Art Basel Miami: A primer for newbies
A looker-and-maybe-collector guide to that great big art happening by the beach
KNOW YOUR ART. Is this,..
a. An art collector on discovering they paid too much for a Christopher Wool?
c. "Russian Roulette" by Eric Yahnker at The Hole, spotted at the Untitled Art Fair?
|So much art, so little time ...|
"WANNA stay at my apartment and do Art Basel Miami"?
ME: "Does a chicken have hard lips?CALL ME LATE to the party: my first-ever pilgrimage to this seaside artfest with decidedly "Suisse" cachet comes more than 6 years after the birth of this blog. What's my excuse?
First, I live smack dab in the Chelsea gallery district of New York City, so there's art a bagel's throw from my door (this has got to make up for living in the smallest studio in the country). Second, a full palette of art fairs: Frieze, Armory Show, Untitled, Pulse, NADA, Volta, Scope, ADAA, Collective, WANTED, Independent, Spring Break, Affordable, Art On Paper, Outsider, even Documenta - did I miss anyone? - pass through the city each year, some a whole bike ride away...
|Getting right into the art at Untitled|
But Art Basel Miami - technically, Miami Beach, but for the snowbound, that's a tautology - is something else: a big chunk of the above palette crammed into a single week, with glitzy parties, street happenings and dips in the Hockney-blue ocean to give your feet and eyeballs a break from traipsing the endless labyrinths of canvas-crammed booths.
What's not to love?
|Taking it to the streets: |
The Betsy Orb, a sculpture that conceals a passageway connecting the Betsy Ross and Carlton hotels.
|Even the local SIXT car rental office becomes a defacto gallery for Art Miami|
The background color: 72 and artsy
Before getting into the art, here are a few still-lifes to set the scene:
|Sun, surf and cool ways to get around, like these artsy electric bikes|
|Cute art deco ambience and even cuter cars|
|Even fancier cars with cuddly passengers|
|Arted up ubers and cabs. (Cars, cars, cars - this is Florida, OK?)|
|Lots of rooftop bar action|
|Lots of great seafood like this affordably sharable platter from Chalan on the Beach...|
|Lots of glitzy parties...|
|... which you may get to crash depending on who you know and your net...|
Planning the booth crawl"Whaaaaat, you haven't planned your itinerary?" gasped urban-streetscapes artist Valerie Larko, who was exhibiting with Lyons Weir Gallery at the ginormous Art Miami tent. According to Valerie, you need at least 2 weeks to work out what you want to see, as there is more art than hours in the day.
The first step is getting the coveted Art Basel press pass which would admit me to most of the fairs without an arm wrestle. This I achieved using my creds as a bonafide collector, author of this blog, founding blogger at FastCompany and co-editor of a forthcoming tome on the 128 fellow scavenger hunters who completed the Damien Hirst Spot Challenge (Ok Spot Challengers, now we have to stop talking about it and do it).
|The "golden ticket" that allows you to enter most of the fairs as Press.|
Next, find a map that tells you what-where-when - surprisingly tough. For $8, I found a handy PDF at art-collecting.com that listed events by day (it reminded me of the handy artcards.cc "never miss another show" listing), though it lacked information beyond that. Googling "art basel miami google map" pinpoints where the fairs are located, but it's awkward to keep zooming and losing your place on a smartphone.
The best one was the freebie spread in the Miami New Times, which I still had to mark up with the actual names of the art fairs as shown:
New to the fair were free shuttles courtesy of the city, that shunted you up and down the peninsula to the satellite fairs. This enabled you to get from Scope in the south, to Untitled mid-beach, to the somewhat far-flung PULSE up north, to the mothership, Art Basel, at the Convention Center area.
|Free, feet-saving shuttles to dodge the parched concrete.|
Clustered around the Convention Center were satellite fairs like Design Miami (furniture), Form (sculpture), Ink and Aqua (regional galleries with big and upcoming names) - the latter two a treat for their quirky setting in art deco hotels, where exhibitor booths were the cute hotel rooms clustered around a planted courtyard. Unfortunately, PULSE, which I have attended numerous times in NYC, was just a bit too far north to get to.
|Ink and Aqua Art Fairs: Like a "cappadocia" of art treasures|
Hence the need to plan very well, as deep in the endless labyrinths of art, the daubing of your dreams could be right around the next aisle...
