“I USED TO BE A GYNECOLOGIST! I feel right at home,” jokes Don Rubell in the Rubell Family Collection sculpture court at brunch Tuesday morning, duly cosseted by Nathan Mabry’s supine woman; Mera, his wife of fifty-one years; a dozen “women artists and Instagrammers”; and his daughter Jennifer—or @jenniferrubell, woman-artist Instagrammer. It’s a fitting introduction to “No Man’s Land,” the family’s spectacular new exhibition boasting over one hundred female artists from twenty-eight countries. (Fitting, too, that the first thing Don ever said to me, after we were encouraged to pick up knives at one of his daughter’s performances, was: “I feel like a mohel.” He is not the type of man to fear castration at the hands of a woman, or one who shies away from art that depicts it.)
“It’s all happening just in time for our first woman president,” says Mera of the show, laughing heartily. I ask if she planned on going to the Hillary fund-raiser later in the day, but she deadpans: “She’s already cleaned me out!” Upstairs, Jennifer cracks nuts in the vaginal environs of Lysa III, her interactive mannequin sculpture, as we chitchat; the nuts are imported “from California.” She was inspired to make it, in part, by the Hillary Rodham Clinton nutcrackers “you can buy online.” (Twelve hours later, Don, who has also upscaled his attire for dinner, wants to know who I’m voting for.)
Back among the lady ’grammers, Jennifer’s son Max is the only other male running amok in “No Man’s Land.” The patriarchal imperative being what it is, he “wants some performance art!” Mother gamely spins in a circle—“I’m channeling Mike Kelley. Performa 2009. Did you go?” I didn’t.—as the snappers snip snip snip.
Later that afternoon, the rain has stopped spitting and I’m trucking back to South Beach to see some real performance art, at the official “Art Basel Welcome Reception” in Collins Park. ETERNITY NOW (text by woman artist Sylvie Fleury) blazes in soft neon blue on the facade of the currently in-exile Bass Museum of Art, the NOW in a larger font. “It’s a baobab tree,” a man dwarfed by his heeled wife explains, pointing at a tree. “B-a-o-b-a-b.” I am reminded of a line from the pilot episode of Miami Vice: “This is Miami, pal, where you can’t even tell the players without a program.” Two Serious(ly) (young) Women, (Hubba Hubba Trouba and Ouchy Waa Waa Mama) is the title of a sculpture by Athena Papadopoulos, not just a comment on the vibe. The Paris Hilton DJ set is still a few days away, and yet already a large crystal swings clavicle to clavicle on a woman in a leopard-print skirt.
“Welcome to Miami!” says Marc Spiegler, don of the Basel empire, demurely festive in a dusty pink checked shirt and jacket. I bring up his attire because I ask about when he pierced his ears. “In Gen X, all men worth their salt had their ears pierced and got tattoos. For a long time, I had a hoop, but then I got old. Now the real story is off the record.” He tells the story like a pro journalist, which he once was; he wrote the 2007 New York article “Is Terence Koh’s Sperm Worth $100,000?” Is it, I wanted to know. “It was.” And what is it worth now? “I don’t know. No one’s trying to sell it.” The sculptures decorating the park, however, are for sale, and one knows—because one was once eighteen and met Tino Sehgal and got a monthly MetroCard to be in his “situation”—that you can buy the performance-art pieces as well.
What you cannot buy, perhaps, is a public. “Oh. Performance art,” sneers a man in an untucked paisley shirt he should not have paid anything for, let alone what he did pay. “So this is performance art,” says a man behind me. “Hm. Performance art,” responds his woman. Six men in blackface and Superman fat suits converge in the park’s corner to sing “America the Beautiful,” a performance by William Pope.L. In Xavier Cha’s performance art piece, I watch serious martial artist Ai Ikeda, in silken white boxing pants, long enough to wonder at the butterfly tattoo on her shoulder. An hour later in the Design District—the Venetian Causeway is closed, everyone complains again and again—I get déjà vu watching Silas Riener, proud owner of a constellation of star tattoos on his back, dance in Martha Friedman’s installation at Locust Projects. The bodies of lean, green, fighting machines.
“This is me and Swizz Beatz,” says Jeffrey Deitch outside “Unrealism,” the exhibition of figurative art he curated with Larry Gagosian. He holds up a copy of Haute Living with Jeffrey Deitch and Swizz Beatz on the cover. “It’s just one of those lifestyle publications,” he explains. Swizz Beatz, husband of Alicia Keys, who I would think had a better lifestyle, looks on, bored, or perhaps he just can’t think of something to say to Hans Ulrich Obrist, also in their posse. Inside, looking at Lisa Yuskavage’s sickly hued No Man’s Land, I wonder if the Rubells tried to secure one—she’s made a few—for their own show. (Northview, 2000, is in “No Man’s Land.”) In the painting, a woman squats, a woman bends over; the woman next to me has trouble with her alligator stilettos, tasteful maintenance of her visage aside. “That’s Marina,” said stilettos to her friend, also in stilettos, of Y. Z. Kami’s Untitled (Marina I), a 2001 portrait of The Artist. “Marina!” stilettos says to the tan suits trailing them. “Whoever owns this is sitting on a ton of moola,” says a man of a Francesco Clemente. “It’s so simple. I love it.” Whether he means the art or the acquisition of assets, I do not know, but concur on both points nonetheless.
An hour later the sky churns out cotton candy and I sit down with one hundred other special guests at the Rubell dinner—cohosted by W magazine and Roberto Cavalli and installed on the Rubells’ personal tennis courts, much to Don’s chagrin. Mera has switched boater hats, a black grosgrain ribbon for night. The tables are decorated with, oh…it’s like an empty fish tank…with sand in it…with tousled red and pink flowers slightly less saturated than the one in Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Money Makes Money), from the show, the same fuchsia that lines the rims of Mera’s glasses. “Look at the sky,” says Don. “Don’t forget we’re in Miami.” I couldn’t, not that table talk isn’t the same every city over: We discuss his library. “Art is only a secondary disease.” Forty thousand volumes, they have. I’m convinced, if I wasn’t before, when I toss out three titles at random and he discusses each (The Man Without Qualities, Underworld, and that Lincoln biography about his cabinet my father made me read in high school). Then we talk galleries: “There was no heat in the place,” says a clear-eyed long-haired artist, whose work and personality I quite like. “Yes! But the art was hot! Hot!” shouts Don, smiling. “We bought it all.” The artist doesn’t want to be quoted: “I don’t show there anymore.”
Much later, at the Out of Order x Snarkitecture “Just Another Miami” party cohosted by Obrist (not present), Jacolby Satterwhite (not even in Miami), and Ryan McNamara at the Surflodge, we decry the absence of other pledged cohosts Angela Westwater and Pamela Anderson. “Pamela Anderson is like concentrated Americana. You add water, and she’s a flag,” says Mickey Mahar, one of McNamara’s dancers, age twenty-five. The beautiful, and beautifully mannered, Francesco Vezzoli, in a bedazzled Prada cowboy-style button-up, tells us about his love life. Sorely unrequited. He marvels—a soft lust—at “Luke,” identified as “the man who sleeps in Pamela’s bed,” who has, for the occasion or because he quite often feels like he has a little something-something-on-the-end, cut a large square hole in the back of his black button-up. It complements his tan, and his cowboy hat. “I was hoping to gaze upon new gays, but I’ve seen all these gays before,” says the artist Borna Sammak, speaking for all of us. The painter Sam McKinniss pipes in: “Does Florida have their own gays? Did they have to import all their gays from New York?”
Art might be the last unregulated industry, and for now, the same can be said of its parties. But it’s only Tuesday.