Door to Door

Kaitlin Phillips around the 14th Art Basel Miami Beach

Left: Bret Easton Ellis Periscopes artist Alex Israel. Right: Mario Testino with dealer Daniel Buchholz. (Photos: David Velasco)

ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT I SAT, the lone New Yorker in a hotel room of an LA man and his LA friends, with the artist Alex Israel, who was lying on the couch wearing black sunglasses of his own design: “I was thinking about driving around and needing sunglasses in Los Angeles in the car. You’re driving. It made sense. Because it’s bright.” “High by the Beach” played on the stereo. Having basically written this very scene in 1985, in that first book with that first sentence—“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles”—Bret Easton Ellis closed the sliding doors to the private terrace, and sat down to smoke a cigarette.

“They’re adults. What is this. It’s retarded,” said Ellis an hour prior, Periscoping, with amused contempt, the line of angry civilians waiting, not at all civilly, to get into the penthouse party at the new Faena Hotel in Miami Beach. Do you go out a lot, I wanted to know. “I live in LA. So, no.” Despite a career spent mining his bêtes noires for echt party people, he seemed perturbed to be subjected to the social mores of South Beach. Or plain bored. I said I hated the party, half to warm up Ellis, but also to warn off the collector David Simkins, who’d just arrived. He’s very fun! “Isn’t it your party?” asked a woman behind me, to Simkins. I halfheartedly apologized, but he cracked up and patted me on the head. Ellis put the red rose I had ripped out of a bouquet in his lapel. (“You do you,” sighed the PR girl on hand.)

I had in fact hated the party, despite having a soft spot for the unmanned bathtub-of-Perrier-Jouët “bar” and a pang of regret at exiting just as a tan clan of aging Italian men boasting a European flair for exposed button-up midriffs arrived with Mario Testino. “Darling!” he cried, probably because I yelled “Mario!” and threw my arms in the air. (An old party trick.) I brought up art. “Art is good!” He said, pausing dramatically and tapping my right clavicle. “Or art is bad!”

Left: New Museum associate director and director of exhibitions Massimiliano Gioni with Giacomo Gioni. Right: Artist Francesco Vezzoli, Garage Museum founder Dasha Zhukova, and Derek Blasberg. (Photo: Billy Farrell/BFA.com)

It’s certainly true of the parties, and the requisite social rigmarole that ensnares anyone with a passing interest in the Miami Basel circuit. Civilians spend Basel sweating in stasis, trying to manipulate the lines, the lists, and their luck. Watching my fellow man stomp heels and wag tongues at impassive doormen last night, I was reminded of a theory the writer-editor Chris Bollen espoused at the Interview magazine–sponsored interview of Francesco Vezzoli a mere twelve hours before, over brunch at Tiffany’s. Bollen playful-seriously accused all artists of the Dunning-Kruger effect, “a psychological term for people who highly exaggerate their skill sets. I feel like all artists have to be sufferers of it. What you are trying to achieve, like, outweighs even your own experience of what it is.” (In layman’s terms, to quote Rocky, “You gotta be a moron... you gotta be a moron to want to be a fighter,” which is just about the only segue I could think of to mention that Sylvester Stallone posed in front of Jimmie Durham’s Still Life with Spirit and Xitle, the 1994 Chrysler Spirit being crushed by a volcanic boulder, at the Art Basel’s vernissage yesterday. “Our booth weighs twenty-five tons,” joked Jayne Johnson, the director of Peter Freeman Inc. That’s about $50/lb, just FYI.)

Aesthetically, I’m more willing to diagnose the suits from last night with Dunning-Kruger; the men without so much as a Wikipedia entry, or even a personality, let alone charisma or looks, God forbid politesse, trying to talk their way into clubs. But I’m being morbid. “What is your criteria? I just want to learn,” said a man, angrily. “There’s no criteria,” said the doorman, a real cool customer. And there were women too: “You don’t understand the culture,” lisped (or rasped) a thickly beautiful woman in a thick Italian accent. “You don’t understand the culture.” Neither, apparently, did she, not that I don’t sympathize with the trials of a chunky-junky-jewelry woman. It’s a postlapsarian scene, baby—you can’t just walk in on the Louboutins you never learned to walk in. Some can, of course, and if you have it within the confines of your personality to learn from Ingrid Sischy, then by God learn from the master. Laurie Anderson writes, in this publication, of being turned away from an art party by “gatekeepers in unctuous unison.” To which Sischy replied: “C’mon, let’s go around back and climb in a window.” You know, style. You know it when you see it.

Culture’s a bit more of a toss-up. And wasn’t it culture we were after? One doesn’t hajj to Basel—year in and year out, let alone “once in a lifetime”—without, um, spiritual goals in mind. To the extent that all goals are just resolutions, and therefore manifest themselves to diluted gestures, I begrudgingly listened to what felt like an hour-long performance of a Chinese opera at the Warhol Museum dinner for Michael Chow at MR CHOW. Just to be clear, I grudged the high-minded soul who instructed all waiters not to serve alcohol during the performance, which might have softened the palette of our ears.

Left: LACMA director Michael Govan with dealer Vito Schnabel. Right: Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner with artist Michael Chow. (Photos: Billy Farrell/BFA.com)

Perhaps it was that the VIP table—and roped off petting-zoo area (a look-but-don’t-touch kind of zoo actually)—was not deprived of its bottle service: Russell Simmons, Michael Govan, Basel’s First Son Vito, China Chow, etc. (I was informed shortly thereafter that the Mr. Chow party was meant to be enjoyed for its vulgarity. Noted.) Leonardo DiCaprio was not present, though he was spotted at the fair, and later by Nellie Blue—known in New York as the Thursday-night host at Paul’s Baby Grand, holding court tonight at Le Baron—at the beach party following the Artsy-Nautilus dinner, which I missed, though I waited in line for the party just long enough to see publisher Dorian Grinspan, twenty-three, moving his entourage of enviable cheekbones to Le Baron. (I passed.)

Of the parties I did not attempt, a short transcription of text messages:

Of the Sophie performance for Sotheby’s, from a spirited gay man: “It’s full of young and cute people. If that’s what you’re into.” (It’s not.)

Of the Jeremy Scott party at the Surflodge, from Vanity Fair’s editor-about-town: “Paris Hilton’s skin. Glowing.”

Of the Vito Schnabel W Hotel party we have to look forward to tonight, from a woman about to move to Los Angeles: “It can be fun when you’re in it, but a lot of thirsty people. There’s like three lines. You have to go through holding cells. You wait in one line. You wait in another line.”

Oh, but why the hell not.

Left: Out of Order publisher Dorian Grinspan and Christen Wilson. Right: Casey Spooner with photographers Asger Carlsen and Luke Gilford. (Photos: Billy Farrell/BFA.com)

Left: Dealer Johann König (right). Right: Dealers Katie Rashid and Jayne Drost Johnson. (Photo: Kaitlin Phillips)

Left: Russell Simmons. (Photo: Billy Farrell/BFA.com) Right: Collector Susan Hort, dealer José Freire, and collector Michael Hort. (Photo: Kaitlin Phillips)

Left: Regen Projects's Isha Welsh and Ben Thornborough. (Photo: Kaitlin Phillips) Right: Artist Katherine Bernhardt Elena Soboleva. (Photo: Billy Farrell/BFA.com)