My Week at Art Basel in 100 Photos
I read Jamie Lee Curtis Taete's report on how he went to Art Basel and "doesn't get art" and decided I should share my take. If you didn't read his blog, he talked about all the unimaginative and boring trends being perpetuated in the gallery world. Although I agreed with his points about negative trends, he failed to discuss the great things about Art Basel.
Art Basel is a weeklong event held every year in Miami so that art collector's can buy expensive art pieces without paying tax. All sorts of other art fairs and parties have sprung up around Basel and it's a big deal event full of art lovers and party freaks. I was there for a week and my experience was almost nothing like Jamie's. It wasn't completely flawless, but I was in a tropical art party paradise. Jamie, on the other hand, portrayed it as a self-contained one day bullshit fest. Here's a breakdown of my week at Basel in 100 photos.
I arrived on Wednesday and immediately slept for 15 hours because something is wrong with me.
"What was the best thing you've seen?" Was the question that people asked each other a lot at Basel. The best thing was doubtlessly the weather. As beautiful as some of the stuff on display was nothing was as good as being on Ocean Drive in shorts and seeing palm trees and then seeing a lady in a lime green bikini walk by. During the entire trip it never stopped feeling like GTA: Vice City and Scarface.
I met up with Greg Rivera, who co-owns Mishka NYC over at the Cardozo hotel. The hotel was owned by Gloria Estefan and was fancy as hell.
Our friend Nayib met us in the lobby of the hotel and took us out to lunch. On the walk over he pointed out the Versace steps. According to Nayib, that spot that's filled in with cement was permanently stained with his blood and so they covered it over with cement.
When the dessert display came out everyone went into an instagram frenzy. The stuff in the bottom right is guava and cream cheese. If you're in Miami eat at Larios On The Beach.
Texas Chainsaw Scarface! I drew this for our host since he was wearing a Texas Chainsaw shirt and we were on Ocean Drive, which was where the chainsaw scene in Scarface was filmed.
That's Lamour Supreme on the left and Deb, an Australian graffiti artist on the right. We helped Lamour fill in the background for this piece he was working on for Basel Castle, which was the hot ticket party if you were under 30 at Basel.
Then I ran into Terry Richardson at the 24-hour French sandwich place. He's photographed me a couple times in the past and I didn't even have to show him my dick! But I would like to! If Terry is reading this: "Terry, photograph my dick please."
Then I went to SpaceGhostPurrp's childhood home. Here's Purrp. It was awesome. His mom rapped for us. Expect more about this on Noisey.
I thought there was something kind of pretty and scary about seeing Christmas decorations in the tropical weather.
The warm weather and Christmas decorations reminded me of Edward Scissorhands.
Me, Greg Mishka, Deb the famous Aussie graffiti artist, Buff Monster (who is another famous graffiti and gallery guy), and some other girl all went to the actual Basel show. Art Basel is just like a big comic convention except that instead of being dressed like superheroes, people are dressed like eccentric millionaires with no connection to the common man and seem like they don't know how to converse with people who didn't go to college.
This was my looking-at-art outfit. About 10 people asked me about my shirt. It's a great shirt but I almost felt like there was something I wasn't getting. Get your own from Actual Pain. I looked at all the art and the art looked back into me. People like lists so here are my top ten favorite and least favorite things at Basel.
MY TEN FAVORITE ART PIECES AT BASEL
Giorgio De Chirico
Piazza D'Italia (1950)
Guillerma De Osmo Gallery
This is a really beautiful painting that reminds me of stage design. My mother studied theater design at NYU and a lot of her paintings looked like this in the early 80s.
Deux Danseurs. Monte-Carlo (1925)
Galeria Leandro Navarro
Half the good stuff at Basel was by Picasso. The guy was a genius, who really knew how to pump out work. There's a Picasso museum in almost every major European city because he would move in with someone and let them keep enough work to start a fucking museum. Some people have a problem with him leaving most of his work looking half finished but I like it.
