Open Casa

Alison Gingeras at Art Basel Miami Beach


Two views of Rosa de la Cruz's house. On the left, assume vivid astro focus's upstairs installation; on the right, paintings (and the crowd) downstairs.

A tedious fifty-minute taxi ride from Miami Beach got us to the de la Cruz’s block just after midnight. Block, not house, because as we turned onto Bay Drive, we were greeted by a gridlock of limos, yellow taxis, Mercedes sedans (with drivers), and chartered buses that provoked even the relatively patient to hoof the home stretch. The size of the houses and the frenetic movement of valets and anxious guests recalled a late-night traffic jam in East Hampton. Artforum.com correspondent David Rimanelli was among several familiar faces exiting as we strolled up the gravel driveway—he was in a rush to secure a seat in one of the plush rides back to town. Despite our late arrival, the garden was still packed to the hedgerows, with Miamians, decked in pastel and Day-Glo, slightly outnumbering the usual (art) suspects. Among the throng were a handful of eccentrically dressed “performers” (more Mardi Gras than P.S. 122) meant to give the evening a “Happening” feel. Since the promised high point—a performance by Los Super Elegantes—was, we would soon learn, sadly cancelled, the rest of the carnival felt a bit flat.

Before entering the house to see the much-hyped assume vivid astro focus (aka Eli Sudbrack and “collaborators”) show, to which the de la Cruzes had given over the entire second floor, I stopped for a brief chat with Jeffrey Deitch. As always, he percolated with infectious optimism. “Miami is the new New York. In ten years, all the key galleries will have branches down here. Artists love it—space is cheap, climate great, collectors plentiful.” After a quick cocktail and a last look at the scene in the garden, I almost believed him. A few moments later, I crossed paths with one of Deitch’s artists. She explained that a reality-TV crew had followed her posse around all day as they set up their booth, tooled around town in a Jaguar, caroused chez Rosa, etc. Clearly, the producer hit the jackpot.

As I entered the de la Cruz residence through the back door, a uniformed maid handed me a Xeroxed map of the art extravaganza inside. The floor plans were dotted with tiny numbers accompanied by a more-than-dozen-page checklist. Totally indecipherable—I couldn’t tell if the pictograms represented sculptures or the overstuffed white couches, so I decided to meander around the first floor relying on my own compass. The choice of work was very savvy, very German, and very '80s (vintage and wannabe): a giant Jonathan Messe (that one could easily mistake for an Immendorf); Rotten Renaissance Rita, 1984, a fantastic early Albert Oehlen; a very graphic Christoph Ruckhaberle; and a few younger Leipzig artists interspersed amid the crowd. Kippenberger and Kippenbergiana. Germanic painting would seem to be de rigueur this season in Miami—in fact the Leipzig trend was the only thing that connected the sparse, precise hanging of the newly expanded Rubell Family Collection and the baroque hang at the de la Cruz’s. Just when I thought all the trendy collecting angles had been played, I glanced into a small room and saw a cluster of diminutive framed drawings by artists from the Daniel Reich and John Connelly Presents stables. Happily, a few counterpoints to the hip-for-hip’s sake selection offered respite. A beautiful cream-and-gold Gonzalez-Torres candy spill sat in the corner, while a neon portrait of Annlee, from last year’s Huyghe-Parreno-M/M Paris installation, silently surveyed the passing partygoers.

On the left, Los Super Elegantes' Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet (photo: Dean Sameshima); on the right, artist Christian Holstad.

On the way upstairs, another uniformed maid—I counted at least ten—requested that guests park their shoes. Here, finally, was the psychedelic wallpaper I’d been expecting! Once ascended, I ran into a New York gallery director who advised me that the work on the second floor was a replay of avaf’s Whitney Biennial installation (complete with spiral staircase), but despite her encouragement to do an about-face and have another drink in the garden, I forged ahead into the “environment.” Some recognizable contributions by other artists were jumbled up with signature assume vivid astro focus art/decor/props, but there were few standouts—notably, two gorgeously intense Michael Lazarus paintings, one installed on a freestanding wall covered with General Idea’s AIDS wallpaper (yes, more wallpaper). Getting ready to head downstairs, I met a mildly confused Sydney Picasso clutching her Xeroxed map in an earnest attempt to determine what was what and by whom. She was not alone in her confusion—many in attendance, even devoted art collectors and curators, were baffled by the jumble of works and formal eclecticism. There were undoubtedly those who were titillated by the “youth” and “energy” of the installation, but the few artists and critics I chatted with seemed to feel the “collaborative” aspect to be thin and somewhat suspect. Unlike other “artist curates”–type shows, this exhibition seemed neither to propose a family tree of similar affinities nor to use other artists’ work to articulate a collective vision or aesthetic position. The whole mishmash was a salient example of a new-old trend that has a lot of currency these days: the artist-as-anything-but-an-artist. avaf strives to be a one-stop service provider—curator, lifestyle guru, social impresario, art director, decorator, publicist, groupie, entertainment coordinator, and graphic designer—and , to a degree, succeeds. The collector gets maximum bang for his or her buck. But the most unsettling part was contemplating avaf’s choices of “collaborators,” who seemed more like the winners of a popularity contest than a group of artists selected according to some coherent set of criteria. When I quizzed a few partygoers the following day at the fair, one collector offered a convincing defense of de la Cruz’s support of avaf: “Rosa de la Cruz collects like a teenager.” Even if her zeal and generosity are laudable, the artistic result is pure high school. Maybe it was my lingering teenage contentiousness, but I couldn’t help but feel that a little Rubell-style autonomous art would have been much more challenging than this teeny-bopper Gesamtkunstwerk.