Photo by Zach Slootsky
‘Why does anyone go to Miami? Ass, and the emerging contemporary art scene.’ So said Alec Baldwin’s iconic 30 Rock character, Jack Donaghy.
Well, for at least one week of the year, aesthetics carnal are thrown over in favour of those artistic, and that’s this week. Sorry Arianna Grande, it’s Jeff Koons’ time to shine.
Welcome to the revolving circus: Art Basel Miami Beach.
Looking for a primer? Skip AA Gill’s rather grandiose dissection of the problems with international art fairs, particularly as Miami is, unsurprisingly, entirely unique from its more demure brethren. Cities such as London, Hong Kong, and Basel herself exude a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, to be sure, but one that in no way relates to Miami, where everyone ‘sais’ everything, because nothing is left to the imagination.
So look, instead, to Tom Wolfe’s ribald, sarcastic, and thoroughly hysterical Miami-set novel Back To Blood, whose ABMB dissections were excerpted in Vanity Fair, with their descriptions of billionaires veritably wriggling like maggots waiting for entrance D of the Miami Convention Centre to admit them, even (or especially) as it omits all others.
It’s a race, after all. ‘At Miami Basel you got to be fast. See it, like it, buy it. End of story.’
I’ve always done my best to think of the art world the way René Ricard described it while introducing the world to Basquiat in Artforum.
‘What’s with art anyway, that we give it such precedence?’ Most basic is the common respect, the popular respect for living off one’s vision…using one’s sheer self as the medium, the money earned rather a proof pure and simple of the value of that individual, The Artist. An object of art is an honest way of making a living, and this is much a different idea from the fancier notion that art is a scam and a ripoff. The bourgeoisie have, after all, made it a scam. But you could never explain to someone who uses God’s gift to enslave that you have used God’s gift to be free.
But, if we’re honest, there’s precious little of this at ABMB. Air-kisses there are plenty of. Socio-symbological aspiration, not so much. A strolling Giacometti for the house in Cap d’Antibes is within grasp (if your Amex is the colour of Rick Owens’ wardrobe, that is), as is a Salle for the ‘farm’ in New Canaan, and an Audrey Kawasaki or a Nate Lowman for the pied-à-terre in SOHO. Glamourously disheveled-cum-jaded sarcasm optional. Tho not really.
Secondary and Tertiary fairs are a bit more focused on creation than consumption (particularly the genuinely brilliant likes of Untitled and Design Miami, which even eclipse the OG Basel in some eyes), but don’t spend too much time off the main drag, or risk being seen as déclassé. Or just not being seen. Which is worse, obviously.
Besides, you’re there for the parties, aren’t you? To see Pusha T do a live set at an Adidas launch, to go behind the scenes at Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow’s pop-up radio station WNL, to see A$AP Rocky and Michelle Lamy do a duet (?!?!?) at the annual temp iteration of David Lynch’s Parisian nightclub/cultural factotum Silencio.
I know people who have been to ABMB without actually managing to go to any of the fairs/shows. Hell, if we’re gonna be honest, I’ve been one of those people, three years ago. Oops. Yeah, I know, I know. Though I did backstage at a Kendrick show and drink mad rosé with him and his crew. Sing an excruciatingly bad karaoke duet with a ‘Swiss Passport’-producing artist you’ve definitely heard of, at André Saraiva and André Balazs’ private club. Wake up in one of Puff Daddy’s Star Island mansion guest rooms by mistake. That’s art, right? Performance art, maybe. Give my integrity a quick bisous as it wanders past you, right out the door…
But, aside from the fact that I am (or have been) clearly part of the problem, this is sort of my point. ABMB, and some of her fam fairs, are spectacle first. The art is exquisite, to be sure. Though it tends to be geared towards those who have the means and impetus to actually acquire these works (Regular shit you buy. Warhol’s are ‘acquired’, don’tcha know).
Otherwise, you’ll likely to catch the exact same people that you’ll see at [x]fashion week. Somehow always being invited to the Veuve Clicquot events, even though you can’t for the life of you figure out what they do….
Still, all of this is cool. As in totally fair. And cool. As in hip-as-a-muhfucka. Plus, there’s a veritable cornucopia of genuinely amazing artworks to be seen. SHoP Architects’ bamboo 3D-printed ‘Flotsam & Jetsam’ installation. Atelier Biagetti’s ‘NO SEX in Miami’, Katja Novitskova’s work at the Rubell Collection, Julio Le Parc at the Pérez, the dozen new murals going up at the Wynwood Walls, and Deitch and Gagosian’s insane-sounding collaborative show at the Moore Building (which somehow features everyone from John Currin to Harmony Korine to Andy Warhol to Bret Easton Ellis…).
Rest assured, your inner creative won’t be disappointed, even as it argues, angel v. demon shoulder-style, about just grabbing ‘one’ quick 22$ Jameson shot by the pool at the Delano.
Either way, you win. ABMB, ultimately, is like most things: precisely what you make of it.