Jean Michel Basquiat
detail of a giant piece
Van De Weghe Fine Art
I thought this was kinda funny. Skinheads should appreciate this image and use it instead of that lame faceless skinhead guy that they're so into.
Millionaire Nurse (2002)
Van De Weghe Fine Art
I like Richard Prince's nurses. This one was bought in 2008 for $4,200,000. The Van De Weghe Gallery probably had the best stuff on display at Basel.
Van De Weghe Fine Art
The girls I was with both wanted to pose with this. I was taking a lot of photos for this article but it's a little weird how much instagramming was happening. It's weird to me when people want to take their photo with a painting. When you go see the Mona Lisa it's almost impossible to look at because people are just bouncing their flashes off of the sheet of Plexiglas that protects it.
Motive No. 6 from the portfolio The Raft of the Medusa
I thought this was nicely drawn. I draw and paint on paper and have a natural preference for drawings. I love lines.
Distant Ancestry IX (2012)
Galerie Eigen + Art
Ryan Mosley's giant profile paintings are so beautiful. His ability to make something both simple and cartoony that's also abstractly beautiful is strong as hell. Great colors and delicate paint handling.
No Habitar Ya La Tierra (1978)
I don't know anything about this but I liked it. The idea of putting a slit in the canvas and having stuff coming out of it like this never occurred to me.
Untitled (2009 - 2012)
Galerie Karsten Greve
Wealthy art patrons usually want to buy really large pieces that are like furniture, so it's almost noble when people do small little gouache paintings on teeny little squares of cardboard like this.
Tot Finder (Spring Varietal) (2012)
David Kordansky Gallery
You might think the idea of a chrome window frame with chrome blinds and a photo of a clown taped to it is dumb. When Greg Mishka and I saw this we just started laughing our heads off. I totally love this. This is more like decorative art to me that a wealthy young coke head would be into. It's not terribly deep and the name is silly, but it's fun.
MY TEN LEAST FAVORITE PIECES AT ART BASEL
No Room (Gold) (2007)
Richard Gray Gallery
Glenn Ligon pretty much only does text based art like this with racially charged content about being black. There's nothing about this kind of work that isn't shameful to me. Saying "nigger" is lazy. Making a text piece is lazy. There are a lot of neon signs and sentences written on canvases because people who don't like art can still get it. There's ways to discuss issues of racial identity and text without being a joke. Basquiat did both of those things and yet both are just facets of what he did. Glenn Ligon is only making art about race which makes me wonder if he has anything beyond his race to draw on for inspiration.
(Untitled) Greedy Schmuck
L & M Arts
This feels calculated to me. Like she imagined that she would make this and then some wealthy lawyer would buy it and hang it in his home and at dinner he would make a joke about how it's like looking into a mirror and then go smoke a cigar. This is art for people who don't really like art.
The World is Yours
Richard Gray Gallery
This is a really big series of seemingly found sign letters that spell out "THE WORLD IS YOURS." This is essentially the same piece as Greedy Schmuck. Some egotistical rich dude (I can't imagine a woman buying this) with a huge living room might buy this and think "The world is mine. Hell yeah." I'm guessing that this text is a reference to Scarface, since we were in Miami. This sold for $450,000.
We Shall Be Strong in Our Weakness
Yael Bartana (2012)
Annet Gelink Gallery
Patton Oswalt released a comedy album called My Weakness Is Strong back in 2009. At some point Yael Bartana heard or saw the title and then took it without realizing it, but made it clunkier and didn't make a comedy record to go along with it. I really hate text based art.
I Won't Give Up On You
This reminded me a lot of a David Sedaris short story about being a performance artist who has a little sock monkey parade and then his dad comes and heckles him at one of his performances and everyone thinks it's part of the piece. What is this shit? Why is it here? It's a bunch of little sculptures of anthropomorphized cigarettes who are protesting things. I'm wary of most installation art or things like this.
