Fair Enough

David Velasco on Art Basel Miami Beach


Left: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin and artist Takashi Murakami. Right: The Gossip's Beth Ditto. (Except where noted, all photos: Ryan McNamara)

RECESSION MIAMI BASEL looks a lot like boom-time Miami Basel. Since its inception in 2002, ABMB has become an annual ritual of rigorous sublimation and denial, where the cultural spheres of art, fashion, film, and design collide in moments both vulgar and brilliant. Collins Avenue, the strip of sparkling Art Deco hotels buffering the Convention Center from the beach, is the site of much of this alchemy, and the three-block stretch between the twenty-four-hour Walgreens and the Shore Club constitutes a veritable social obstacle course.

But Collins isn’t always the center of the scene. My first stop on Tuesday night was the Ice Palace for NADA’s opening-night gala benefit celebrating the New Museum. The usual bevy of guests trickled in—hardly a flood, but then who wants to pay $150 to come early these days? There was much fair talk—if not necessarily talk of this particular fair. Nicholas Frank, cofounder of such alternative stalwarts as the Milwaukee International Art Fair, is organizing another in a fishing hut atop a frozen lake in Winnipeg. “No hot works allowed.” Meanwhile, Rodrigo Mallea Lira, co-owner of New York’s Fruit and Flower Deli, claimed that his gallery’s oracle, the otherworldly being the gallery consults on all decisions, had called for a cessation on all art-fair participation. “At the end of the road is where the journey begins,” Lira gnomically declared. Walking through the booths, I saw that Lisa Cooley had suave new light works by Andy Coolquitt, while Klaus von Nichtssagend featured smart Styrofoam sculptures by Thomas Øvlisen. Looking around surreptitiously, gallery director Ingrid Bromberg Kennedy kindly demonstrated the sculptures’ portability by picking one up. “Ingrid, no!” joked fellow proprietor Rob Hult. “Put that down before a collector sees you.”

Left: Vladimir Doronin and Naomi Campbell. Right: Whitney curator Shamim Momin.

Everyone who wasn’t at NADA seemed to be at Anri Sala’s opening at MoCA North Miami, or the Naomi Campbell “retrospective” in the design district, or Emmanuel Perrotin’s opening for Gelitin’s new show, “The Pig.” Arriving very late at Perrotin, I bumped into a blissed-out Takashi Murakami, wearing a massive plush ball of a suit and dancing wildly in the gallery’s foyer. “You look familiar. Are you one of Perrotin’s artists?” asked a curious woman. Murakami nodded vociferously but didn’t stop prancing. “He’s finally living his ultimate dream—he’s become a giant cartoon character,” a friend observed. I couldn’t shake from my mind the acute perverseness of the gesture; its amalgamation of “furry” sexual subcultures and his performance of the artist as court jester hit all the right notes.

In the end, though, it was “The Station,” a scrappy but effusive show (curated by Shamim Momin and artist Nate Lowman) down the road from Perrotin, that won the night. “This is Shamim unbridled—no board, no acquisitions committee,” noted one sharp dealer. “It’s better than the biennial.” On the ground floor, Momin and Lowman juxtaposed a massive network of Sterling Ruby pylons with savvy Haim Steinbach displays and Martha Friedman’s labyrinth of knotted monumental rubber bands. “I’ve finally stopped making phallic work!” Friedman enthused. Three flights up a dingy stairwell was the clincher: a slightly scaled-down version of Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s “Hello Meth Lab in the Sun,” originally presented in Marfa, Texas. In the sterile retail/residential building housing the exhibition, Freeman and Lowe’s cramped and caliginous meth lab “reproduction” produced another, more sordid, state of mind.

Left: Dealer Larry Gagosian. Right: Dealers Lisa Overduin and Kristina Kite.

By 11:50 AM Wednesday morning, the typical passel of collectors and advisers had formed a phalanx at the main fair’s VIP entrance, gossiping amiably and circling booths on their maps. Inside, dealers sat patiently at their stands, preparing for the onslaught. When the doors opened, the steady stream of card waving and bag checking commenced.

