Cabana Fever


Left: Cynthia Rowley with Bruce Weber at his book launch. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Sotheby's Tobias Meyer with his partner, art consultant Mark Fletcher, and photographer Todd Eberle.

The wonder of Art Basel Miami Beach this year was not that in a mere four days 36,000 people could exchange untold millions of dollars and still remain friendly. Or that tiny, ant-infested, beachfront hotel rooms with thin walls, bare floors, and misanthropic help cost nearly $500 a night. Or that cab drivers have no idea how to get, well, anywhere. It was that we could go to any number of competing parties and performances extending from no less than five different art fairs and still suspect that we were missing something. And we would be right.

Each evening between Tuesday and Saturday brought a new social crisis, forcing me to leave one event early only to arrive late at another, barely registering anything I happened to catch in between. All of this, of course, followed a day that would begin with a visit to one of Miami’s many impressive private collections or public nonprofits before hitting the road to go from one art fair to another, only to head back to my hotel to work and gear up for the full evening ahead.

By Thursday, I had yet to figure out a less stumblebum way to plan. As the day dawned, I downed my Cuban colado and decided to just go with the flow, joining several hundred invitees at the Rubell Family Collection in Wynwood, where a special exhibition of Polish art (mostly painting) was on view. (Goodbye Leipzig School!)

From there, Clarissa Dalrymple and I were lucky to catch a ride to collector Dennis Scholl’s warehouse, World Class Boxing. (Attending these art fairs is a bit like combat reporting, where you keep hopping on whatever helicopter is heading out to the next battlefield.) There, we discovered a stupendous new Paul Chan video installation with Lotte Reiniger/William Kentridge-style silhouettes of recognizable objects projected over a rectangle of shifting light on the floor. Chan calls it a “hallucination” of religion and politics, one of a seven-part series (more! more!) also currently on view at the ICA in Boston.

Next was the NADA fair at the Ice Palace Film Studios, also in northwest Miami. We arrived just before the free brunch ended, thank goodness—touring eighty-four galleries on an empty stomach would have been a daunting task—after which I spent four adrenalin-producing hours walking and talking new art. I almost didn’t make it past the Elizabeth Dee Gallery booth, the first one I visited. Here I found myself pining for a Miranda Lichtenstein Polaroid still life (only $1,800), which she made by photographing bowls of fruit and vases of flowers, setting the photos against delicately painted backdrops saturated in romantic light, and rephotographing the whole thing.

Left: Art Production Fund's Yvonne Force with husband and artist Leo Villareal. Right: Artist Max Farago with Rivington Arms's Melissa Bent at The Delano's Art Bar. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for such stuff—it must be the Impressionist devil in me. Too embarrassed to admit it, I turned to the Gareth James mirrored bubblewrap stacks topped with blue-paper violins. “He considers them drawings,” Dee told me, though she didn't know why. Josephine Meckseper’s kinky, smart, politico-consumer critique shop windows ($25,000 each) were absorbing too. But the work that really grabbed me and wouldn't let go was a new painting by Pieter Schoolwerth of a couple playing cards and showing their hands in unexpected ways. I almost couldn't go home without it, but of course it was already sold ($15,000).

I had pretty much the same experience everywhere I went at NADA, and only wished for deeper pockets. At Daniel Reich’s well-curated booth, for example, some of the standout photo-works turned out to have been created by writer Gary Indiana. I liked the Christian Holstad erased-newspaper drawings too, but perhaps not as much as the erased-newspaper drawings by Matt Bryans on offer at London’s Kate McGarry. The floor-to-ceiling environment at Rivington Arms was terrific too. I hardly made it to a third of NADA’s galleries before it was time to run back to South Beach for a quick change into my evening duds, but I was still too late for cocktails on the palm-lined, poolside terrace at the Raleigh, where Jay Jopling was hosting at dinner at one table and Vanity Fair correspondent Bob Colacello was heading up another. I waved to Bob as I passed, hoping to get back there later to visit with the various Brandolinis seated there with Jaime Frankfurt, Nadine Johnson, Virginia Coleman, and I don’t remember who else.

Still, when at last I made it back to the cabanas, where art advisors Mark Fletcher and Yvonne Force were hosting a Moroccan buffet, I began to feel as if I had finally landed in the right place—only to learn that I had missed Eli and Edye Broad, who left after drinks to attend the hottest dinner in town. This was Norman Braman’s fete for Eli Broad, David Rockefeller, Patty Cisneros, Howard Rachofsky, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist at the downtown Dupont Building, a seventeen-story skyscraper that bankers’ art advisor Manuel Gonzalez later described as “the most spectacular restoration of an Art Deco building anywhere.”

