Liquid Assets

Kevin McGarry at the 14th Art Basel Miami Beach

Left: Collector Jorge Pérez and musician Wyclef Jean at a dinner hosted by Surface at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. (Photo: Kelly Taub/BFA.com) Right: Artist Hayden Dunham with dealer Andrea Rosen at Dimensions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. (Photo: Kevin McGarry)

ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS happened Thursday morning, something I look forward to all year. It wasn’t the breakfast celebrating Isaac Julien’s collaboration with Rolls Royce at the National YoungArts Foundation or the Alexandre Arrechea Kreëmart project at the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation. It was the naming of Pantone’s 2016 colors of the year: Rose Quartz and an ethereal cornflower blue called Serenity. 

The announcement is a seemingly simple, top-down decision with massive butterfly effects, like the federal funds rate or the dimensions allowed for a photo posted to Instagram. It was the first time that Pantone had chosen two colors instead of one, and as the company explained to the New York Times, the pairing has to do with “societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity” as well as “an open exchange of digital information that has opened our eyes to different approaches to color usage.” This sounds like a lot to project onto a couple of colors. This sounds like art.

I didn’t spot much Rose Quartz or Serenity in the halls of the Fontainebleau that morning, but there was certainly open exchange of digital information. This year NADA traded the Rat Pack for Afrojack, migrating from the faded glory of the Deauville on North Beach to this bastion of bottle service a couple miles south. The sounds of last night’s parties must have been echoing through the hotel’s marble halls; as I pinned a pass on my collar, the thing I noticed was that I couldn’t hear myself think. 

Left: Whitney Biennial cocurators Mia Locks and Christopher Lew at NADA. (Photo: Kevin McGarry) Right: Serpentine codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist with artist Alex Israel and Bret Easton Ellis on a panel hosted by Surface.

So without hearing or thinking, I widened my eyes and set off scavenging the booths. The first entity I encountered was the Whitney Biennial, i.e., Chris Lew and Mia Locks, two people doubtlessly so pummeled by pitches that they’ve achieved a sublime if practiced state of chill. How is the show coming? “Ask me again in nine months,” Locks dodged. (Fourteen hours later, the duo were again the first people I ran into, at a party in a rock club on Espanola Way sponsored by Material Vodka and helmed by Pati Hertling and many friends. I entertained the hypothesis that Lew & Locks are contractually obligated to hang out together in Miami 24/7 for branding purposes. ABMB Week is, after all, one of the common era’s most unlifelike, real-life manifestations of social networking, where marketing supersedes all other priorities.)

Further down the hall there was a wake in the crowd. Its cause: Hans Ulrich Obrist, who had emerged from peripatetic analysis with Alex Israel to pronounce the art world’s theme for 2016, as drawn from NADA: collage. “There are at least twenty-five pieces here about Rauschenberg,” he said, gesturing with zeal. “Last year Alex told me it was giant shirts and pants,” in the style of Amanda Ross-Ho.

That afternoon Surface hosted a discussion among Obrist, Israel, and Bret Easton Ellis in the penthouse of the 1 Hotel, presaging a talk with the same trio that Art Basel would present at the fair the following day. The topic was Los Angeles, locality and soft power being excellent fodder for Miami ruminations. Fittingly, the venue evoked Malibu on a Dubai scale, consolidating hundreds of millions of dollars of driftwood and burlap. “ ‘Green’ as a fake aesthetic is so funny,” a music producer said as we queued for nigiri.

Left: Dorian Grinspan and Allese Thomson at the Visionaire launch at the Faena Hotel. Right: Visionaire cofounders Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos at the Visionaire launch at the Faena Hotel. (Photo: Kevin McGarry)

The Angelenos talked driving, sex, and frozen yogurt, which triggered my angst about arriving too late for the forty-eight-hour Dominque Ansel (of Cronut fame) pop-up ice cream shop at the Setai. “I ripped Joan Didion off,” Ellis told the room, backlit by a wall of windows looking onto the Atlantic Ocean. “I think that’s what you do as a young writer is find a style that works for you and then rip them off.” No secret in his trade, but wise words during an art fair where young artists are perhaps less matter-of-fact about emulating their peers and forebears.

