I Went to Art Basel and Tried to "Get" Art
Dec 9 2013
[This article first appeared on VICE.com in December 2012.]
A while ago, I wrote a thing about how I don't "get" art. In the piece, I dared to suggest that maybe it was silly that a neon sign that says "my cunt is wet with fear" is worth $100,000. It got read by a lot of people, many of whom disagreed with me and got very very angry. After reading people's feedback, I thought maybe I had been a little harsh, and decided to give art ONE MORE CHANCE.
So I headed to Art Basel in Miami. In case you don't keep up with #art, Art Basel is the world's largest art fair. A bunch of galleries from all around the world gather in a big exhibition center in Miami and show off their bestest bits of art (pictured above), and have some parties and stuff.
First thing I noticed while walking around the main exhibition was the INSANE amount of canvases-painted-one-color that were on display.
I mean, I get it. It's "making us question what art REALLY is" or some shit. Which I guess would have been kinda interesting the first time someone did it 100 years ago. But do we really need to keep doing it? It's been pretty well established what art is by now.
What I don't get, is who the fuck is buying this stuff? Is this really worth $20,000? I know that nothing is worth what you pay for it, that's just how the world works. Like, the computer I'm typing this on probably cost the manufacturer about 1/50th of what I paid for it. But come the fuck on, man. A black square? That costs as much as an entire third-world school?
I know the term "laughing all the way to the bank" is overused, but I find it hard you wouldn't at least chuckle while driving to Chase if you were the guy who just made a year's rent by painting a $30 canvas black.
And how does an artist even decide this is what they're gonna do with their life? It's like when people become an acoustic singer/songwriter. There is not one single thing that you can add to that world, so why bother?
I guess it's probably "Blair Witch syndrome"—where someone sees another person making a ton of money doing something that they themselves could have done and it makes them temporarily lose their mind.
Maybe that's just what the entire art world is. Like how the tech world is made up almost completely of people who wish they could have been Mark Zuckerberg, the art world is people who are bummed they didn't think of someone else's obvious idea first.
Like how Tracey Emin made a bunch of money writing completely asinine statements in neon lighting, and now there's an entire artistic movement of it. Like what you see above. Which are just four examples of about 1000000 I saw at Basel of people taking nominally profound statements and then turning them into art 3D objects to be sold for more than I make in a year.
Weirdly, Pharrell is taken seriously by people in Miami. I saw him at a bunch of shows, and he wasn't laughed out of the building a single time. He even did a talk about design which, unfortunately, I missed, as I'm sure it would have been fucking GOLD. Apparently Kanye showed up and they had a debate about modern aesthetics, hahahahaha. This is the same guy who once asked everyone to start calling him "Skateboard P," right? The one who was "rhymin' on the top of a cop car"? I didn't imagine that? And people are paying to hear him give his opinions on design now? Got it.
They don't have the accompanying literature that explains what the art "means" at most of the exhibits, which is a shame as, TBH, I was pretty bored most of the time I was there, and reading people waffle on about what art means is what can really take a piece of art from Snoozetown to the Land of LOL.
For instance, this piece was a woman laying in a dark room while some stupid song about Megaupload played, which the accompanying text described as a "monolithic structure" that was "representative of an archaic relic from pre-Internet times" and "literally (and metaphorically) trapping her in the physical world... the only possible mode of transcendence from this uncomfortable reality is offered by the artist herself... singing instructions on 'how to upload your soul to the internet.'"
Which elevates it from "some woman lying on the ground surrounded by a bunch of shit" to "some woman taking several days out of her life to lie in a gallery and try to make some non-point about the internet AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA."
I really feel like I missed out on so much hilarious shit due to the absence of explanations. There was so so so much stuff there that I would love to hear someone attempt to justify. Like this: a plastic child's head, with underwear on it, smoking a cigarette, on a MacBook.
Speaking of, do you think artists think of a point they want to make and then make an art piece around that? Or do you think they do it in reverse? Like this one, which is a misshapen plate that says "mother fucker" on it—the artist's reasoning for it was this:
"Rainer Ganahl introduces his personal view on one of the most renowned artist of the 20th century, Lucio Fontana. The famous sliced open canvases, although bearing traces of obvious violence, are nonetheless serving an idealistic quest. But Rainer Ganahl only keeps the regressive and sadistic aspect of the gesture. Through Ganahl's raw and dirty style, Fontana's works now appear outrageous."
