Inside Job

Sarah Nicole Prickett and Kaitlin Phillips at the 2019 Art Basel Miami Beach

Vanessa Beecroft’s “living tableau” at Lot 11. Photo: Vanessa Beecroft.

A WOMAN IN A RED JACKET, doing her job, walked through the halls of the Miami Beach Convention Center on VIP Preview Day. An older, whiter man in navy blue walked beside her. They paused to look at a John Currin painting. “In the end, visual art is all about light,” said the woman. “Have you ever been to Ohio?” asked the man. He had a point.

The point of Miami, both Beach and Basel, is that you don’t have to visit to understand it. “I am not here to do drugs,” said a man in a Panama hat, pacing the exhibition floor with a skull-topped cane. “It has nothing to do with drugs. It has to do with my friends.” A pair of Muscovites in wedge sneakers, pushing Sunny Isles–born babies in matching strollers, looked at a Jutta Koether painting and decided it looked like Chanel tweed. Swedes in the free Nespresso line debated the unionization of stateside museums until the tallest one, sighing, said that there was no fair system. (Right, that is why some people are against systems.) On the sidewalk outside, some Americans were trying to pronounce Rubell. “It’s ‘rubble,’ like the gravel,” said a foreigner.


Jeremy O. Harris. Photo: David Velasco.


THAT IT COULD BE someone’s first time at Miami Basel in 2019 had not occurred to us, but it seemed sort of wonderful, and Jeremy O. Harris, the thirty-year-old playwright and actor, assured us it was true. He was loving it. He was worried, however, about getting his floor-length camel coat—Gucci, like everything else he was wearing—dirty at Twist, the iconic gay megaclub. “Just don’t go in the dark room,” said a Los Angeles gallerist, providing the all-purpose advice we could have used our first time.

Harris was doing Miami right—one night only—and in the twelve-minute ride to the venue he said at least ten things that were incredible: He said that he was going to New York on Sunday because he had to win an award, and the tone in which he said “I have to win an award” was like the nonchalant tone other thirty-year-olds use to say, “I have to get a haircut.” He said that he was spending all the money from the award—$1,500—on two nights at a penthouse at the Mark Hotel so that he could have loud bottom sex with his boyfriend. (Harris lives with a roommate.) He said that he had been discovered in the sixth grade while acting in a school production of My Fair Lady, and when we asked which role he had played, he said “the star” before clarifying, “Higgins.” A drama teacher at a nearby private school approached him after a show and, essentially, recruited him for a life in the theater. “I went to see her all-white Aida,” said Harris, “and the rest is history.” 

Some people are born with an inner spotlight, which enlarges to generously include whoever’s close. That’s why people follow Harris everywhere. David Zwirner, for instance, followed Harris from the gallerist’s own dinner at Cecconi’s all the way down to the upstairs dance floor at Twist, where they were playing back-to-back Britney. “Come here often?” “No,” replied Zwirner, very earnestly, clutching a beer.


“IT’S MY LIFELONG DREAM to curate a ‘Britney at the Whitney’ show,” said the beauty writer Cat Marnell as she swanned through a hotel lobby in a floor-length floral dress she said had cost two dollars. “Like, why can’t they rebrand the Whitney as the Britney for one night? I’d curate Pepo Salazar’s print of bald Britney, you know, from the Venice Biennale, next to that Phil Collins Britney Artforum cover from, like, 2008 . . .” She trailed off. “Matthew Barney should art direct,” said Patrik Sandberg, the creative director who gives “creative directors” a good name. Sandberg noted that Britney Spears, who was staying at the EDITION, had been invited to the Dior Men’s runway show in Miami three days earlier—attended by two Kardashians and a Hadid—and had declined. It’s important, as journalists, to have a working definition of “relevance” on hand. (Someone chimed in to say that the country singer Orville Peck’s boyfriend, a model turned photographer who is more on the irrelevant side of things, picked a fight with Ladyfag in front of Kim Jones in the greenroom at the Dior show, then snarled, “What are you gonna do, say something mean online?” And why not . . .)

There was no toilet paper in the bathroom at the opening of the latest outpost of the Gitano at Casa Faena—a nod, we imagine, to the original Gitano in Tulum (where there is no sewage system). “Just use your left hand,” said a woman emerging regally from the stall wearing Christopher Kane. “Pretend you’re in India.” (Easier than pretending that we’re in Ohio.) Marnell dug through a plastic bag of earrings that looked like fishing lures while sharing her Basel beauty tips: “Dip your lipstick in the sand—exfoliation!” Back at our table, Sandberg introduced us to Leigh Lezark from the Misshapes, resplendent in a red ball of tulle. Lezark asked if we wanted the last slice of pizza, then licked it coyly. Remember 2006? Basel had so much promise.


JiaJia Fei, Miles Greenberg, and Antwaun Sargent.  Photo: BFA.


