the girls in “Spring Breakers” take a joyride before they go to Florida, but close enough. Though we had been planning this trip to Miami's international Art Basel and surrounding art fairs for months—or really, since last year's Miami Art Week, when we regretfully scrolled through our social media feeds to see what we were missing, watching several of Baltimore's artist-run spaces and commercial galleries that were there as they met new people, sold art, and partied on the beach—I had lately been feeling a preemptive, unnerving dread, a fear that I wasn't sure what we were getting into-until we got in that zippy yellow car.
That car got us out of the dusty airport and onto the highway for Miami, towards the artists whose work we'd seen before, and the hundreds more that we'd only seen online and read about, whose work we had yet to discover over the next five days. Though I grew up in Florida, I had never made it down to Miami. It's easy to live in Florida and to not know a damn thing about most of it. Maybe you're familiar with the county you live in, and the one or two that border it, and maybe Orlando's theme parks, and Tallahassee or Jacksonville or Gainesville, where your friends and siblings went to college. Those who aren't from here always underestimate just how vast and long the thing is, how calculated, flashy, and interesting (sunny, banal, strange, populist, offensive, fake) its culture can be. How floral, humid, and bright. As I start the ignition, I discover my sunglasses are nowhere to be found, probably tucked inside of a pocket in my backpack.
Though we've ostensibly come here to write about the Baltimore artists participating in this enormous international art week, it feels, at the same time, a little like a getaway, a break from the everyday nausea and anxiety that comes with finding out what new incompetent and/or white supremacist neo-nazi Donald Trump has selected for his cabinet. Let's go to Florida and drown our sorrows in art.
That idea of escape, of idyllic paradise, is something Florida prides itself on and brands itself with. (Once, we spotted a car with a Florida vanity plate with a sunset background and the words “ENDLESS SUMMER” at the bottom; the plate spelled “PZZZA.”) Even people who live here—whether they grew up here or migrated down—lean on the notion of escaping to Florida, building entire neighborhoods and streets filled with grass-is-always-greener tributes to other Florida cities. Where I grew up, near Tampa Bay, many of the place names and business names reference the Keys or Miami: The Marlin Darlin Key West Grill, Frenchy's South Beach Cafe. It sometimes feels as if those Pinellas County cities and suburbs, which do attract tourists with award-winning beaches and hotels on Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, still can't find the nerve to be themselves, to build their own distinctive culture from the ground up. Tampa Bay must mimic other, more popular, more iconic destinations further south-though, absent an annual major international art fair.
So we go to Miami. Or try to.
As we leave the airport complex and merge onto I-595, we discover the interstate is an actual parking lot. This will remain a constant throughout our long weekend in Miami, where upwards of 75,000 people visit the major fairs like Art Basel (located on the city's South Beach) and Art Miami (on the mainland neighborhood of Wynwood). Slightly smaller—but still significant—numbers of people filter through the 18 other satellite fairs all over the city, including these we made it to: Untitled Art Fair, NADA, Satellite Art Show, Red Dot, and Spectrum.
Eventually, traffic on 595 clears up. Cruising down the highway, purple azaleas and royal palms pop up just as often as sprawling shopping malls and Jeep, BMW, and Bentley dealerships. Merging onto Florida's Turnpike, Drake's 'Started from the Bottom' comes on the radio, so we laugh and turn it up.