The Future Was Perfect
There was a whole section of kinetc sculptures that involved Apple products that photographed the viewer and had robotic children who turned cranks to power the machines. I guess it was about sweatshop labor and the reality of where neat electronic gizmos come from. As I was looking at the pieces, I overheard some old lady exclaim, "Oh, I just love interactive art!" I don't love interactive art. It's a cheap and easy way to make the viewer feel something. If you show a guy a picture of a naked lady he'll probably feel something but that doesn't make it special, valuable, or meaningful. If you make a bunch of sculptures about a popular product that is also a big cultural fad and make sculptures of people that appear to be moving around then you're relying on the same tactics as a Macy's window display but probably not doing it as well. When you look at kinetic sculpture or installation art, always think to yourself, "Is this as good as Disneyland?" It usually isn't.
air conditioner sculpture
When people who don't like art try to describe art they usually will say "All it was (blank) stuck to (blank)," or something like that. I feel like there's no point in talking to people about art or music if they begin sentences with "All he's doing is just..." But, this is just some garbage glued to an air conditioner, and it reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer has a fine art career because he makes sculptures by angrily cramming together things he owns. This is like that, but less interesting.
Mel Ramos's paintings are well done. He's the pop artist whose been painting women lounging on or near giant versions of popular products since the sixties. This sculpture isn't as pretty as one of his paintings though. And with a lot of his work, I feel like he is looking down on the viewer. The message of this sculpture, to me, is "Is this what you want to buy, you fucking swine?"
How do you know if art is good? Well, good art should usually have the goal of making you feel like you're not alone in your feelings. There is no objective goodness, but it should be relatable and maybe make the world more magical or make you realize that there's beauty in your world. All art is optimistic. But to me, bad art that ends up in galleries is art without imagination. Here's a silver woman in a giant martini glass. If you have enough money you can aquire a martini or a woman like this or the sculpture. The beauty of Mel Ramos' paintings make this kind of grimness of his message seem OK and balanced. but this is just some cold metal woman. Without the loving mark making of Ramos, it just seems like a cheap prop from some disco that some dumb pig will like.
What this feels to me like to me is that someone started painting a not very good painting, got frustrated, and then just wrote "ART" on it. All of the stuff I didn't like at this show usually seemed to be coming from an aggressive place where the artist seemed overcome by the stupidity of the art viewing people.
I didn't bother checking to see who made this. I just thought it was pretty bad.
MY TOP TEN PEOPLE I SAW AT ART BASEL
As with any event the stated purpose is always secondary to the social aspect.
This lady was working the door on the way in. I thought she was too attractive for this job.
Every gallery was manned by a representative or owner of the gallery who would talk to you and make sure you didn't steal the art. Some seemed aware of their surroundings, a lot seemed like they were just working like they would when they weren't on display in a convention hall.
It was kind of like a music video where the camera pans from one room to another.
Some people had fairly simple setups whereas other people brought whole living room sets. Here's a group of art lookers and buyers. The Ruffles is not a snack, it is an art object.
This gallery actually had real snacks. This seemed a little pathetic to me. At comic conventions, it is always a sign of desperation to have candy at your table. It's funny to see the similarities between Basel and any comic convention.
I love Art in America's subscription card style banner. Also the woman in the booth is beautiful. It makes me sad that part of the reason that this banner is so special is because hardly anyone reads print magazines. I love you magazines.
Look at these banana people. So much yellowness.
This guy was dragging this wheeled platform with a camera shooting four directions on it around Basel. There was another lady trailing behind with another rope. They were around all week.
I thought this guy looked like a black version of Tom Baker as Doctor Who.
This is Deb, she has weiner fever.
Some guys in a mini-van picked us up and took us to another artfair called SCOPE, which was smaller than Basel and had a lot of Chinese contemporary artists. I was starting to lose steam and failed to notice who many of the artists for these were but here are some notable pieces from SCOPE.
My pal Lamour Supreme painted this on a piece pfexiglass about three quarters of an inch thick. The colors are on the back and the black lines are on the front which looks pretty great since if you get close and move around it's got a neat layered effect sort of like animation cels sitting on top of a seperate background.