Scope: Paradoxical art rules
First cab off the rank was SCOPE, the nearest to my lodging. This fair features art that seems to showcase the wonders of modern machining, 3D printing and other post-canvas-and-paper mediums, attracting a lot of millennial collectors with cash. One exhibitor was particularly enterprising, offering samplings of fancy nut snacks - her side business - to whet your appetite for art:
|Naked Nut anyone? Then how about the nude photolitho behind me for $2500?|
|This could be a new genre in headshots for your LinkedIn profile|
|With a 3D printer you can freeze a motion blur!|
There's a lot of "paradoxical art" at art fairs like SCOPE, that is, crashing two "opposites" together. Superhero dwarves, knitting-bombed soldiers... you get the idea. I put Jeff Koons' Puppy and all his giant balloon sculptures in the "paradoxical" bucket.
|Superherism meets dwarfism|
|The hard edge of war softened by a knit one, pearl one...|
Untitled: More edge, more depth
|CHROMA by Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diaz|
|Inside CHROMA: rooms of a single, luminous color|
Inside, an execution of Gordon Matta-Clark's Garbage Wall had pole position. It's a 6-foot high block of actual garbage compressed and help together with concrete. Artnews wrote a nice explanation of it here.
|What kind of trash is on display at Untitled? Expensive crap!|
A real crowdpleaser was a slew of what I can only describe as Picasso-meets-crazy-wallpaper presented by Kleindienst gallery. As wallpaper, they reminded me of the riotous backgrounds of Kehinde Wiley.
|Eye-popping graphics by Christoph Ruckhäberle for Kleindienst|
The group hailed from Puerto Rico, which had been ravaged by 3 hurricanes in the past year. On the wall hung 3 stunning towels printed with the weather pattern of Irma, Jose and Maria. Nearby were a series of postcards for $5, one showing a what you get with a Google image search of "Puerto Rico." The point being, that contrary to the popular vacation imagery of their country, there are a lot more serious things they're dealing with over there.
|We are more than just a beachy Google Image search showing beaches|
|These towels were $1500 each.|
|At that price, they were not designed for towelling yourself off.|
|Irma, Jose and Maria - not necessarily in that order.|
|Untitled: A very comfortable floor layout|
|Some art was barely there|
|BYO tornado to the next BBQ...|
|A strikingly simple work that would be ideal for kid's parties: helium balloons anchored by blue tape|
|John Wesley's minimal works at Fredericks and Frieser felt like they were channeling Homer Simpson|
|Sometimes a cool, mid-century-like composition is all you crave. Nice one by|
Julian Prebisch at Galerie Machete
The Mother Ship: Art Basel Miami
|I want this Robert Mangold: a cool $230 million (give or take)|
|The stylish ambience extends to the cheap seats|
And so to the main event. Art Basel has a serious, classy, Credit-Suisse vibe due to the gasp-inducing names of artists lining booth after booth, the ones I knew by heart growing up with the P volume of World Book Encyclopedia hugged to my chest every night. There's substantially less shlock at this fair, and I can only imagine it's the most expensive to exhibit in - so you better have your Basquiats in order. So let's pay a silent homage to some of the greats I spotted:
|Ai Wei Wei's self portrait in Lego|
Another favorite of mine is former video artist Sadie Benning, who's "canvases" are actually carved wood cutouts, reassembled like child's puzzles, and have a thrilling presence:
|Blow Up 1 & 2; Sadie Benning at Suzanne Vielmetter Gallery|
|Detail of Blow Up 2, Sadie Benning at Suzanne Vielmetter Gallery|
|Winter 1, Avanish Veeraraghavan|
|Detail of Winter 1. Are you exhausted? I am!|
Think you can't paint or draw? Can you throw your dirty laundry on the floor in an artful manner? This work shows that you can make an artistic statement with anything at hand. All you need is color, texture, energy...
|Inspiration for budding artists working in the sorting departmentat the Salvation Army|
|Detail of Ode to Salvation Army (not actual title)|
Design Miami: more than mid-century
Design shows are often a mixed bag, mostly showcasing the ubiquitous mid-century and Shaker classics (will there ever be a day when those are considered tacky?) and yet another variation on how to park your butt or your stuff. Design Miami was somewhat small, with a nod towards some impressive printing technologies. (For cutting edge design you should check out the WANTED design fair which goes to NYC and LA, and Collective, which started out cutting edge, but has gotten a lot more decorative lately). Heres's a sample of said seat variations:
|You always dreamed of being a toucan's cud...|
|The Nakashima effect|
|This will make my studio into a "junior 1-br"|
|This felt like watching one of those sci-fi movies with a brain in a jar...|
Rapid Liquid Printing by Patrick Parrish Gallery
|Voila! A rapidly liquid printed shopping bag|
Aqua and Ink: the "Cappadocias" of art fairs
|Richard Gorman's MDF cutouts from Irish gallery Stony Road Press|
|At the intimate Aqua and Ink art fairs you can get up close and personal with the artist or gallerist|
|Rock Therrien for Galerie LeRoyer|
An interesting find at Aqua was a photobook of Andy Warhol's funeral by Christoph von Hohenburg. Can't afford a Warhol? Love celebs? This is the next best thing:
Slow Moving Luminaries: here comes hell and high water
This mesmerizing sculpture deserves a blog post all on its own, in fact, there are several. On a raised platform by the beach, LA artist Lars Jan built a monumental statement about global warming, overdevelopment and all associated ills, in the form five stylized, scale model "high-rises", illuminated by night. Set in a suspended infinity pool, these enigmatic apparitions slowly descend, disappearing below the surface of the water, only to rise again like sphinx. It's all done on an asynchronous timer so the overall effect is meditative and disquieting. Watch the video.
