Conventional Center

Brian Sholis at Art Basel Miami Beach


Left: 1301PE's Alexis Johnson. Right: Bellwether's Gregory Hopkins and Becky Smith.

As corporations scramble to capitalize on the success of Art Basel Miami Beach, outrageous event invitations burst forth from the mailbox. By the end of last week, an opportunity to don gold swim masks and snorkel with Zaha Hadid, Jay McInerney (who was on my flight), and an editor at Vanity Fair seemed sure to be en route. Such a miasma of “exclusivity” threatens cognitive meltdown; sanity is preserved only by zeroing in on a select few events. My assignment was simple: check the pulse of the convention-center fair itself, as well as of NADA, the first of at least twenty-three satellite offshoots.

Whereas in past years, NADA preview activity slowly swelled, on Tuesday afternoon, collectors, led by a group from the New Museum, charged the gates at 4 PM. Asked whether she had presold work in her booth, one New York dealer said, “It’s mostly consultants asking for advance JPEGs. Why would I want to shortchange my clients by preselling to consultants? It’s OK. I made my first sale at 4:01 PM.” Indeed, by the time I arrived, many dealers looked slightly shell-shocked, though the fair’s energy seemed lower than it did in previous editions. Perhaps they were swooning over Lance Armstrong, who was shepherded through the fair by youngish advisers and, unlike many celebrity interlopers, actually buying. (And you thought Livestrong bracelet profits went to charity.) “I wasn’t sure it was him until I saw the shaved legs,” said Chris Perez of Ratio 3, who had three delightful Op-art-style laser-cut birch panels by Ara Peterson in his booth.

Left: Dealer Chantal Crousel with collector Barbara Balkin-Cottle. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.

John Connelly, one of NADA’s four founders, brought a single mural-scale, psychedelically colored iteration of the Peterson works to the Art Positions containers on the beach, and his “graduation” to the “young galleries” section of the main fair underscored the potential problem NADA now faces: filling the venue with quality booths despite increasing competition from above and below. With that in mind, it was reassuring to see strong presentations from several first-time exhibitors: London’s Ancient & Modern brought bright collages by Peter Linde Busk and a cheeky takeaway wall calendar by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane; Klaus von Nichtssagend, one of the few galleries still prompting regular visits to Brooklyn, had striking sculptures by Ian Pedigo and Alex Dodge; and New York’s Sunday LES wisely chose to feature one artist, Michael Jones McKean—who makes shelf-assemblage sculptures—rather than overwhelm collectors unfamiliar with the young gallery’s program.

Other works stood out, including Alyson Shotz’s iridescent swirl of rectangular beams at Derek Eller, Marco Maggi’s hyperworked drawings at Josée Bienvenu, and Lisa Oppenheim’s small, brightly colored photographs at Juliètte Jongma. There was a brief throwback to the physical-plant problems of the fair’s 2005 edition, when many of the lights blinked out at 7 PM, but everyone seemed to take it—and the areas without much air-conditioning—in stride.

After catching half a set by art rockers Deerhoof in the Ice Palace garden, the lure of a new exhibition by Peter Coffin (and, to be honest, food) drew me to Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery a few blocks away. In the garden, French duo Kolkoz DJed for the likes of curator Christine Macel and dealer Andrew Kreps. Inside, Coffin’s show didn’t disappoint, offering in one room a series of small photographs depicting a single piece of Silly Putty onto which a wide range of artwork images had been transferred. It’s a “consciously dumb metaphor for how memory works,” Coffin said. But the real coup was a giant gray Möbius-strip spiral staircase, his largest piece to date, a work that will loom ever larger in the mind as this week grinds on.

Left: Artist Helen Verhoeven with Wallspace's Janine Foeller and Jane Hait. Right: Salon 94's Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn.

Wednesday’s ABMB VIP preview was busy but seemed to lack the little thrills one has come to associate with the fair, the splashiest around—or perhaps they were easier to miss, given the plethora of sideshow attractions. One novelty was Art Supernova, a new section conceived by the fair organizers as a platform for “linking the participating galleries in a new way.” Tucked into a corner of the building, twenty dealers shared semi-interconnected spaces, central storage racks and flat files, and an absurd set of rules that several claimed made it hard for them to conduct business: no sitting and no “offices” inside the exhibition space (client meetings are to be carried out at tables and chairs in the convention-center hallway); time restrictions on the use of central walls as additional display spaces. “I think it’s more interesting for the viewers,” said one participant, “but it’s very difficult for us. We can’t keep clients’ attention as we walk from the artworks to our ‘office.’” Herald St artist Cary Kwok was giving free haircuts, and one imagined sore-legged neighbors plopping down in the barber’s chair for a little off the top just to enjoy a moment’s rest. Kudos to the ABMB staff for attempting to tweak the formula, but this neither-show-nor-fair approach fell flat.

Art Nova, on the other hand, which was made up of mostly younger galleries exhibiting up to three artists in smaller booths around the edge of the fair floor, offered a handful of unexpected experiences: Giti Nourbakhsch, Gabriele Senn, and Guido Baudach combined their booths and Susanne Vielmetter, who had submitted e-mail correspondence between artists Wynne Greenwood and Nicole Eisenman as her proposal, hosted a lengthy performance by them in the afternoon. Vilma Gold brought four compelling “portraits” by Nicholas Byrne—agglomerations of brightly colored tangles of what looked like semaphore flags, including two painted on copper—all of which sold in the fair’s first fifteen minutes. Indeed, business seemed brisk for entry-level works and super-high-end material from auction-house darlings; it was only pieces in the middle price range—from fifty to one hundred thousand dollars, say—that didn’t fly off the shelves in the first few hours.