Thre were a couple sculptures of people embedded in blocks, appearing to be frozen. I wonder why more people don't do this.
This looks like an asshole to me.
I forget the name of the artist who makes these weird mechanical women sculptures but he's in Juxtapoz all the time. I'd never seen one of these giant faces in person, but it's like two feet wide and kind of incredible when you actually see one.
I thought this was a really beautiful painting. There's another half where the painting appears half finished and there's a big cartoon penis, but I thought the paint handling here was pretty. This is by Alejandro Diaz-Ayala.
I love these pink-haired honeys. They work at my favorite bar, Asbury Lanes. They're like pixies, who indicate that you're in a good place. They told me that the day before someone had pepper sprayed someone at SCOPE and it immediately got sucked into the ventilation system and was redistributed evenly across the whole place.
These are from a Puerto Rican gallery. Vibrant colors, cool drawings.
P. Diddy bought one of these. This is part of a series of miniatures, which were built vertically into pillars with a forced perspective. At the top of the pillar is a mirror at a 45 degree angle that reflects the miniature into your eyes. I've seen miniature recreations of art galleries before, but not done this carefully or cleverly.
Adam Green and Russell Brand showed up and inspected this wooden sculpture of a lady, together, to see if they could will her to life with their horniness.
This was a wooden relief of a lady that was built into a forced perspective relief backdrop. I didn't feel a huge connection to it but I was impressed.
Outside SCOPE there was a VH1 sponsored garden bar. I liked this clear plastic gangster fountain.
This piece was like six feet wide and huge. The paint application looked kinda like it was scumbled. Look at the compression of the skin around the mouth. So much skill.
I've been watching a lot of mid-80s horror-comedies, recently. This looks like a prop from that. It's not what I would consider great art but it's fun.
Chinese art has been a big deal with American art buyers these past few years. My aunt Martha owns a Chinese art gallery in the Upper West Side that has some pretty great pieces. This one is by Ye Hongxing and it's 59 by 59 inches. It is huuuuuuge.
It seems like maybe we outsourced our interest in good art to Chinese artists. I didn't see any goddamn neon signs or text based art in the Chinese section of SCOPE. It was all things that were made by hand. This is by Li Lin.
This is by Kazuki Takamatsu. I'm amazed by the illusion of depth in this piece. This isn't a hologram or anything like that.
I was so hungry and tired that I sort of lost my mind at this point and I started to have a psychotic moment. I ate at some crowded and shitty restaurant decorated with Shepard Fairey art and watched traffic get blocked by a marching band that just parked themselves in the middle of the road. Right when I felt like I was going to completely lose my mind, some VICE people picked me up and took me with them to a club where some kids were scrawling all over a new Lamborghini. Watching these kids draw on a Lamborghini was bizarre. Sitting down was pleasant, though.
I met these guys in a parking lot in a bad neighborhood and drank Mountain Dew and vodka with them before seeing SpaceGhostPurrp. None of them had ever heard of Art Basel or SpaceGhostPurrp.
This photo I took of one of SpaceGhostPurrp's relatives is one my favorite from the weekend. Look at those awesome geometric shapes and colors. Good job, me.
On my fourth day in Miami I went to NADA, the New Art Dealers Alliance show. It was by far the best art fair that I went to. It had a decent amount of art but not so much that it was overwhelming and it was held at a pretty resort with good lighting. AND it was free. NADA wins the prize for best art fair at Basel! Hooray!
W/-------------- Editions 3 had this dispplay of a bunch of undeveloped disposable cameras that were each shot by different established photographers. I thought this was a neat idea and I liked the way they were displayed.
Some of the best pieces I saw all week were by Jennie Scobel.
When Dan Nadel, publisher of Picturebox Books, saw me he let out this choking sound of surprise and exclaimed "What are you doing here!?" I forgave him for that and we had a nice chat about how I am one of the only good comics journalists. Then I did a not super accurate portrait of him and we hugged.