By dusk I was among the first to arrive at the grounds of the Faena Hotel. I walked about a mile to the swath of beach where a string quartet playing Outkast scored the bracelet allocation for the launch of Visionaire’s sixty-fifth edition, FREE. Spotlit ladders and a rising castle of mechanical smoke buttressed the oversize crates scattered along the beach containing complimentary posters by artists ranging from David Salle to Miley Cyrus. Viva Miami! The event was unabashedly art directed to inspire documentation, with naturally occurring selfie stations lending spatial order to what was otherwise on Cartesian par with Burning Man.

As storm clouds gathered, I was already late to a charity event at the Delano hotel I wished to attend primarily because it was sponsored by a vodka company and called “WATER ‘the most important drink in the world.’ ” It started to rain on the line; people were getting wet. Some with early alphabet names mistakenly in the “M-Z” queue had to get wet for twice as long. Others who were not on the list fumbled to retrieve confirmation e-mails, raindrops accumulating on their phones. By the time I reached the tent in the back, the downpour felt like a natural disaster. But I was basically in irony-ecstasy that the pool club of the Delano hotel during the vodka-for-water-benefit was flooding. 

Left: Dev Hynes, Nelly Furtado, and Ryan McNamara. Right: Dev Hynes and Ryan McNamara in Dimensions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

Outside, Collins Avenue itself was nearly two feet deep. I was worried about the crates of posters and buried wires at the Faena Hotel, but I was selfishly more worried about how I was going to get to an intimate dinner for Andrea Rosen Gallery at Mr. Chow in fifteen minutes. A man implored me to join him in a reluctant Uber. Inside the Suburban, which was quickly becoming a boat, he pitched me his online magazine that has allegedly “cornered 15 percent of art-world traffic online,” despite being only the 2,053,365th-most-visited site, according to Alexa. It was a mixed blessing that the driver kicked us out into the middle of the street. Stranded amid the rising tides, my last hope before fording a river that smelled like fundament was to solicit a taxi whose passenger window was going down. I shouted for help. Through the window came an iPhone. They were videoing me. I gave up.

I was late to Mr. Chow, but by then the city was operating according to its own weird water-time. The restaurant, while dry, was also in a state of calamity, with Larry Gagosian, intergenerational Chows, and professional athletes striding among hundreds of less fortunate people who seemed to have reservations and no tables. As our group composed chicken lettuce wraps to dubstep, I observed other dealers cap their day at the fair with another two hours of standing around.

The rain had presumably cleared enough for Ryan McNamara and Dev Hynes’s performance Dimensions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami to go on, but we knew it would be a photo finish to get across the causeway. Our hearts sank when we saw that our Uber driver had heedlessly pulled into the purgatory of the W hotel driveway. But the formidable Rosen (Andrea, not Aby, whose own banquet was taking place at the Dutch) stepped into the logjam and stretched out her palm to halt the other LUX SUVs so ours could do a five-point U-turn back onto Collins Avenue. Accounts of aquatic carnage hit the Internet. “This city won’t even be here in a few years,” artist Daniel Keller pointed out. The weather event underscored how unsustainable Art Basel in Miami Beach is—more vulnerable to the elements and to Uber oversaturation than perhaps to the oscillations of the international art market (whose players will likely never tire of partying).

Left: Traffic on the causeway. (Photo: Kevin McGarry) Right: Inside the Kill Your Idols/Material Vodka party.

When we got to PAMM it was 10:45 PM, and the performance was in crescendo. Stagehands pushed fluorescent floats on casters around the museum’s periphery, each a platform for a dancer in a correspondingly colored bodysuit and a musician, playing off one another, contrapuntal. They all inched toward a central station where Hynes was jamming on a bass guitar and McNamara, possessed by his signature zombified stare, was convulsing in and out of rhythm. As the performers drifted into formation like Voltron, merging the various tracks of Hynes’s unique musical score, I recognized that this promenade overlooking Biscayne Bay was precisely where I began my week, on Monday, when a dinner for the museum’s namesake had dissolved into a concert by Wyclef Jean. (“Dolla dolla bills y’all! Dolla dolla bills y’all!” Wyclef had shouted as he carried Jorge Pérez around on his shoulders while singing the chorus of “Sweetest Girl.” “Turn up y’all! Turn up y’all!”) 