Do you think he actually woke up one day thinking all that stuff, and then set out to find a way of communicating that message to the world? Or do you think it's like my high school design projects where I'd be like, "I wanna make a pencil holder with Marvin the Martian on it," and then would have to retroactively make a whole project around it acting like I developed it n' stuff?
It's like with mediums and psychics. I can never tell if they know they're lying, or if they're mentally ill and actually believe what they're saying to people. If artists are in on the joke and know they're full of shit and what they're doing is totally fucking ridiculous, then that's kind of amazing.
Like, if the guy who made this was stoned with his buddies one day and went "you think I could get away with it if I just made a wall mounted vagina and charged like, ten grand? That would be so sick"? He would be my hero.
"HAHAHAHA you're never gonna fucking believe this, but you know that canvas I did, the one with the shitty little spraypainted squiggle on it? Some idiot bought it! Drinks are on me!"
It costs 50 grand for an exhibition space here, apparently. Fifty grand! Can you imagine how embarrassing it would have to be to sit there all day if you were a gallerist and this was the art you were showing? Just in case it's unclear, this is a couple of empty banana boxes, and some spotlights, and it was the ENTIRE body of work that some gallery from Zurich was displaying.
And that's just 50 grand to exhibit, that doesn't take into account how much it must have cost them to fly the installation and staff over from Zurich. And then you have to sit in front of this piece of shit all day for a week while people come over and look at it knowing that they know you paid thousands to be there? Brutal.
Bleugh. I dunno, if anything, going to Basel has made me hate art even more. Because the fact that it was a trade show just underlined how much money was going into the whole thing. Every time I saw some stuff that I liked or that I thought was funny, I would think about the money and time that went into it, and just get bummed out.
The other thing that people at Art Basel do is throw big, exclusive partes so that art people can hang out with other art people.
Presumably, most people reading this will never get invited to one, so let me talk you through it:
It starts with a line. Which is much like the line at a regular club/party, except that it's guest list-based, and everyone in it thinks they are the most important person in the world. This was taken at some party I went to that Demi Moore and Martha Stewart were at. We had to line up for 30 minutes or so, and people LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS. I heard one girl compare her situation to Auschwitz, and another was repeatedly screaming that she would sue the hotel if she got bitten by any bugs. Eventually people just decided to Braveheart it and charge in by any means possible, like these old-timers who are scrambling through the fucking wilderness like they're running away from Predator.
I really hope I'm not climbing through bushes because I feel too entitled to have to wait ten minutes when I'm this guy's age :(
Inside is a lot like a regular party, except the music is really quiet, the drinks are free, and people don't appear to be having fun.
There are also lots of people there who are famous that you won't recognize. Like these two. Lots of people were asking to take their photo, so I assume they're "somebodies." Can someone lemme know who they are in the comments? I'm assuming by their clothes/skin color, that they're both real housewives of Miami.
Unrelated, but I was at some barbeque that Chanel was throwing (lol) and found out the next day that Lenny Kravitz had been there. I am so so so bummed I didn't realize he was there at the time. I feel like Jon Snow after he was on that plane with Idi Amin. I could've just walked up to Lenny and murdered him right there in the party, and the world wouldn't have had to see him tweet another picture of himself wearing a leather jacket with no shirt underneath (come the fuck on, Lenny, if it's cold enough for a leather jacket, it's cold enough for a shirt, too).
There were also lots of people at the parties who looked like this. When I asked this girl for a photo, she didn't say a word, just did a subtle nod while blue-steeling, posed like this, then walked away looking like she was about to burst into tears.
When did really, really serious people co-opt dressing goofy? How're you gonna turn up to a party dressed like fun-time chemo-Barbie and then act like everyone in the room just killed your puppy? She should be arrested and charged for false advertising.
This guy, too. He's dressed like a one-man party, but it would be physically impossible for him to have a more self-serious facial expression. Can you imagine if an old lady had to sit next to this guy on a bus? She would think he was a blast, start a conversation, and then he'd end up getting all mad at her about Rihanna ruining sea-punk on SNL. Can someone fun please take back dressing whacky from these assholes?
And that's pretty much Art Basel in a nutshell. Apparently it generates one billion dollars for the city of Miami. Huh.
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