Art Basel Miami (pre-Covid edition): A primer for newbies
A looker-maybe-collector guide to that great big art happening by the beach
NOTE: As I prepare to attend the first post-Covid 2021 fair next week, this story covers a pre-Covid (2018) edition to give armchair booth-hoppers an insight into the machinations.
Check out what's happening at Art Basel Miami 2021 here
|So much art, so little time ...|
She: "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 (for the snowbound, Miami Beach is a tautology) is something else: a big chunk of the abovementioned 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
|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 Peruvian restaurant Chalan on the Beach|
|Lots of glitzy parties, most of which we stumbled upon vs had QR codes for...|
|... which you may get to crash depending on who you know and your ...|
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 immesurably more art than hours in the day.
The first step for an arts blogger, 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 planned, 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 (independent smaller galleries and publishers) 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 in quaint 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 these endless labyrinths of art, the daubing of your dreams could be right around the next aisle...
SCOPE: Paradoxical art rules
First fair off the rank was SCOPE, the nearest to my lodgings. 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 the fair, 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 sun, sand and pina-colada vacation imagery of their country, there are a lot more serious things they're dealing with over there.
|Puerto Rico: more than just a beachy Google Image search showing beaches...|
|These typhoonic towels were $1500 each.|
|At that price, they were not designed for towelling yourself off.|
|As you can seem I'm obsessed with these towels. Irma, Jose and Maria - not necessarily in that order. |
|UNTITLED: A very comfortable floor layout|
|Some art was barely there, a la Fred Sandback|
|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 channeled Homer Simpson pre-take one|
|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. Let's pay a silent homage to some of the greats I spotted:
|Corbu, with my matching leggings of his "Modular Man" print|
|Ai Wei Wei's self portrait (x4) in Lego|
Another favorite artist of mine is Sadie Benning, whose "canvases" are actually carved wood cutouts, re-assembled like child's puzzles, and have a thrilling presence. I learned that this technique is related to a retro vinyl upholstering style a la the Naugahyde vinyl-coated fabric company:
|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 amazed and exhausted? I am!|
|Inspiration for budding artists working in the sorting department at Housing Works|
|Detail of Ode to Housing Works (not actual title)|
DESIGN MIAMI: more than mid-century
|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 "Cappadocia" 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|
Slow Moving Luminaries: here comes hell and high water
|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 that commissioned the work. Now and then partygoers would stumble across the screen to be momentarily silhouetted, drink in hand, oblivious to the climate change doom depicted thereon. I have no doubt this interaction was 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 of 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. It was 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 Rondinone's creepy clown 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
|Best bang for buck: Art Miami|
|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 in many booths. 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 ER room's worth of Hirst's giant meds sculptures.
So how much do they sell for?
"$4000 for the cheapest item - a single Valium, Viagra or Levoxyl." (The last one familiar to those with thyroid issues including Hashimoto's).
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
And in fact, one in particular, Great Dane Auctions, supplied many, 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|
|... and money|