Miami isn’t realer than more insular art-world rituals. On the contrary, what has spilled over to fascinate the worlds of media, fashion, music, and the consumerist capital of Latin America is the week’s hyperbole—a commodity that fuels the art world even in ostensibly restrained instantiations, but which is more overtly on display in this pig-pile of branded parties. People love to complain, but ABMB is one of the few tent-pole events where members of the art world interface with other people. I can’t recall the last time I was at ARCO or the opening of the Gwangju Biennale introducing Julia Peyton-Jones to Pamela Anderson.

By Friday evening, the week’s sales and excesses were suddenly eclipsed when one woman stabbed another in the neck and arm with an X-Acto knife in the Nova section of the big fair. An audience was assembling for the second coming of the Ellis-Israel-Obrist conversation when a ripple of text messages struck the room dumb. Media spun a ridiculous falsehood of the attack being perpetrated by a collector vying for a piece of art. On Saturday I spoke to dealer Robbie Fitzpatrick, who described an equally surreal but true scene of “smacking phones out of the hands of people” who were convinced the blood spurting on the carpet was an impressively visceral flourish of performance art. By Sunday the photos of a girl covering her face as her blouse ran red and another meeting her eyes with the camera’s lens as she was handcuffed dominated all the feeds. Whether real or digital, I caught glimpse somewhere of a meme T-shirt that said “I survived Miami Art Basel 2015” with the 🔪 emoji.

Left: The Eckhaus Latta runway show at the MoMA PS1 party at the Delano. Right: Dealer Alex Freedman walks in the Eckhaus Latta runway show at the MoMA PS1 party at the Delano.

Everyone was still digesting the news and debating rumors (What was the motive? Was the attacker, Siyuan Zhao, an aspiring Chinese starlet or an Upper East Side–based architecture student?) when I arrived at a rooftop reception for a special-edition vaporizer designed by the collective K-Hole. I saw a woman there who, ten or eleven Basels ago, had stolen all the wallets of everyone staying in the four-bedroom oceanfront condo we had rented for $600 a week. How things have changed. 

An hour later, MoMA PS1’s party commenced at the Delano, still soggy but habitable. Kevin Beasley DJed and Lady Bunny erupted onto the pool’s stage, a geyser of pure crass wit spouting a medley of top-forty hits rejiggered with vitriolic puns. (“I don’t care! I’ll suck it!” she sang to the tune of Icona Pop’s “I Love It.”) “We are here to celebrate greater New York!” she shouted. Surrounded by palm trees, that was news to me, but then K8 Hardy, McNamara, Alex Freedman et al. were diving into the pool for an inspired, chaotic Eckhaus Latta “runway” show. Miami is a singular cultural crossroads where the relaxed hedonism of the tropics is tempered by the volatile Americana of aggro bouncers and potentially litigious guests. As if by magic, no one was body slammed for getting in the water.

Left: Dealer Nicole Russo at NADA. Right: Artists Pauline Boudry and A. K. Burns with Museum of Art and Design curator Katerina Llanes. (Photo: BFA.com)

Left: Dealer Lisa Cooley at NADA. Right: Dealers Michael Gillespie and John Thomson at NADA.

Left: Dealers Tamas Banovich and Magdalena Sawon at the Untitled fair. Right: Dealer Josée Bienvenu at the Untitled fair.

Left: MeLo-X, Jonas Tahlin, and dealer Sean Kelly at the Absolut Elyx & Water for People Benefit at the Delano. Right: Miguel performs at the Artsy, Nautilus, Interview, and Sandro sunset BBQ. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)

Left: Curator Lizzie Neilson and collector Anita Zabludowicz. Right: Martial artist Ai Ikeda and artist Xavier Cha on Collins Avenue. (Photos: Kevin McGarry)

Left: Dealer Magnus Edensvard at NADA. Right: Dealer Derek Eller at NADA.

Left: Dancer and choreographer Sigrid Lauren in Dimensions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Right: Dancer Christopher Argodale (right)  in Dimensions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. (Photos: Kelly Taub/BFA.com)

Left: Lady Bunny performing at the MoMA PS1 party at The Delano. Right: Artist Kevin Beasley DJing at the MoMA PS1 party at the Delano. (Photos: Carly Erickson/BFA.com)