As Jaime Frankfurt, art adviser to the stars, told me Thursday afternoon, attempting to put the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in perspective, “It's either the end of the world or it's fabulous!” I wondered whether there was a difference, but I was hoping for fabulous when I headed over to the Sagamore Hotel that evening for a cocktail party launching Yoko Ono's new show on XM Radio. Yoko in full-moon Miami at the same time as Russell Simmons, Narcisco Rodriguez, Calvin Klein, and Jay-Z? Give peace a chance! I had to check it out.
Yoko was nowhere in sight, nor was anyone else who looked even remotely artistic. (Maybe Devendra Banhart.) The hotel was introducing a “video lounge,” meaning that there was now a plasma screen in every poolside cabana, facing out. Yoko's Onochord came on. In this video, Yoko faces the viewer blinking a tiny flashlight on and off. A text running across the bottom of the screen explains how blinking the light in a certain rhythm can send a message to men and women everywhere and to all the ships at sea. The message is “I love you.” I felt only marginally better. No matter how many invitations you accept during Miami Basel week, it is possible to live the eternal social nightmare and always be in the wrong place.
“Is Yoko here?” I asked a bartender too good-looking to be working in the dark. “She's here,” he said. “Where?” I persisted. I told him she was a friend. “She must be in the spa,” he said, staring at a balcony on the second floor. “She ought to be down in a little while.” Well, I know how long “a little while” is in Miami, especially for a diva, and I was on a schedule. So I left, with an Onochord key-chain flashlight that I shall treasure to the end of my days, and hailed a cab to André Balazs's new Miami hostelry, the Standard, on one of those little islands in Biscayne Bay.
This turned out to be an ultrachic, surprisingly minimal, two-story motel by Morris Lapidus, the architect of Miami kitsch whose philosophy was Too Much Is Never Enough, the title of his memoir. Too bad he never lived to meet Yvonne Force Villareal. Force and Mark Fletcher were throwing a torchlight buffet dinner with the hotel's Claire Darrow. “This is for the artists,” said Yvonne in a toast, and though the darkness made it hard to see exactly who was there, the group included several genuine contributors to the art of our time—and one interloper, art-world newbie David Amsden, sent by the New York Times Magazine to suss out why art is “suddenly so important.”
He had no idea whom he was meeting, or how to distinguish Jack Pierson from John Currin or Lara Schnitger from Hope Atherton, or that Barbara Gladstone and Anton Kern were dealers of one sort and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Marc Foxx another. I couldn't tell whether he'd ever heard of the Studio Museum in Harlem when I introduced him to Thelma Golden, and I have no idea whether he talked to MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach or was impressed by collectors like Eli Broad and Jane Holzer mixing in. Leo Villareal brought his father, also Leo Villareal. Rachel Feinstein brought her parents. This was a family affair.
We all sprawled on the plush, oversize beach towels that Force is rather brilliantly marketing through Target and that I have to say are worth every dollar of the fifty it will cost to own one. They come in four high-art designs by Alex Katz, Marilyn Minter, Rob Pruitt, and Richard Phillips. As comfy on our downy carpets as a posse of pashas, we took in the night in such a louche and lazy manner that even surprise guest Keanu Reeves let his hair down. As I left for Kenny Scharf's poolside performance as a troglodyte at the Raleigh, Reeves, who had been browsing the fair all day, was engaged in a conversation with artist Matthew Monahan and dealer Stuart Shave so animated it was hard to believe this was the same wooden idol we've all come to know and love. Obviously, a little art has been good for him. Later, I heard that Jay-Z was also on the fair beat and showing interest in a James Welling, while Beyoncé was hot for Jutta Koether. Could it be that Miami is done with kitsch? Are we riding a new wave of good taste?
The answer may be embedded in the title of Scharf's performance: It's the Astral Cumulo Nimbus über Express and the Vomidingleberry Movement Troupe Doing the Rectal Romp Troglodyte Starshow. I couldn't wait to get there. Only the shuttle dropped me in front of the Delano instead of the Raleigh, so I ran in to catch a few minutes of the poolside strip by Marilyn Manson's burlesque queen of a wife, Dita von Teese. Mistake! An hour passed before von Teese came onstage to peel off a pink-sequined cowgirl outfit and ride a giant tube of lipstick. I had a ringside seat on a giant white ottoman with artist Will Cotton, P.S. 1 deputy director Brett Littman, designer Cynthia Rowley, and her husband, Bill Powers, but frankly, my dears, von Teese was a bore. Yet Rowley pronounced the show gorgeous. “It's the pink sequins,” she explained.
Meanwhile, the boys ripped the performance to shreds on aesthetic, moral, conceptual, and entertainment grounds. Having worked as a teen for one of burlesque's greatest strip acts, Ann Corio—as her quick-change dresser, no less—I had to side with them. By then it was too late for the Scharf, who also stripped in the chorus line of what I later heard was the funniest show of the week. Feeling cheated, I wondered whether Yoko had emerged from the spa, or whether love was still the message.