At the fair, it all comes down to place. Contra Dave Hickey’s recent claims in Vanity Fair, an art fair is not so much about diminishing its participants outright as it is about putting them in their place. It may not be the right place, it certainly might not be the place one wants, but everyone—collectors, dealers, artists, press—has a position, and those that find order comforting might take comfort in that. There are benefits to seeing the fair as an object lesson in recondite administration, in the art world’s strange and fluid grammars of categorization. The number one benefit is that it keeps one from taking the process personally. Psychologize it too much and you’ll go nuts.

Every occasion begged for analysis: Is this a sign of collapse? “Usually when I fly down here I think, ‘If this plane crashes it’ll take the whole art world with it,’” said MoMA president emerita Agnes Gund. “This time, there were perhaps five of us.” The front page of the Miami Gazette divined catastrophe in the plethora of open parking spaces around the convention center. Observing the Cassandra-esque trend, Art & Auction’s Sarah Douglas sarcastically noted that there was no caviar at this year’s UBS dinner. But if one meal seemed underwhelming, another was extravagant, and if one event seemed thin, another was “past capacity.”

But a few concrete things were missing—Gavin Brown, Sadie Coles, and Marianne Boesky had all opted out of ABMB for one reason or another. Boesky, who was roaming the aisles at both NADA and Basel, said that she hadn’t even applied this year. “I’ve been told I’ll never get back in, but who can tell?” she added. Rivington Arms had also jumped ship, though only because owners Mirabelle Marden and Melissa Bent had decided to close the gallery. Fairs abhor a vacuum, however, and the smart Young Turks at Wallspace quickly filled the gallery’s spot in Art Positions.

Left: Wallspace Gallery's Janine Foeller with artist Martha Friedman. Right: Art Basel directors Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler.

After all the status jockeying was complete, there were still the objects to contend with. An Alexander Calder jewelry booth at PaceWildenstein raised a few eyebrows. At David Zwirner, Alice Neel portraits and an Elizabeth Peyton made for a sweet, makeshift triptych, while at Hotel Gallery, a set of collaborative paintings between Michael Bauer and designer Peter Saville ruled the roost.

“Sex and death will carry us through any crisis,” quipped Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson, eyeing her booth’s sepulchral Vanessa Beecroft nude sculpture and a Stephen Sprouse painting of a man on a cross. I noted that the HAPPY sign blinking on and off seemed incongruous. “If sales are down, tomorrow we’ll put up an Aurel Schmidt drawing that says IT’S OVER.”

So what is the purpose of an art fair in the current market? “Walking in to install on the first day, I felt like a roadie for an old, irrelevant rock star,” I heard a dealer complain. But the fair is also a congregation, a place to powwow. Dealer Brent Sikkema, who from all appearances has fared pretty well in recent years, had a more buoyant attitude. “If we’re not going to be making money, at least we can do it in an interesting way,” he laughed.

At Harris Lieberman’s handsome booth, wallpapered with a mesh coating by Evan Holloway, I talked to co-owner Jesse Washburne-Harris about the market. “Let’s put it this way,” she said, in between bites of her La Sandwicherie sandwich. “Normally, I don’t have a chance to sit and eat lunch. Granted, it’s 5 PM, but still.”

Left: Dealers Michael Lieberman and Jessie Washburne-Harris. Right: Faye Dunaway.

Galleries seemed to be managing to make back costs, and perhaps a bit more, but few people I spoke to were buying. Faye Dunaway, who is working on financing her first feature film, was on a strict budget. This was her second Miami fair, and when I initially spotted her she seemed at home amid the Yves Kleins and Picassos at Galerie Gmurzynska’s cozy beige stall. Later, at Gagosian, she sidled up to me.

“Jackie,” she said tersely, pointing to a compact blue canvas.

I nodded.

“Who did this?”

“Warhol,” I responded.

“Is it a photograph?”

I told her I thought it was a silk screen.

“Hmm . . . Nice shot.”