EVERYONE AT THE DINNER given by Balmain for Cécile B. Evans—held on the candlelit stage of an otherwise empty 2,200-seat concert hall after the “unveiling” of Evans’s new video piece, A Screen Test for an Adaptation of Giselle—seemed to have the same question: “Who are these people?” We asked an acquaintance, who asked her date, who asked a stranger and got an answer: Anyone in Miami who spent more than fifty thousand dollars at the Balmain store this year. 


AT DAVID ZWIRNER’S ANNUAL Soho Beach House party, a charming pair of art advisers, Suzanne Modica and Ashley Carr, introduced us to one of their clients. Richard Mumby is thirty-five and handsome and calls us “darling,” nonsexually. He has good taste. He had purchased that week, for instance, a series of five Elle Pérez photographs, works by Richard Hawkins and Frances Stark, and he was about to get a Martin Wong. When we asked the price of the Stark, saying that we were curious because her work seems underrated, he said $32,000. That’s cheap, we replied, as if we had savings accounts. Modica winced. “As art advisers,” she said, “we use the word ‘reasonable.’”

How a nice man in his thirties can afford all this was the epistemological object of our next seven questions, met with qualmish looks from the advisers. Mumby answered gamely, but it was so hard to understand. (Less hard if you use Google.) Or it’s too easy. It’s like what Barbara Kruger says: Money makes money. 

Mumby ordered us vodkas from the open bar before telling us what he wants as a collector: “Number one, to have fun. Number two, to learn something. Number three, not to fuck up . . . too much.” It might have been the most reasonable thing we heard all week.


Jeremy O. Harris outside Twist.


IGGY POP, THE GODFATHER OF PUNK, relaxed after his performance at the Gucci & Snapchat party by sitting barefoot on a Naugahyde love seat and talking to everyone in the greenroom who was female, one by one. He made an exception for Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s long-haired and heralded creative director, who wore green nail polish and told us a “Gucci girl,” like our friend Hari Nef, or like Jeremy O. Harris, to whom Nef introduced him, is someone he gets to know organically. Chloë Sevigny left sixty seconds after we got there, as if we needed more proof of her peerless instincts, but her friend Lizzi Bougatsos—singer for the band Gang Gang Dance—showed us a drawing of a chimpanzee made by her bandmate (and boyfriend) Brian DeGraw, which we thought would have been a great thing for Iggy Pop to sign.

Here are some things we learned about Iggy, who lives in Miami: He collects a good deal of Haitian art, including objects and paintings. His favorite restaurant is Caribbean—B&M Market—and is in Little Haiti. His favorite dish involves cow’s feet. His house is also in Little Haiti. He is a fan of the late local self-taught artist Purvis Young, who painted angels on scraps of wood. He drinks mostly Bordeaux.


Vanessa Beecroft’s “living tableau” at Lot 11. Photo: Vanessa Beecroft.


A RAPPER WHO GOES by K. Charles stood at the edge of the first public skate park in Miami—Lot 11, downtown—and surveyed a “living tableau” by the artist Vanessa Beecroft for the sportswear brand Kappa, which commissioned her to interpret their logo for its fiftieth birthday. After a few seconds, he started laughing. “That’s my friend,” he said, pointing to one of the shirtless, barefoot male performers, who, like nearly all the others, was paired in a shifting, tense embrace with a female performer. (There were a hundred performers total, all amateurs who had been locally cast, all black and/or Latinx. The artist’s instructions were clear, as was the reference: Zabriskie Point.) “This is not what I expected,” said K. Charles. “I don’t know what I expected, but not this. I guess I thought there would be like, music.” He thought again. “Is it supposed to look like sex?”

Near the park’s gates, two of Beecroft’s four children ran around looking like seraphim. Beecroft’s husband half watched the tableau. Beecroft herself—tanned, beatific, sincere—stood with her back to all of it, talking. “I have two children with one husband and two children with this one,” she said, “and they all look the same, because the husbands look so much alike. The first husband was bigger. This one is younger. But no matter which husband the children are with, everyone says they look so much like him!” Redoubling is very on-brand for Beecroft. Or is it doubling down?

“I do things too much,” she said, confessionally, “and my first husband couldn’t handle it. I’m a Taurus.” 

Taureans, we replied, are described as being grounded.

“I’m not grounded,” she said.

Beecroft told us that the performance, which she agreed to do because she is friends with the curator, Neville Wakefield, was about her problems with men. “I have never reconciled with the male,” she said. “Do you see how these couples are responding to each other, even though they do not know each other? I am trying to learn. I have never been able to bond with the male.” Among the performers there was a striking couple in which both figures were—we checked with the publicist—female, and we thought about telling Beecroft, to be helpful, but it felt too late.


Ralph Nauta. Photo: BFA.