|The sculptures in full flight|
|The video playing on the lower deck shows the stylized building engulfed by the sea|
|The machinery underneath shows how it all works|
|Meanwhile, raging below was the invite-only party.|
A rowdy, wristband-only party raged below, bankrolled by Audemars Piguet, the classy watchmaker who commissioned the work. Now and then partygoers would stumble across the screen to be momentarily silhouetted in the scene, drink in hand, oblivious to the doom depicted thereon. It's as if this interaction was secretly designed as part of the work. My friend and I sat watching in a couple of empty deckchairs outside the velvet rope. We were eventually offered delectable little snacks by the starched waiters, who must have taken pity on we in the cheap seats outside. Fortune favors the not-so-bold...
Intermission: Checking out the Bass
|Miami Mountain by Ugo Rondanine|
A quick hop across the road and you're at the Bass, a newly expanded contemporary art museum. On show was a room full of lounging clowns, startlingly realistic. Once we worked out they weren't real we could relax. A very unsettling piece called Good Evening Beautiful Blue by Ugo Rondinone, who was also responsible for Miami Mountain, the day-glo rockpile outside.
|Plenty of audience participation allowed in this exhibit.|
|A giant nose ring channeled Anish Kapoor's "Bean" in Chicago|
Art Miami, Context, Red Dot and Spectrum: for all collectors (and apartments)great and small
|Detail of Flash Eye - Peter Combe for Andrea Schwartz Gallery|
One of the many "pixelation" works at the fairs
|Flash Eye, Peter Combe for Andrea Schwartz Gallery|
What's with the Legos?Every year you notice a trend that pops up all over. Sometimes it's lenticular prints, sometimes its infinity mirrors, eternally it's riffs on Damien Hirst's Spot paintings. This year it seemed to be pixelation, specifically with Legos:
|Matt Donovon's Green Honeycomb|
|Ladybugs, Matt Donovan|
Hirst's pill popping pricesBeing a Spot Challenger, I'm always interested to hear how earth Damien Hirst maintains a respectable rage for his oeuvre. Paul Stolper Gallery, hailing from the UK, had lugged a pile of Hirst's giant meds sculptures. How much do they sell for, I asked.
"$4000 for the cheapest item - a single Valium, Viagra or Levoxyl" (the last one familiar to those with Hashimoto's), said the galleristo. So who buys these pills?
"Everyone. Young people in their 20's put it on lay-away." Wow! Back when I was poring over the P Volume, I wish I'd had the foresight and pocket money to lay away a Lichtenstein...
|At $4000 a pop, the real thing is cheaper, even without insurance.|
Context and Red Dot: wheeling and dealing 'til the price is right
If Art Basel Miami is like MOMA with a cash register, these two fairs are more the bratwurst stand at a county fair. (Not hotdog, but slightly classier - bratwurst). Walking the aisles of art stacked up against boxes in some cases, I almost expected to come face to face with a set of laughing clowns in the next booth. Many were manned by the artist themselves, others, I learned, were wholesalers who supply many of the starchier galleries in neighboring fairs.
And in fact, one in particular, Great Dane Auctions, supplied many of the others.
And in fact, one in particular, Great Dane Auctions, supplied many of the others.
|Artist Felton Weller had his own, affordable take on Bridget Riley, Gene Davis who starred in the other fairs.|
|Can't afford Warhol? You can afford Yoshikazu Kajikawa's tactile take|
"He's one of the biggest wholesalers in the country, " said a small affable man surrounded by a hotchpotch of prints, including some of his own personal artworks. "At at the end of the day he knows people like me are going to write him a check to supply our customers."
"You see this pen?" A burly gentlemen shone the LED end of his pen into my eyeball as I was staring at a Warhol edition. "This is for you to write me a check for that Warhol."
In another booth, I spotted what the dealer claimed to be an original Lichtenstein oil. It was not his usual style, and because of that, I liked it immediately (which goes to show I'll never make money selling art).
"I'll give it to you for $50,000," he said. "It's the real deal."
"How do you know?" I asked. He shrugged.
Earlier in the day, I'd seen a doodle of two pyramids in Art Miami asking $250,000k. So... how does that square with the mysterious oil?
|Pyramids (Study), A doodle by Roy Lichtenstein, $250K|
And so there you have it. Just a little glimpse at Art Basel Miami.
So much art, so little time...
|... and money|