Nearly every celebrity has a dealer to guide them through the fair: On Wednesday, a giggly Naomi Campbell was tethered to Tony Shafrazi; on Thursday, Jay-Z and Beyoncé took a tour with the formidable Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. (At the sight of Beyoncé, one friend began to sing, “If you liked it then you shoulda put a red dot on it.”)

Left: Collector Adam Lindemann with 303 Gallery's Lisa Spellman. Right: Dealers Michael Jenkins and Brent Sikkema.

Later Wednesday evening at the Raleigh, it was déjà vu as Deitch Projects again flaunted its hipster muscle; this year, the gallery finagled a bigger act for the hotel’s soigné backyard than fair organizers did for the annual Art Loves Music concert on the beach (French electro favorite Yelle), securing the Gossip, boisterous Portland, Oregon–based fag-rock extraordinaires, to put on a show for the gallery’s eclectic clique of artists, curators, and in-town billionaires. Edyth Broad popped in her earplugs as Eli rocked out at a table in the back. A meticulously decorated Rachel Zoe danced front and center with hotelier André Balazs, peering up in awe at voluptuous Gossip front woman Beth Ditto, who was sporting a patchwork dress made by members of the opening drag act, the Kingpins. It wasn’t long before a crowd, Deitch included, clambered onstage.

But no matter how much fun you’re having, there’s always that nagging feeling that somewhere, out there in the palmy, breezy night, someone is having more fun. Even Ditto, our woman of the hour, wasn’t immune. “So,” she cajoled the crowd, “can any of you rich people get me into the Grace Jones party?”

Left: Rachel Zoe. Right: Art Production Fund codirector Yvonne Force Villareal.

Left: Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller with art adviser Thea Westreich. Right: Dealer Javier Peres with Printed Matter director AA Bronson.

Left: Artist Ryan Johnson. Right: Dia director Philippe Vergne.

Left: Artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. Right: Artist Nate Lowman.

Left: MoMA president emeritus Agnes Gund. Right: Hotel Gallery's Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart with Malcolm McLaren and Young Kim. (Photo: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Artists Dana Frankfort and Dana Schutz.

Left: PaceWildenstein's Alexander Calder jewelry booth. Right: A view of the Gossip's crowd at the Raleigh. (Photo: Beth Ditto)

Left: Dealer Stefania Bortolami with curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. Right: Dealer Max Hetzler.

Left: The Kingpins. Right: Klaus von Nichtssagend directors Sam Wilson and Rob Hult.

Left: Dealer Andrea Smith and artist Mike Womack. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Dealer Lisa Cooley.

Left: Dealer Alberto Mugrabi. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Branstrom's Andreas Branstrom and Ebba von Baumgarten with Fruit and Flower Deli's Rodrigo Mallea Lira.

Left: Nicholas Frank with small A project's Laurel Gitlen. Right: Curator Ruth Noack with Miami Art Museum chief curator Roger Buergel. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler with artist Laurent Grasso. Right: Dealer Eva Presenhuber.

Left: 303 Gallery's Mari Spirito. Right: Western Exhibition's Keith Couser and Scott Speh with artists Stan Shellabarger and Dutes Miller.

Left: Dealer Marianne Boesky. Right: Chicks on Speed's Melissa Logan with dealer Kate MacGarry.

Left: Gelitin's Florian Reither with artist Olaf Breuning. Right: The Breeder's Nadia Gerazouni (left) with artist Angelo Plessas (right).

Left: Artist Kori Newkirk. Right: Vilma Gold's Rachel Williams and Laura Lord.

Left: Artists Sam Roeck and Jesper Just. Right: Curator Olga Sviblova.

Left: Karma International's Karolina Dankon and Marina Leuenberger. Right: Hotelier André Balasz.

Left: Myto's Karen Huber and Belen Moro. Right: IBID Projects's Yianni Vassiliou and Magnus Evdensvard.

Left: Jancar Jones's Ava Jancar and Renehan Jones. Right: Curator Michelle Cotton, Studio Voltaire's Joe Scotland and Ancient & Modern's Rob Tuffnell.

Left: Dealer Adreiana Mihail and artist Alexandra Croitoru. Right: Green on Red Gallery's Jerome O'Driscoll and Mary Cremin.