Satellite Art Fair
The frenzied room hosting Terrault Contemporary, a neighbor to Platform Gallery in Baltimore's Bromo District, is a welcome shift from the restrained white-cube booths that fill the majority of other fairs. On display are small paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media work by Katie Duffy, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Cheyenne Woodward, and Christopher McCarthy—all formerly Baltimore-based artists who have since relocated to Chicago, Austin, Portland, and New York, respectively. Alvarez and Duffy are the most heavily represented here, and are both in the practice of creating new languages—something that is arguably inherent in artmaking, but made more explicit here. Through what she describes as “nongender” figures—silhouettes of curled-up bodies laser-cut into translucent yellow acrylic shapes—and coding globby video animations of similarly vaguely bodily shapes, Duffy constructs new indicators for human form and motion, untethered by gender lines. Alvarez's paintings and small sculptures feel like still lifes or landscapes deconstructed and rearranged into basic parts and pieces, reduced to typographic lines. In other words, the artists here develop new languages for understanding what we see every day. In the high saturation of neon and bold edges and sunset hues (a very Miami aesthetic), standouts at Terrault include Alvarez's large woven tapestry (later purchased by Nelly Furtado) marked by his signature hieroglyphic shapes, and Duffy's bathroom installation (pictured above). Here, in a bathtub, a pool of packing peanuts encircle an LED screen displaying a geometric animation that illuminates the reflective vinyl shapes pressed against the walls like the scales of an opalescent fish. Most exhibitors at Satellite take advantage of their bathroom spaces, but none feel quite like a party as Duffy's. (Maura Callahan)
It is our first night in Miami and before commencing our art fair-ing at Satellite, held in the art deco Parisian Hotel, we grab an outdoor table next door at Taquiza, a busy taco window housed on the ground level of the HI Miami Beach Hostel. We each order three little blue masa tortillas filled with various stewed and seasoned meat fillings. Everyone sitting around us is here for Satellite (you can just tell), the fair hosting Baltimore galleries Platform and Terrault among other artist-run spaces from all over the country (Baltimoreans: Think Open Space’s Artist-Run Art Fair at Artscape, except with three levels and air conditioning and a bathroom installation in nearly every room and, somehow, Nelly Furtado wandering about). Before our food even arrives, I see heads turn to the sidewalk, where a man wearing a bright blue wig and a makeshift toga flogs two shirtless men on their hands and knees, ball gagged.
“Look at these motherfuckers!” a Taquiza employee shouts to his co-workers, sitting on the curb while on his break. As the two gagged men crawl forward, dragging a towel upon which the blue-haired man walks, the blue-haired man repeats “Work harder!”
The next day, as we near the end of our journey through Untitled, a curated art fair held in a massive air-conditioned tent on the beach, we come across a cluster of wooden chairs—after standing for hours, chairs are really what jump out at us—designed by Sébastien de Ganay in collaboration with famed artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. The backs of the chairs are printed with the words “DO NOT EVER WORK.”
As we drive to and from our Airbnb, Rihanna’s ‘Work’ plays a few times on the radio, between what amounts to mostly Rick Astley’s greatest hits.
We’re getting a lot of mixed messages here.
It feels strange for us, and for the gallerists and exhibitors here who are showing and hopefully selling art, to come to this city that presents itself as a vacation spot, where Will Smith came to “Party in the city where the heat is on/ All night, on the beach till the break of dawn,” a city that is, geographically and culturally speaking, pretty close to leaving the country without really leaving, to work—for some, harder than they’ve worked in a while. Every visual message we receive between art fairs, from bus stop advertisements to neon signage to posters for beach towel sales, suggests “relax” or “party” all while we’re pushing ourselves to absorb more art, to take more notes, to remember every detail, to stay on our feet. But this is still an escape, or an attempt to escape, even if we’re far from relaxed. Anything that involves averting our gaze from the rest of the world right now feels like vacation, albeit a vaguely guilt-ridden one, as vacations often are in tough times.
Not that the fairs here are lacking political art or art that imparts a sense of doom or malaise. There’s Sam Durant’s giant glowing sign proclaiming “End White Supremacy” (which, by the way, was made by a white artist, was selling for $75,000, and was frequently used as a backdrop for selfies taken by white fairgoers—there’s a lot to unpack there) at international gallery Blum & Poe’s booth at Art Basel and Glenn Kaino’s stunning ‘Invisible Man’—an aluminum figure of a man with his hands up in surrender (or protest), his back three-dimensional and textured, his front a flat mirrored surface reflecting the Bass Museum’s authoritarian facade—at Art Basel’s Sculpture Park, to name a few notable pieces. It’s just that for any work that isn’t so blatant in its messaging, it’s hard to find the time and stillness to catch nuance and carefully consider the artwork’s relationship to anything but itself, or to the fairs, or to its price tag.
There’s no way to prepare yourself for the onslaught of visual stimulation here—each day, we’re seeing thousands of works of art. It’s all a rush. You don’t go too deep with anything or else you might miss, well, everything else. Or maybe that’s just us, being new to this?
At each of the fairs, I’m trying to have more Art Critic Thoughts, like if I see one more formalist airbrush abstraction I’m gonna pluck my eyes out, and fewer thoughts like I really need to look into how fucked my health care might be in a month. I’m trying to escape into artwork, even of the most banal and dead-ended sort, of which there is plenty here.
On Saturday, my mom texts me and my brother a link to a breaking story about a fire at a DIY venue in Oakland. “Makes me think of all the risky places you two have gone for concerts.” I read only the headline, put my phone away, and forget to text back.
