“IT’S AMATEUR HOUR,” said one fair director, hoisting a ladder. “Lots of new galleries that have never done a fair before.” That the director in question happened to be changing a lightbulb during his own VIP preview spoke mountains about the altered economic and social climate at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach agglomeration. A clusterfuck of competing parties, talks, openings, concerts, performances, brunches (still no time for lunch), and dinners, the unconnected continued to get held up at the velvet rope—even if this year the rope was slung a little lower, giving access to the main fair for some of the best previous NADA-ites, and passageway to the third- and fourth-tier fairs for anyone with enough cash in hand for a booth. With so many galleries bowing out or going belly up, there’s a little more room at the bottom of the top.
“Move on up” became the mantra around younger fairs like Pulse, Aqua, and Scope. It wasn’t simply a reordering of the pecking order, though; some of the fairs themselves actually picked up shop. NADA hightailed it to the counterfeit elegance of the Deauville Beach Resort, roughly fifty blocks north of the main fair, while Pulse (less imaginatively) scooted into NADA’s vacated spot at the Ice Palace Studios in Wynwood.
At the Deauville, NADA inhabited two cavernous converted ballrooms. Mammoth chandeliers hung over the scene next to the gaping ports of ’60s-style air conditioners, mixing a retro sci-fi look with what Mara McCarthy at the Box called a “likably gaudy French faux-historical ballroom.” The dealers here looked less nervous than the ones at the big fair, and a few even proclaimed that they’d sold out their booths in the first hours of Thursday’s VIP preview. Dealer François Ghebaly unloaded all of Patrick Jackson’s Koons-meets-Steinbach kitsch cases. Ditto Sunday gallery, which was showing some unusual trompe l’oeil oils by Kirk Hayes. Joel Mesler at Rental bragged to anyone who would listen that his booth of Brendan Fowlers had moved so quickly that he’d set up a satellite stand in his hotel room upstairs. After telling me the good news, he disappeared to it, collector in tow.
After a quick jaunt back to the main fair, I set off for the Whitney Museum party at the Standard, a short cab ride away to a calmer world far from the Collins hubbub. Here the velvet rope was still conspicuous, and I watched as a girl at the door stonewalled a sweet-looking old couple without bothering to consult the list in her hand. (She finally let them through with a patronizing sermon: “I’m doing you a really big favor.”) I shuffled in behind them and out onto a deck bar overlooking a placid lagoon, hanging around for what seemed to be an entirely civilized cocktail party. On the way out I caught sight of John McEnroe, looking the part of the graying champion and gabbing about art with a determined-looking dealer. (The following day I spotted him again, this time eyeing some Liu Yes at Sperone Westwater.)
That night I chased party after party, strung along by the city’s feverish energy. Most seemed to be hosted by loose groups of dealers at strange Miami bars, where the music ranged from third-rate dance-party hip-hop (a Berliner party supposedly headlined by Peaches, who never seemed to materialize) to the inexplicable “cold wave” (one, at the Living Room, simply titled “Wierd”). A text-message caveat smartly warned me off one of many soirees: “Not worth it. Rabid door people. Random Miami locals inside. Super Trashy!” Technology saves.
The following day, I dragged myself out of bed for a “grand bouffe and cotillion” at the W hotel organized by Emi Fontana for her young nonprofit West of Rome Public Art. After a few announcements, Fontana introduced artist Mike Smith, who slowly began to undress, transforming from an articulate middle-aged man into Baby Ikki, a toddler in undersize white sunglasses with a five o’clock shadow. He tumbled around in his diaper and bonnet, inducing a wave of uncomfortable giggles through the crowd. Near the end, he broke character and removed his getup, a “first-time” moment that I’m told is something of an event. Event or not, it was certainly a relief.
I skipped across town to Pulse, arriving just as punk legend Exene Cervenka (showing work with DCKT) finished her set in the Ice Palace’s grassy courtyard. At first the layout to the fair seemed uncannily familiar, but to their credit, the organizers had added a tent section to the original warehouse that included gallery solo projects and a diminutive screening room curated by the MIT List’s João Ribas. After I’d spent days wandering in a scopophilic haze, this fair was almost refreshing: Very little actually caught my eye. It wasn’t all bad, though: Lora Reynolds put on a good solo with Mads Lynnerup, and Pippy Houldsworth had strange and quiet works on paper by Rachel Goodyear. But the real saving grace was Ben Gocker in the back room of PPOW. This was the Brooklyn librarian’s first time showing anything, anywhere, and his astute visual poems ranked among the most exhilarating discoveries of the week.
So many of these miasmal evenings are spent in the back of taxi cabs looking for the best party; my last night in Miami, I decided to pare down the schedule. Who wants to fight their way through Friday-night traffic from a Visionaire launch party at the Delano to an afterparty headlined by the Misshapes (how retro) at the Standard? After a leisurely dinner at Spiga organized by collector John Morace and including fellow collector and LA MoCA patron Rosette Delug and Los Angeles fixture Margo Leavin (“Miami Beach, when I first came here, was where New Yorkers came to die”), I simply wandered into the hotel bar at the Raleigh for a nightcap and was quickly caught up in the evening’s frenetic pace. An intimate party feting Klaus Biesenbach’s appointment as director of P.S. 1 culminated with the in-crowd (Biesenbach, James Franco, Peaches, Diana Picasso, et al.) getting tipsy with one hundred bottles of champagne (half a bottle for each guest) on the beach. It might have been a bit quixotic to expect a quiet Friday night in Miami.
But my evening didn’t end at the Raleigh. Soon I was dragged with the Mexico City contingent to the basement of the Shore Club for some passionate karaoke. Artist Mario Garcia Torres played backup on bongo drums as Eduardo Sarabia gave a fierce performance (if such is possible) of Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra.” Parting ways far too early (late?) in the morning, artist Jeff Kopp turned to me and gave praise: “I love Miami.”