THE ELEVATOR OPENED on the eighth floor of the Soho Beach House, where Playboy was staging a “parlor-style conversation,” to the sound of Jerry Saltz loudly saying vagina. Saltz, the civilian-facing art critic, was describing a curvy sculpture from Germany. An audience comprising two dozen mostly young women, including the singer Tove Lo and the model Tali Lennox, sat on the floor, looking rapt or nonplussed. The artist Marilyn Minter sat on a stool and looked patient. “I’m going to let Marilyn talk in a minute,” said Saltz, who identifies as a feminist.

Minter and Saltz, as the evening’s cohosts, agreed on most things in a sort of reclaiming “OK, Boomer” mode. Saltz believes in the right to say what you want online, and Minter believes in the right to do what you want online, and the only difference, really, is that Saltz also seems to believe “online” is real life.  

Minter: “What I saw in the ’80s with the culture wars was the rise of the purity police—it was PC on the left, you know? And they aligned themselves in the early ’90s with Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, and they got together with evangelists, the religious police, and became very powerful. But then it went the absolute opposite way with the internet in the last ten years, which blew it wide open. Then all of a sudden, I became a hero.”

Saltz, proving he does have a trained eye, saw an opening: “And you just tied it to the internet. How do you think that you became a hero given that everybody— Like my goddaughter, they once said a dirty word to me, they were young, and then they said, ‘Godfather, I have seen every sexual thing you can possibly imagine.’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Minter: “And you know, as an artist—”

Saltz: “I was like, ‘Teach me.’”

Gucci Mane, Keyshia Ka'Oir, and Jared Leto. Photo: BFA.

At the “intimate” dinner that followed, the artist Shepard Fairey was feeling lucky—as he should—seated next to Jordan Emanuel, a model with ethics who is Playboy’s Playmate of the Year. He was enraptured, and to be fair, she looked happy and game—which may or may not be her job. He expressed his full engagement by mansplaining: “I’m sort of enlightened. . . . As a white man. . . . Imagine you were looking at equality as some sort of concession you were making. . . . I didn’t learn anything in school. . . . It’s so crazy that when you said vampires, the first thing I thought was True Blood. . . .” 

We stopped listening every so often to share glances and caviar with Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, the good-humored director of Jack Shainman Gallery, and Liz Suman, the editor at Playboy_, _who ingeniously assigned Sloane Crosley to interview Stormy Daniels. But, in the end, our stomachs couldn’t take it, and we left right after Fairey told Emanuel, “You are the ideal Instagram woman.” Also a job, but what would he know about that. 


Jerry Saltz, Amanda Faire, and Shepard Fairey. Photo: Tiffany Sage/BFA.


THE INIMITABLE—a word we don’t overuse—Faith Ringgold and her daughter, Michele Wallace, were being interviewed at Faena Forum by Tina Brown, the perfect interlocutor to settle some scores that are already long settled. Ringgold talked about how, in the mid-’60s, Hale Woodruff didn’t want her in an exhibition that he was touring in Africa. He claimed she didn’t have “rhythm.” “And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll tell you what, I’ll show you rhythm.’ And so I made Die”—which, incidentally, is a great title to give a painting that will one day hang across from MoMA’s most famous Picasso. 

Brown steered her toward the topic of activism, everyone’s favorite thing for black people to talk about.

Brown: “You protested to get more female artists into the Whitney.”  

Ringgold: “Right.”

Brown: “And more black artists into the Whitney.”

Ringgold: “Yeah. That’s how we got it. Our protests really opened doors for the black men more than the black women. How about that?”

A black-and-white photo appeared behind them: Ringgold in 1970 walking outside the Whitney with her daughter, then eighteen years old, in tow. Wallace, still nine years away from publishing her first book, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, smiles and carries a sign: 50% BLACK WOMEN ARTISTS. When Wallace had proposed it, Ringgold thought: “This girl is too much. First they have none, and now they have to have 50 percent? That’s crazy!” 

Brown: “But you wanted to support her.”

Ringgold: “I don’t want her sitting up here and saying, ‘I said fifty percent and my mother said no!’”


SANE PEOPLE DO NOT attend a fair on a beach to “see work,” but to see who’s behind it. Nicole Eisenman, a genius in both the institutional (MacArthur) and the obvious sense, was the artist we saw—socially—who did the best job of convincing us that art is still cool. Since everything she said is off the record, here is something she did:

For six or seven months, Eisenman has had braces on her bottom teeth, which she suggested had been crooked to a degree that required illustration. A nonartist, or an artist who is not a genius, would have illustrated with a pen and napkin. We would have just used our hands. But Eisenman, without seeming to think about it, swiftly arranged four tea lights on the dinner table, jostling. It was a funny thing to do. It made sense, teeth being (almost) to bones as tealights are to tall candles, but it felt gesturally a little demented, maybe because she handled them as if they were unlit when they were, in fact, lit . . . or maybe it was something else. But anyway, we were looking at the tea lights and seeing teeth and feeling slightly unnerved, understanding, for a moment, how objects that should be banal could inspire a person to spend a great deal of money.