C. Grimaldis Gallery
At C. Grimaldis Gallery’s space, the youngest fairgoers circle around Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s dizzying light sculptures, at times pressing their moist noses against the glass that barricades them from the illusion of infinity created by mirrors and neon fluorescent lights. Securing Grimaldis’ position as kids’ choice of Art Miami 2016 in particular is Ahn’s ‘Well,’ what appears to be a hole in the floor that opens to an endless concrete shaft into the earth’s depths lined by vertical strips of neon that shift in color, but like all of Ahn’s work here is merely a series of reflections. Enclosed in a darkened space, Ahn’s work stands in stark contrast to Grimaldis’ other artists—found metal sculptor Anthony Caro, contemporary photographer Marja Pirilä, and the late great abstract expressionist painter Grace Hartigan, who for decades served as the director of MICA's Hoffberger School of Painting and whose estate is under the care of Grimaldis. Opposite Hartigan’s gorgeous stained canvases hang two monolithic geometric abstractions by painter Joan Waltemath (pictured above), Hartigan’s successor at the Hoffberger School. Their connection, though, seems incidental here; Waltemath’s stony voids speckled with bright squares complement Hartigan’s gushing washes of paint swept with loosely drawn figures, and yet both feel akin to cave paintings. (Maura Callahan)
Friday morning in South Beach, we cross paths with an old man carrying three red roses in a Big Gulp cup. We pass head shops, sex shops, tattoo shops, and bodegas, one after another after another, before we find the World Erotic Art Museum, which is home to hundreds of PG-13-to-XXX-rated art objects and artifacts from all over the world, from ancient to contemporary times. This museum is just as overwhelming as all of the art fairs we attend, though in a more un-self-aware, comical way. Artifacts, like skillfully carved jade dildos from the 19th century or a phallic bronze talisman from 200 A.D. Rome, butt up against folk art and fine art in mall jewelry store display cases. Many objects have no label, no identifying provenance or region or year of acquisition, just another pocket-sized ivory carving of a couple 69-ing.
Some pieces are absurd in their extravagance, like the king-sized four-post bed with relief carvings of figures from the Kama Sutra. Oh, and the posts of the bed are dicks. Like, enormous ones, about as big in girth as a sturdy oak tree. The thrown-together curation of this museum makes the whole experience fun and interesting, but the sheer quantity transforms the objects into, well, what’s the opposite of erotic?
A couple hours later, at Untitled Art Fair, I’m a mess. I’m so charmed by the enormous, air-conditioned tent’s proximity to the ocean, by the bright, white-box-gallery feel of each stall that for a moment too long I take Tomas Vu’s series of 12 wooden surfboards emblazoned with Beatles lyrics too seriously. And then I come to my senses.
We begin on the east side of the tent, and I get lost again, in paintings. And painting-like things. Things that converse with capital-P Painting, but maybe don’t really use paint.
There’s Hulda Guzmán, on display at Mexico City’s Galería Machete, whose fine, illustrative detail and exaggerated scale and color create a tropical world of mystery and exoticism. And Lance Marchel, with Brooklyn’s Los Ojos, who stimulates all of my tactile longings, tossing into a mold things like almonds, bedsheets, broken granite, cashews, towels, resin and paint. The pieces either hang on a wall or stand as sculptures on pedestals, and I try very hard not to touch them. And then there are my painting queens: Trudy Benson (Fredericks and Freiser), Hope Gangloff (Susan Inglett Gallery), and Clare Grill (Horton Gallery), whom I admire respectively for their boisterous but tractable abstraction; intimate and sensitive Vuillard-on-acid portraits of friends; and impossibly subtle, hardly-even-there pale colors and shapes.
As I’m admiring Sean Bluechel’s small, playful abstract paintings on Galerie Laurent Godin’s outer wall, wondering at the same time, “But why do I care about this dumb, wobbly grid?,” a white man wearing a gold penis costume starts coming down the aisle. A buff, shirtless black man wearing what appears to be a white executioner’s hood—just two slits for his eyes—walks next to him, both of them pausing for photo ops with others who are dressed in differently outlandish ways. There is no explanation.