Left: Whitney Museum of American Art director Adam Weinberg with Whitney trustee Laurie Tisch. Right: MoMA president Marie-Josée Kravis.

Wandering through the booths of the two hundred invited galleries suggested one simple solution to the problem of “reinventing” the fair: encourage established dealers to make focused presentations, à la Art Nova, rather than a show hodgepodge of recent works by the artists from their stables. With few such dramatic gestures to stumble across—not even the ubiquitous Thomas Hirschhorn sculpture, placed on the aisle for maximum transgression—one was left to scan the wares for idiosyncratic favorites. Steven Parrino’s red-enamel-lacquered honeycomb aluminum painting at Massimo De Carlo; the little forest of colorful broomstick sculptures by the late Al Taylor at Zwirner & Wirth; Raoul De Keyser’s gray and blue Staring, 2007, at Zeno X; and the large, wispy Rebecca Horn drawings hung in the same position in Sean Kelly and Galerie Lelong’s adjacent booths, like a visual hiccup, stick out in my memory.

But what was perhaps the most powerful artist statement in the fair is the two-part presentation by Christoph Büchel, at Hauser & Wirth and Maccarone. Training Ground for Training Ground for Democracy, 2007, a piece related to a massive installation intended for MASS MoCA that was never exhibited in its finished state and resulted in a lawsuit brought against the artist by the museum, fills a large, sectioned-off part of the Hauser & Wirth booth. But as a result of the lawsuit, Büchel’s lawyers came into possession of a copy of the museum’s internal correspondence regarding his project, some of which the artist has photocopied, framed, and chosen to present at Maccarone’s booth. It’s visually unprepossessing, but quietly damning. “We know Christoph is crazy,” begins one note. Others discuss how to milk one hundred thousand dollars from a donor, half-jokingly compare Büchel to Saddam Hussein, suggest that other artists redeploy the materials purchased for Büchel’s installation to their own ends, and wrestle with how best to spin this morass in public. The viewer recoils from the callousness of all the talk and wonders whether the institutional accountability Büchel so desperately seeks—he lost the court case—will come to pass.

Left: Dealer Kate MacGarry. Right: Collectors Rebecca and Martin Eisenberg.

By the time I made it to the beach, it seemed like several thousand people were weaving, single file, into and out of the Art Positions containers. Perhaps the perfect transition from ten hours wandering the aisles to Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ fantastic, soul-restoring set on the beach was Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Silent Sound installation—conceived with the help of an “ambisonic consultant” and a “consultant psychologist.” A vaguely symphonic piece composed by J. Spaceman of Spiritualized played inside Kate MacGarry’s thickly padded container. It was almost enough to make one forget the melee outside.

Left: Team Gallery's Jose Freire and Alex Logsdail. Right: Dealer Daniel Buchholz.

Left: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: MCA Chicago trustee Cari Sacks with art adviser Sandy Heller.

Left: Dealer Carol Greene. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with incoming Walker Art Center director Olga Viso and Gladstone Gallery's Rosalie Benitez.

Left: Dealers Pascal Spengemann and Kelly Taxter. Right: Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler.

Left: Andersen_S's Marianne Friis. Right: Hollybush Gardens's Lisa Panting and Malin Stahl.

Left: Dealer Shane Campbell and collector Zoe Dictrow. Right: Lisson Gallery's Elly Ketsea.

Left: Dealer Max Wigram with collector Dianne Wallace. Right: Artist Kori Newkirk.

Left: Dealer Johann König. Right: Dealer James Cohan with James Cohan Gallery's Elyse Goldberg.

Left: Artist Kamrooz Aram with dealer Oliver Kamm. Right: small A Projects's Laurel Gitlen.

Left: Iggy Pop and fans. Right: Dealer Jay Jopling with Ingrid Sischy. (All photos: David Velasco)

Left: Art Basel codirector Annette Schönholzer. Right: Artist Alessandro Codagnone with dealer Emi Fontana.

Left: IBID Projects Magnus Edensvard and Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman. Right: Matthew Marks's Sabrina Buell.

Left: MoMA curators Roxana Marcoci with Christian Rattemeyer. Right: Dealer Kamel Mennour.

Left: Collectors Howard and Barbara Morse. Right: Dealer David Zwirner.

Left: Vilma Gold's Sarah McCrory and Rachel Williams. Right: Lehmann Maupin's Carla Camacho and David Maupin.

Left: Artists Nicole Eisenman and Wynne Greenwood. Right: Pompidou curator Christine Macel with Jordan Wolfson.

Left: Klaus von Nichtssagend's Sam Wilson and Rob Hult. Right: Dealer John Connelly.

Left: Collector Phillip Aarons, dealer David Kordansky, and collector Shelley Aarons. Right: Dealer William Acquavella.

Left: Artist Katy Moran and dealer Stuart Shave. Right: Dealer Eva Presenhuber.

Left: Cary Kwok with Judd Foundation director Barbara Hunt McLanahan. Right: Art adviser Kati Lovaas, publisher Benedikt Taschen, and collector David Teiger.

Left: Dealer Derek Eller. Right: Rivington Arms's Mirabelle Marden and Melissa Bent.

Left: Hauser & Wirth's Roger Tatley. Right: Dealer Michelle Maccarone.

Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps, artists Peter Coffin and Ricci Albenda, and Andrew Kreps director Liz Mulholland. Right: Ancient & Modern's Rob Tufnell.

Left: Deerhoof. Right: NADA president Andrea Smith and artist Javier Piñón.

Left: Sam Keller (right) with a reporter. Right: Curator Nu Nguyen and collector Michael Ovitz.