HOW MUCH ART CAN YOU TAKE? This is a question that: a) I pondered Thursday morning as I trotted, alongside the legions of art faithful, into the Deauville Beach Resort for the overcrowded opening preview kicking off this year’s edition of NADA Miami Beach; b) probably came to mind because I have a teenage memory of going to a punk club, not so far from this very fair, where I saw the words tattooed across the sweaty chest of a corpulent, probably drunk musician in some fast, loud band, and I guess it seared into my memory; c) pretty much defines my experience at every fair?
Those masses streaming into the Deauville entered a three-ring circus: Le Jardin (house left), the Richelieu Ballroom (center stage), or the Napoleon Ballroom (house right). All in all there were seventy-six exhibitors, and twenty-six NADA project spaces—which is to say, it was only a tad less overwhelming than Art Basel Miami Beach. Napoleon occupied the largest space, and here I found Rachel Uffner’s knockout solo booth featuring three of Sam Moyer’s seven-by-ten-foot weathered wall sculptures: canvases dyed with India ink, folded and creased, and left outdoors to dry. They suitably recalled night swimming in the Atlantic—the best thing to do in Miami. In a similar vein, Photios Giovanis of Callicoon Fine Arts had some new photographs of dimly lit landscapes by A. K. Burns, many drawn from a sci-fi movie she’s currently making. Nearby, Kerry Schuss had unveiled three stellar, little-known geometric drawings by Steven Parrino, made in 1987 and 1990, while Karin Gulbran’s wizardly “Eye Bowls” at White Columns stood out as some of the best, among the very few, ceramics in the “show.” Everyone was deep in brisk business—a particularly great thing for Sandy-affected galleries such as Derek Eller, Churner and Churner, and Foxy Production.
In the Richelieu Ballroom, Lionel Maunz had installed two ghastly sculptures in Bureau’s booth—crystalized, archaic forms (of burlap, sugar, and human teeth, among other materials) cast in a degenerative process. 47 Canal’s area meanwhile resembled a little platform, where numerous visitors lingered to chat among works by Gregory Edwards and Stewart Uoo.
Prem Krishnamurthy of Project Projects and the new LES gallery P! was chewing on a Ricola. “It keeps my blood sugar up,” he said, “and it also works against the neutralizing effect of the fair.” Krishnamurthy referred me to Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which clarifies how glucose levels affects our brains. “A study found that some Israeli parole judges, notorious for turning down applications, were more likely to grant parole in cases they heard right after eating,” he relayed. “And not when they were hungry, cranky, or tired.” Apparently this phenomenon of losing brainpower is called “ego depletion.” (Maybe not such a bad thing to encourage in these parts.) “Everything” happens like lightning at the beginning of the fair, said a dealer—aka “Most sales conclude in the first hour, after breakfast.” Then she exhaled a quick “whatever,” perfectly capturing the weird, sad, and real nature of these things.
Around 6 PM, the subtropical atmosphere mutated colors in typical Florida fashion. Blinding sunshine, blue skies, and puffy white clouds gave way to shades of light green, cotton-candy pink, and silver, turning the leafy plants and ocean into darker hues. There’s a jade I identify with terror twilight in Florida; sometimes you’ll see it spreading across the water. Sometimes it’s everywhere. The light changes fast here, too.
One of the best places to catch sunset in Miami is at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coconut Grove, specifically along the bay behind the early-twentieth-century faux–Venetian Renaissance house (with its Floridian pastiche of various historical styles). As the soft Technicolor illumination drained from the skies, we raced across the bridge to catch a private screening of Josiah McElheny’s site-specific commissioned project The Light Club of Vizcaya: A Women’s Picture. The crepuscular site was dégagé: A pianist was playing Schönberg, wine was being passed, and the tidy crowd of guests seemed . . . relaxed?
Projected on a screen atop the “mound,” an elevated part of the sprawling estate, and overlooking statuary and themed gardens, McElheny’s thirty-minute film features a script written by Rachel Zolf and narrated in voice-over by Zoe Leonard. This is the story of a woman who . . . well, I won’t say too much except that it unravels through still images and archival documents, a strategy that sometimes recalled Sebald, and that it concerns an underground Tiffany glass spa in the estate “where queers bathed in light and not ruins.”
“A steady, even light is of the greatest importance,” intones the narrator as the film winds up.
“In fact it is absolutely essential.”
Departing, I spotted an inscription in Latin—Horace—right on the centerpiece of the Vizcaya’s chief façade.
DONA PRAESENTIS CAPE LAETUS HORAE. ACLINQUE SEVERA.
Translation: “Take the Gifts of This Hour. Put Serious Things Aside.”
In Miami? Well I never . . .