Again and again, I lose steam. I try to make sense of Ryder Ripps’ large framed digital collage at Steve Turner gallery, which appears to be comprised of completely random, free-associative internet screenshots of celebrities, viral phenomena, E-How illustrations, and porn. I pause at Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu’s screenprinting stand, where you can get a sick, stickin-it-to-the-man phrase like “POLICE THE POILICE” (the erroneous I scrawled out, covered up with the L), “THE DAYS OF THIS SOCIETY IS NUMBERED” and others on a T-shirt–each phrase containing subtle mistakes or an obfuscated but vaguely leftist message, such that the person spending $30 for one might not care too much or notice. In a way, it’s funny or deviant (what a sham politics is), but as we stand facing a new administration that is so loudly racist, sexist, climate-change-denialist, fascist—this work just feels tired.
Maybe everything feels tired because I’m tired. But even the overtly political art isn’t doing it for me. Federico Solmi’s animated piece at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles depicts a grotesquely patriotic, uncanny American parade, and is amusing in a way that also leaves me with a gaping, bruised realization in my gut. And then there’s Eugenio Merino’s silicone Donald Trump head surrounded up to his nose by empty envelopes (ballots?) on a pedestal under a vitrine case at ADN Galeria. It’s unclear to me right now: Are we doing anything about this shit? Are we simply making fun of it—how screwed we are—and then selling it, for thousands of dollars, to rich collectors?
Perhaps it’s just time to move on. As we get ready to leave Untitled, a young woman among a crew of other well-dressed young people says, “I want to write an article called ‘Why Are Artists So Angry?’ I’m so sick of it!”
On the mainland, in Wynwood, Galerie Myrtis efficiently uses nearly every inch of its space, located in a breezy, visible spot near the back at Spectrum, showing work by Delita Martin, Morel Doucet, Anna U. Davis, Michael Gross, Ronald Jackson, and Jamea Richmond-Edwards. This is Myrtis’ first time at this fair, and though some of the works almost touch each other, the booth doesn’t feel too crowded or crammed in there. It’s more of a maximalist display, where colors and textures of one artist’s work echo in another’s. Martin’s large mixed-media prints feature portraits of black women against blue and teal backgrounds, embellished here and there with a modular circle pattern or lanky, leafy strips of paper. Davis’ figures are at odds with one another inside of puzzle pieces. The puzzle pieces fit together within the rectangle of the collaged canvas, but the people in them are yelling, fighting, and occasionally making out.
Between Davis and Martin hang three small abstract paintings by Michael Gross that feel musical in a Kandinsky way. Bookending all of these works, on the left side are Miami-based, MICA grad Doucet’s delicate ceramic sculptures that replicate and iconize pieces of coral, seaweed, and shells in pastel colors and different shades of brown, hanging among lovely mixed-media portraits by Jackson, from his “Portraits of Color” series. On the opposite end are Richmond-Edwards’ captivating portraits of young black people, whose skin tones are painted in velvety, warm, gray and black tones, whose bodies are clothed in colorful power-clashing patterned paper, and whose heads are cradled by a quick, brusque halo. (Rebekah Kirkman)
Art Basel is intoxicating.
There’s no telling how much time spent in the massive Miami Beach Convention Center is required before you finally know where you are and how to get from point A to point B, let alone find an end to what feels like miles of booths hosting hundreds of blue-chip galleries and dealers. You’re forced to let go of your sense of space, and time, really, because there’s no predicting how long it’ll take you to find your way out once you decide to finally pull yourself away. My only guide here is impulse triggered by visual stimulation—in other words, look, something shiny.
Art Basel is also suffocating and offers few moments of relief. After an hour or five of rapid-fire art consumption, I scan the expanse for relief and see a pair of fairgoers disappear between two heavy curtains. As they pass through, I catch a glimpse of a darkened, uncrowded space. Squeezing my way out of the swarm, I make a beeline to the curtains. The vinyl signage indicates that inside is new multimedia installation ‘Stream or River Flight or Pattern II’ by American performance and video art spearhead Joan Jonas, represented here by Milan’s Galleria Raffaella Cortese. Inside, two video installations illuminate opposite walls, linked by three spare, fragile drawings of birds—what looks like a cockatiel, an owl, and a woodpecker; I don’t know birds—the graphite rubbed directly onto the connecting wall. Something about the linework feels like it wasn’t really drawn, but imprinted, leaving three suggestions glowing here under spotlights in the darkened room. On one screen, shadows of human figures interact with the lush, foreign landscape projected behind them, cradling the foliage in their hands. For a minute I think the figures casting those silhouettes are here in the room, until I realize this is something like a video of a video projection—the shadows’ origins are invisible, but feel present, maybe more present than I feel now. On the other screen, an elderly woman in sunglasses and a silver jacket (the artist) seems to float in space, her body sprawled, as worn tiles in a diamond pattern pass over her, their translucence coloring her figure in stony black, orange, white. The space feels like a fuzzy intersection of ancient and contemporary and woman and nature. I’m entranced.