Still, I was happy where I was, listening to Todd Eberle and David Tieger describe the G-5 jet on which Larry Gagosian spirited them to the German foundry where the stainless steel elephant that Tieger had purchased from Jeff Koons’s “Celebration” series was belatedly reaching its final stage. “I mean, it had been so many years, I didn't dare even think about it,” Tieger said, “So this was a fantastic experience.” As was uncrating it on his front lawn in New Jersey, where the staff, which includes a few Muslims, apparently draped the elephant’s head in a chador, turning the whole scene into a kind of crèche.

Left: David Tieger. Right: Rivington Arms's Mirabelle Marden, artist Dan Colen, and Peres Projects's Javier Peres at The Delano's Art Bar. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

I turned to face Martin Eder, Nate Lowman, Barnaby Furnas, Dan Colen, Lorna Simpson, and a table of Brits including Sarah Lucas, grouped there with Dalrymple, Sadie Coles, and Gavin Brown, none of whom seemed very interested in anyone who wasn’t British. Didn’t matter. Over dinner, I got to hear Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn try to stir up Lorna Simpson and Thelma Golden over the Annie Leibovitz “Wizard of Oz” shoot in Vogue. “I’d really like to have heard the conversation that convinced Jasper Johns to be the Cowardly Lion,” she said. What about Kara Walker as Glinda? “I don’t think I would have done it,” Simpson said, leaving the door open a crack.

Force had a white fur wrap thrown over her glittery Dolce & Gabbana dress, and may have been the only person clothed appropriately for the suddenly chilly weather. I spent part of the post-dinner conversation huddled around a heat lamp with Amanda Sharp, listening to her compare Art Basel Miami Beach to her own co-creation, the Frieze Art Fair. Not surprisingly, she liked Frieze better. “I think the character of these things depends entirely on their context,” she said. Did she mean Miami was too tawdry for art? “You answered your own question,” came the reply.

Then it was back to the same old same old: go upstairs to the Penthouse party that hotelier André Balazs and Nadine Johnson were giving for Bruce Weber and Sofia Coppola? Or retire so I could get to the breakfast at Dennis Scholl’s art-crammed Dilido Island home before the Debra Singer-led tour of it ended and the Art Basel Conversations “Philanthropy” panel began? There, a thoroughly media-trained Rockefeller, Broad, Cisneros, and Rachofsky had to respond to moderator Richard Flood’s observation that “You can live well and still afford to give.”

The standing-room-only crowd hung on every ho-hum word, the only surprise arriving with the realization that the first person to walk out was none other than Alain Robbe-Grillet. (Who even knew the salt-and-pepper-bearded nouvelle vague author was still with us?) Apparently he had come to town to speak at the Rauschenberg tribute the night before. Perhaps he knew in advance that the patrons-to-be would queue up to have the star “venture philanthropist” panelists autograph their programs and wanted to beat the front of the line—unless he too had to race back downtown for the opening of Ella Cisneros’s new art space, CIFO (Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation).

Reaching the door with barely five minutes to spare, I found google-eyed art-goers walking, zombie-like, through darkened video rooms curated by Michael Rush, who had included a rare Francesca Woodman work where she takes off her clothes, white-washes her body and “paints” herself on the floor. “Disgusting,” said one cosmetized passerby. And I thought I had come upon something really priceless.

Off I went to see the Jose Iraola and Alxandre Arrechea works at Alonso Art (terrific) and, in one final stab at beach-free tourism, headed over to the Pulse Art Fair a few blocks away. No sooner was I inside than a Sotheby’s real estate agent grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go until I helped her choose which Arnold Odermatt photograph to buy. “The one without the car crash,” I said. “You really think so?” she asked, looking concerned. “I know so,” I said, my own anxiety growing. I had to get out of there before I actually bought the Orit Raff graffitied-schooldesk photo that had zinged me at Julie Saul. Besides, I had to choose a dress for dinner, get to the restaurant, and find a way back before the Hugo Boss Prize party ended.

Talk about a luxury problem! Especially with the suppurating wound of New Orleans practically in Miami’s backyard. Art-fair fever can make you forget. Can we talk priorities? Yes. Just not right now.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Lorna Simpson. Right: Reena Spaulings Fine Arts's Emily Sundblad and artist John Kleckner at The Delano's Art Bar. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)