I'm Going to Basel!
Hi. I'm on an overbooked plane headed to Ft. Lauderdale for Art Basel Miami, the yearly winter games of the art world (the original, summer version, is held in Switzerland. They really make it hard on themselves, those art world leaders). People often complain about Miami sucking because of its South-Beach-populated cousins of fist-pumping Jersey guidos; the fake-tanned, big-titted velour tracksuit wearers; and other horrifying yields of club culture worldwide. In actuality Miami is amazing and it really shines during Basel, you've just got to approach it with good vibes and a comedic understanding of "getting weird." It also helps to know great people that live there.
The deal with Art Basel is that it's basically a trade show for galleries around the world. Basel itself is held at the convention center on the beach and is home to the blue-chip galleries of the art world. Here you'll find price tags that will make you belly-laugh heartily and exclaim "YEAH RIGHT!!" out-loudly right as some Greek shipping heir is walking up screaming "I'LL TAKE FOUR OF THEM!"
If you've been to the convention center once you probably never need to go again, but it is certainly an event that any lover art or capitalism should experience at least one time before they die. It's not every day you get to see that many noteworthy works in such a short period of time.
For that exact same reason though it sort of sucks. The artworks are so condensed and obnoxiously presented that it does absolutely positive for them. It's akin to seeing one of those horrible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows where Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Ray Davies, Metallica, and the Boss are all playing at the same time. Only in this case it's Pace Wildenstein, Gladstone, Sonnabend, Deitch Projects & Matthew Barney, Mike Kelly, Terrence Koh, Ryan McGinley, and James Turell. What, are you surprised that the big art-world moneymakers are still primarily dudes? Laughs! The convention center is also where the million-dollar rappers come to find a Japanese artist to paint their next horrible album cover.
There are, however, outlier fairs all over Miami, some on the beach and some in the Design District. NADA and Scope are on the tier just beneath Basel and smaller fairs like Aqua and Red Dot have been growing in size and popularity every year. Large group shows of mostly pleasing work are ubiquitous at venues like A-ron's new (seriously great) gallery O.H.W.O.W.
Aqua is my favorite fair. It's located in the Aqua hotel on the beach and each room of the two-story building is occupied by a different gallery with works on the walls or laid out on the beds. The galleries are smaller, the artists are mostly unknown, and there's a larger sense of people just making art to make art. They're not yet entirely in the game, aren't selling for large amounts, don't live off of their art, and probably hold boring jobs so that they can stay up all night and make more art. That doesn't mean that I like the art. Good God, sometimes it's so so so very bad. But at least it doesn't cost half a million. I usually walk away from this jammer with about five new artists who have seriously impressed me.
Being so overwhelmed with art everywhere you turn, however, does a number on your tastes and predictions. Usually I can start on one row of pieces and move quickly up and down spotting works I like and works that aren't worth the jizz they're made of. By the last row, as I'm looking at my 10,000th neon collaged anti-war piece with feminist undertones, I start to think to myself "Wait, do I like this or is this the worst thing I've ever seen?" It's generally the worst thing I've ever seen, but it's nice to default purely to tastes and then reinforce my criticism with a clearer understanding of the work and its proper context. Then again, the artist is lucky if anyone likes their work enough to consider it for that long. The average time spent looking at an individual piece of art is something like six seconds. That's why video art gets so shat on.
My schedule while in Miami usually goes: wake up early; get to the beach quickly; sleep away hangover and swim; eat something delicious; go see art; have late afternoon cocktails; eat something delicious; go to gallery openings then corporate sponsored parties; eat something gross; stumble back to hotel; rinse and repeat. Sound douchey enough for you? Great, mission accomplished.
My predictions of what I'll see:
-20 McGinley rip offs
-10 Obama faces
-30 references to oil
-50 references to gay marriage
-40 neon paper cutouts
-20 neon signs saying something spellbinding like "Why Are You Here?"
-50 photos, paintings, sculptures, or collages that reference vaginas (usually abstractions)
-100 photos involving some form of nudity
-40 complex geometric patterns created from a basic material like twine.
-prominent imagery: antlers (still?), skulls (still????), triangles (a hot new one this year I'm sure), stripes, eyeballs, tits (always)
If you're looking for help beyond that here are my official recommendations:
-See Basel once, try to keep vibes up and don't feel really grossed out by the entire thing if possible.
-Aqua & NADA
-Nike usually throws a great party with good music. This year they've got something going with Lance Armstrong called STAGES. Just Do It, I guess.
-"It Ain't Fair" at O.H.W.O.W. promises to be a typically good show with NY favorites such as Aurel Schmidt, Scott Campbell, Neckface, and the Et Ceteras.
-This isn't really a recommendation but one of the standout artists for me last year was Adam McEwen. He's just smart, man. I'm looking forward to see what he's got this year. So should you... be... looking. Crap.
-Local artists you must see: Manny Prieres, Friends With You, Bert Rodriguez, Freegums & Jen Stark
-Jacuzzi Boys are the best band out of Miami right now, look out for them.
-For the legendary Max Fish's 20th anniversary they're recreating the bar at PS14 and having shows every night, with Performances by IUD, Jacuzzi Boys, BARR, and Men.
-There are always parties to attend or crash on South Beach at Art Deco hotels like the Raleigh. They're usually not worth it and drinks are often $20 but the feeling of drunkenly busting in on one of these parties, venturing past the pools, waterfalls, and cabanas, and discovering a bunch of drunk 60-year-olds having a blast on the sand with a circle of fire dancers brings up broad terms like "sublime," "other-worldly," and "wuzzah?"
-Saturday nights in Miami there's a long running party called Pop Life. It's at The White Room around the corner from Max Fish. Go there for typical indie dance music and lots of babes.
-Sunday night is bingo night at The Standard. The infinity pool and hot tub are basically the best thing you can do at the tail end of all the madness.
-You'd be remiss to miss Miami's killer Cuban food. Lookout for Papas Fritas, specifically this old stand in Little Havana. Best approached if you speak Spanish. A few stores over live some of the best churros I've ever had. They cost $1. Versailles is the place of places for traditional plates. It's probably best if you wear some kind of expandable outfit here, like a sweatsuit. You're going to get faaaaaaaattttt.
OK. That's all I got for youse. Happy hunting!
John McSwain is a cool dawg who's going to be writing about artsy stuff here from time to time. He is extremely tall and has a laugh that sounds like someone firing a bazooka into a pile of hyenas. It is seriously one of the loudest noises in the world. Please keep that in mind.