I pull myself away after not too long—there’s too much else to see—and after dragging myself to what appears to be a maximalist Ikea display room of the internet’s dreams, where I find a tall man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. To be clear, at this particular corner of Basel (a collaboration between Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s Toilet Paper Magazine, commissioned by the Swiss museum Fondation Beyeler), there is also an artificial alligator with spaghetti spilling out of its jaws, a taxidermied hen perched on a table with plates piled with spaghetti—there’s spaghetti everywhere, actually; even the wallpaper is fucking spaghetti—but here, the only thing that seems out of place is the hat. And everyone around me seems to be thinking the same thing. Cameras fly up.
“Why is he bringing that here, to Art Basel?” says a sharp-dressed Italian woman to another sharp-dressed Italian woman, both grimacing.
The Trump guy sits at the chicken-spaghetti table, holding a plate, and poses for the cameras pointed in his direction, including mine.
“Make America great again!” he says. “No flash.”
At this point I assume he’s a performer and this is his set, some weak commentary on American idiocy and gluttony—or something. But then he just gets up and leaves. I follow him past a few booths, until he stops to look at a painting, and then at me, to glare. I want to ask him, What brought you here? But the malice in his face and my desire to continue believing that he’s just an artist doing a goofy performance convince me to turn back on my heels.
I return to Jonas’ installation to hide for a breath.
Newly anointed MacArthur “Genius” fellow (and City Paper’s Best Artist this year) Joyce J. Scott makes her mark at Goya Contemporary’s booth at Art Miami, the massive, three-tent fair mounted in the Wynwood neighborhood. From her “Day After Rape” series, three glinting faces and the smaller figures they wear as foreboding crowns—one a reaper-like skeleton perched on a ruby head—hang on one wall, watching over the crowd filtering in and out of the spacious booth (something of a respite from the packed avenues winding around other booths—with folks crowding around Damien Hirsts, Barbara Krugers, and Man Rays, Art Miami feels like MoMA on a busy day). Formed from glass beads and thread, the mask-like sculptures bubble and seduce as light bends over each grain-sized bead. Nearby, light spreads more fluidly over the Baltimore native’s hand-blown Murano glass sculpture ‘Breathe’ (pictured above in front of Louise Fishman’s ‘October’), a red, Buddha-like nude pulling a clear glass infant out from her own body with an almost unsettling ease. Beside her sits another Scott sculpture, the comical glass and wood couple ‘Look Mom- A Doctor’, atop a plywood crate—perhaps the one it arrived in—and behind Scott’s figures hang three entrancing black, gray, and beige paintings by MICA professor Timothy App (who, full disclosure, taught both of these reporters), long recognized as a wizard of subtle color alchemy by way of geometric abstraction. On the adjacent wall hangs two new paintings by fellow MICA faculty member Jo Smail, who here collages clippings from old recipes and a vintage brassiere advertisement and cakes on swaths of acidic red and blue paint. Among the other artists represented at Goya’s booth are Fanny Sanin, Günther Förg, Louise Fishman, Sally Egbert, David Brown, Liliana Porter, Madeleine Keesing, George Rickey, Willhelm Mundt, Alfred Jensen, and Yayoi Kusama, who is among the most expensive living female artists—her small, glitter-dusted mixed media sculpture ‘Flower Pink’, one of two Kusamas on display at Goya, is going for $90,000. (Maura Callahan)
After a quick empanada or two at the Charlotte Bakery, we head up to North Beach, in search of the New Art Dealers Alliance fair (NADA) at the Deauville Beach Resort. NADA is a New York-based “non-profit arts organization dedicated to the cultivation, support, and advancement of new voices in contemporary art” but it’s more nomadic in reality, its member galleries and curatorial projects travel to Miami, New York, and Cologne to showcase contemporary artists in fairs. We’re trying to catch a MICA alumni tour of this fair—we are both alumna—but we miss it because we’re still getting used to the time it takes to get from one part of Miami to another, mainly due to traffic. (Maura is horrified to find that the Lyft we took from South Beach cost about $30.)