One of the best things I saw was Not Quite Mrs. de Menil's Liquor Closet. Art objects were displayed next to rows of glasses as high as the walls went. It felt like being in a rich old lady's closet and finding amazing things. Fun idea and well executed.
These guys only displayed humongous shirt pockets. I thought this was pretty funny but not great art, just fun times. I would hate to hear somebody discuss them seriously. They are giant shirt pockets.
I ran into Riff Raff at NADA! it just got better and better. I love you Jody Highroller!
I kept staring at this chrome ping pong table and thinking that I wanted to do a couple lines off of it reallllll bad.
The girl on the left is Taraka Larson from Prince Rama. They were on tour and just decided to stop in and check out the art fairs. On the right is Ella, a young New York artist. Somehow our paths converged all at the same time.
I didn't know either of these women. But I thought they looked nice.
I assumed these two were mother and daughter.
There were a lot of seapunk looking guys and gals. They were all pretty fun. And now back to the art looking.
This mammoth wall sized canvas was amazing. The gallerist standing in front explained that the artist made the lines look like they came from a giant ballpoint pen by using an airbrush. I'd never seen airbrush used to achieve this effect before.
Another cool thing about that humongous painting is that it was resting on this keyboard and constantly emitting this low tone.
I liked this giant painting of what I assume is David Lee Roth. The little shoes at the bottom are a fun thing. Putting shoes are a keyboard are fun and totally great things to do when you can paint so well that they are not the main focus.
Outside where the NADA pool party was taking place, there was a lot of singing over electro, or lip syncing, while gyrating around in tropical weather.
Someone lost a shoe the hard way.
This lady twitched around with black tape covering her asscrack and genitals.
I hate tattoos but I really liked these ones.
As part of the NADA pool party someone made all these floating cinder blocks! I thought they were neat! Someone else made a boat.
Someone put all these naked sex dolls with cell phones in their hands and used them as decoration. NADA was the best. I like you NADA.
MIAMI X LIT
I was booked to DJ Lit's party in Miami with Prince Terrence, Haruka Salt, and Paul Sevigny. It was a hoot and a half. Some people showed up in this crazy limousine.
Ron English was there wearing a shirt with one of his paintings on it. I remember getting really into his book Popaganda in my early 20s. He said nice things about my drawings.
This was one of my DJ pals for the evening Prince Terrence from goth-pop band Hussle Club.
I was talking to this lady, who runs a print shop in Gowanus, when I noticed that she had this skull tattoo creeping out from her teeny white shorts. If a picture's worth a thousand words, then a skull tattoo creeping out of teeny white shirts is worth a million, and they are mostly the sounds of someone stirring a big bowl of mac and cheese.
Here were my other two DJ partners, Paul Sevigny, and Haruka Salt. They are both awesome DJs. Paul started off by playing a really strong set of good songs that are also about Christmas. Haruka played a lot of new wave and rap.
One of the highlights was when this dude wearing knitted fake boobs showed up and started dancing with this lady who took off her shirt. They were dancing around like crazy and rubbing their boobs together.
Then the guy with the knitted boobs put them on the lady backwards so she had front and back boobs.
Every man's fantasy.
I don't have much to say about this. I like this photo.
Then these guys took turns jumping off the back of the limousine.
He was doing this over and over.
Inside they had The Simpsons Arcade Game. It was a lot like real life.
This is Spam playing The Simpsons Arcade Game while this lady stuck this toy gun in her mouth.
Carlo McCormick, the Senior Editor at Paper magazine was one of the party's host. Here he is being served a drink by the attractive cocktail waitress.
I was surprised by how many casual transvestites were running around all week. Lots of dudes with hairy arms and moustaches wearing wigs and dresses.
Around this point, the naked lady started getting treated like a bathroom wall, and I decided to head home.
I wandered around by myself and bought some benadryl.
Goodbye Miami! I hope that the next time I am in you, I make it to the beach!