At NADA we wander around, drooling over John McAllister’s sumptuous interior paintings and, at Portland’s Fourteen30 Gallery, find some intriguing sculptures by Hannah Levy that use nickel-plated steel and silicone, appearing vaguely like functional objects (a grill, a walking stick, a swing). Jeanine Jablonski, the gallerist, sees our MICA name tags and says, “I was just talking about Baltimore, like, literally seconds ago.” Her husband went to MICA, and she says she knows of a few galleries in Baltimore, like Springsteen, who I was just thinking about, because Levy’s materials reminded me of Alex Ito, the artist that Springsteen is showing here.
After poking around these and other works, we dip into the hotel bar for our complementary MICA-paid snacks and wine. We briefly meet the parents of Michael Farley (Art F City’s senior editor and an occasional City Paper contributor and columnist), who had brought their dog Rosie, who knows ballet. Michael’s dad demonstrates her pirouette.
Then we rest on an empty couch outside, near the pool at the Deauville. We sit mostly in silence with Lydia, our friend who co-runs Platform Gallery (which is showing at Satellite), who eventually pops over to the picnic table nearby, where Michael and his partner Ryan Mitchell sit, along with artists Phaan Howng and Katie Duffy (who both have work at Satellite) and a few others. But Maura and I continue to sit, so drained. I obsessively scroll through my phone, futilely trying to catch up on the day via social media, but then I put it down to watch the tall, night-dark palms swaying in the cool breeze, while the DJs and musicians set up. I want to stay and watch Marcelline Mandeng and Odwalla88 perform—they all used to live in Baltimore—but this isn’t the group consensus.
I really needed that moment looking at the dark night sky, not absorbing anything, not looking at walls or booths or installations. Soon, though, we head back down to South Beach, and Maura and I decide to finally go to the beach. I dip my bare feet into the water, but it’s too cold for me; I’m used to the mostly warm Gulf. Staring into the abyss ahead, with short waves crashing, a distant blurry dark horizon, a night sky with no moon, I remember being a teen, sneaking onto the beach at night with a boyfriend and falling in love or whatever, and then later, in my early 20s, going to the beach at night to talk through my parents’ sudden divorce with my friend Chris. I think about my dad, who died a few months ago, who would’ve been proud of me for being here, seeing so much art and writing about it. (He wouldn’t have been jealous of me, though; he hated crowds and chaos.) And he would’ve told me that. I develop a profound need to run, so I run barefoot, down the beach, past the couples making out and the singles sulking alone.
Satellite Art Fair
Platform presents work by Esther Ruiz, Amanda Martinez, and Baltimore artist Alex Ebstein (pictured), as well as a bathroom installation by Aurel Haize Odogbo—the small tiled space covered with roses and rose petals scattered across the floor and house plants hanging from the shower curtain rod. A telephone cord stretches out and hangs off of a soap dish; on headphones I listen to Odogbo's poem—delivered through a kind of haunting, distorted alien voice—about metamorphosis, constriction, oppression, and what happens “when your body's the catalyst for chaos.” The three artists in the main space each explore shape, color, texture, and abstracted forms, using materials that are somewhat unconventional (Ebstein's yoga mats, Martinez's styrofoam, Ruiz's neon and geodes). The white masonite floorboards, which Platform installed, feature laser-engraved shapes on them that each artist uses in her work: Ruiz's gems and neon loops, Martinez's specimens-on-a-microscope-slide-looking shapes, and Ebstein's lumpy arcs and O's. (Rebekah Kirkman)
We spend all of 20 minutes at the beach, after the sun has set, near Untitled’s monolithic tent mounted on the shore. The ocean is the only place here absent of neon—somehow, though the lights and tents loom directly behind us, the black water is reflection-less. There’s no moon; only a few stars push their way through the light pollution and purple clouds, and a flimsy string of lights straight ahead—a cruise ship? Another island?—separate the sea from the sky. I let the small but choppy waves hit my calves, and consider wading deeper into the near-icy water, no longer warmed by the sun, but opt to stop there. While I grew up routinely trembling in Ocean City’s frigid, murky piece of the Atlantic, Rebekah is used to the cozy Gulf. I wouldn’t want to push her beyond her limits by going in myself. Plus, we didn’t bring towels. So we just stare.
It’s only Friday, the first night after our first full day in Miami, and we don’t know that this will be the only relief we experience from the art shows, the city, the parties, the buzz of every European language spoken at once, during our entire trip. Our quiet, suburban Airbnb is half an hour outside the city (we waited too long to book), but there we do nothing but milk the few hours of sleep we can get; we might as well not be there at all.
But we can’t get sucked into this—the ocean, the beach, the Florida-ness of it all; we came here to see and do. After Rebekah runs along the tide and I let it bury my feet, hoping it’ll cement me there and forbid me to leave, relieving me of that pesky autonomy, we pull ourselves away and prepare to head home on a high, quiet note after a day of exhaustion and blistered feet. But the Biblical demon FOMO creeps behind, and we soon learn of an exclusive party thrown by MoMA PS1 happening nearby, and somehow, for reasons we still don’t understand, we’re “in.” Princess Nokia is playing. Our friends are there, Baltimore is there. We came to Miami partly because we felt FOMO (fear of missing out) last year when a good chunk of Baltimore attended the fairs and, judging by the Instagram updates, had a grand old time. So, I guess we have to go. We’ll just stay for one drink.
After trudging past outdoor diners sipping margaritas, petite dogs on late night walks, and park benches with dividers (“so the homeless can’t sleep on them,” Rebekah notes), we float past the line of eager partiers waiting to get into the Delano Hotel’s patio side entrance, and note that they all look much more prepared than we do. We just came from the beach, so I’m wearing a one-piece bathing suit—functional, not sexy—underneath loose-fitting striped cotton pants I have to cuff several times to expose my boots, which are dusted with sand. As our friend bargains with the bouncer to let us in, I think about how an outfit or a piece of clothing I feel great wearing in one city I’ll feel awful about in another. In Baltimore, I love this bathing suit, and these pants. I hate them here.
The line disappears behind us and we’re now approaching the poolside, strung lights guiding our way between palms. Beautifully painted faces hover a good several inches over my natural line of sight, where my eyes meet amber-toned clavicles and glossy, pointed fingernails clicking against glass stems. I wonder why, elsewhere, I enjoy a good pool, an aromatic mixed drink, and well-dressed people, but I hate them here.
I think I feel a man’s fingers gripping into my thigh. I’m sober but dizzied by the glamorous crowd and my own fatigue and when I turn to find a culprit I don’t know who I’m looking for in the shifting crowd. Maybe it’s the unfamiliar man who, as I move away closer to the pool, says to me “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” I pretend to not understand, even though I know what he’s getting at, and I know he’s doing this not because I look good—I’m easily the most disheveled person here, and the light makeup I applied this morning now looks caked on after melting and relocating in the sticky heat—but because I look sad and confused, and separated from my group.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Come on,” he says. “Just smile.”
And now I’m a reporter in a bathing suit, feeling sorry for herself and struggling not to weep at a party full of strangers, annoyed that my nearby friends are looking great and having fun even though I know they’re at least as exhausted as I am—they must be. I text my girlfriend back in Baltimore “ugh i kind of hate it here.” I want to get into the pool and hide beneath the glowing teal, but stop myself when I see that the pool is empty except for two or three bikini-clad, peach-assed model types clinging to the perimeter. So we chug our Stellas (complimentary, though it’s possible someone stole them for us) and leave the alt-Playboy Mansion party as quickly as we arrived. We stayed for one drink; we did what we set out to do. Even though we were ready to leave, there was still part of us stuck in FOMO’s clutches.
Springsteen is located in a project space, showing work by Brooklyn artist Alex Ito (whom they’ve shown often, including their last show in Baltimore). Each of Ito’s aluminum panels, which hang in front of a utilitarian glass and metal structure in the main part of the project space, resembles a perfume or makeup ad in design and scale. Mimicking consumerism and commercialism by using the languages of design and marketing, Ito adds sly twists: pleasant colors and sensual imagery (faceless feminine head/neck/hands) printed onto reflective surfaces, banal statements that don't quite make sense in context (“This Will Pass,” “You Are Here,” “Selective Nature”). A more curious piece, less overt in its grappling with ideas of commodification and advertising, on the left wall of the booth hangs 'A Feeding Whisper': a small round blown glass object appearing to be pulled from its top and bottom by taut wires, about ready to burst. (Rebekah Kirkman)
After the beach, my skin and hair are humidity- and wind-ravaged, and I’m wearing a $20 dress I got from Target at this MoMA PS1 party where I do not belong, where a cocktail costs as much as my dress. There are smoke machines and a long, beautiful swimming pool surrounded by young, beautiful people who may be artists and curators, trust fund babies and heiresses and models, or who may be broke like me, but are better at faking it.
Sitting on a pillow-covered lounge chair, Amanda Martinez (one of the artists in Platform’s booth) and I sip our Stella Artois tallboys and discuss the surrealness of this party. Amanda, who grew up in South Carolina but now lives and works in New York, has shown her work in many galleries around the U.S. and she’s familiar with this region of “the art world,” at least, I think, more than I am, because I don’t often see anything besides Baltimore’s art scene. But the vibe at this party is different. One of her high school friends, she says, is more embedded in the scene that frequents these high-end functions but for her, she says, laughing, “this is, like, another level.”
Somehow, I stay awake through the 45-minute drive home. I’m starting to get used to the route, the complicated exits and quick lane changes, cutting people off with caution and care. At our Airbnb, I wash my face, and take a close look in the mirror at my prematurely silver-flecked hair, my pores and my 25-year-old acne. Maura goes to sleep, but I stay up until 3 in the morning, scrolling through Instagram—we missed the galactic bowling at the MoMA PS1 party—and catching up on Twitter, which is how I find out about what happened at Ghost Ship in Oakland. Suddenly I’m crying for people I don’t know, who died, who might not survive, who are as yet not accounted for, as a result of a horrific fire at a DIY space. A space I hadn’t heard of until now, but which is similar to many of the venues I frequent in Baltimore. I’m crying about everything I’ve lost this year, personally, and I’m genuinely afraid for the next year. We’ve elected a president who wants to “drain the swamp” and, he is quoted as saying in 2014, wants this country to burn: “When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.” Eventually, I fall asleep.
On the final night of Miami Art Week and the eve of our return to Baltimore, we revisit Satellite to bookend our trip with familiar faces and peek into any rooms we might have missed. I realize I still have not had a mojito—something I promised myself, for self-care—and remember that the friendly gallerists in a room on the third floor of the hotel were mixing $4 drinks. I pop into the space hosting New York-based Gallery Sensei and chat with Katie, the gallery sitter, who mixes my mojito extra strong because, she says, I look like I need it. She, on the other hand, looks like she’s fresh from the spa.
“I think this is the museum of the now, you know?” Katie says. “Everyone is here. It’s like heaven. If you care about the game, you’re here. And it is a game.”
Before I can ask her what she means exactly by “the game,” we hear chanting right outside the room.
“Mni Wiconi! Come join the march! Mni Wiconi!”
I thank Katie for the mojito and head to the hallway, where a cluster of people, many wearing embroidered vests, huddle around a woman holding up a laptop. The screen is playing video of protesters at an encampment. Beside her towers a gangly guy reading what appears to be some kind of email or public announcement.
“‘...The Army Corps of Engineers has denied the drilling and easement and work on the Dakota Pipeline,” he reads. “Standing by for future implications but for now the mood at camp is celebratory. We just held an enormous prayer circle around the entire Oceti Sakowin camp and the news was announced to protectors as we stood in prayer.’ Mni Wiconi!”
The procession winds down the three levels of the fair, growing steadily as the reader rereads the message aloud and the marchers repeat their chant (which I later learn is Lakota for “water is life”). I realize I’ve been following them, snapping photos with the heavy DSLR camera I’ve borrowed for the trip in my right hand, recording their chants on my phone in my left, and gripping my quickly disappearing mojito with the third hand I’ve somehow grown in the process. Watching from the other side of the window in the hotel lobby, performance artist Paul Outlaw sits in the inflated pool installed in lobby and filled with fake, enlarged Captain Crunch cereal and milk—or just murky water—where he has been lounging all weekend on and off with his performance partner Jen Catron. The milk-water continues to flow gently from a giant carton attached to the ceiling. With his bare belly floating to the pool’s surface, Outlaw nods with dudely satisfaction.
The sun is gone, and I check the time. It’s six: Satellite, Art Basel, all of the art fairs—it’s officially over.
And again, I’m a reporter trying not to cry, but it’s different now. Still, I wish I could hold it together, for once.
But I am not alone. Elsewhere, eyes are swelling. The news from Standing Rock is the first good news of 2016, right? More or less. And now we can actually relax, more or less.
Rebekah and I know this feeling of immense relief and—could it be?—joy won’t last. And it doesn’t: The next morning we learn that back in Baltimore, residents of the DIY venue the Bell Foundry have been kicked out of their home without warning in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire.
But for the moment, we’re smiling without looking away.