Despite canyonlike corridors that can be discombobulating, not every gallery fits into the Miami Beach Convention Centeror wants to. Hence the continuing vitality of the alternative fairs, mutant events with zippy names and varying degrees of professionalism that spring up around the Miami area for the week. There were at least five this year, from NADA (eighty-four participants) down to Frisbee (a modest six, along with eight noncommercial installations). On Thursday afternoon I went to opening day of newbie Aqua Art Miami, which took place in the simple cabana-style rooms surrounding the pool of the pleasingly under-renovated Aqua Hotel on South Beach. It was a cool breeze.
Other Gallery from Winnipeg, a “web-based nomadic gallery, now based out of a suitcase that I had no intention of starting,” according to its founder Paul Butler, was making sales at a brisk rate in the $100 to $1,000 range across the courtyard from Bodybuilder & Sportsman, a hip and highly regarded Chicago space that signed on to Aqua after being turned down by NADA. Director Tony Wight was not as cheerful as his Canadian counterpart across the way. “Fairs always have the same answer. ‘We had an overwhelming number of entries this year . . .’ There's no way of figuring out what they want,” he said, brandishing the yellow slip from his first sale in hand.
In his crow's nest above the pool, Seattle's Greg Kucera was no longer lamenting his rejection from the main fair. He had sold a brand-new Deborah Butterfield sculpture within minutes of the opening bell, then a Bill Traylor ink-on-board for a hefty $28,000. “I feel like the grandparent to some of these galleries,” he boasted. The market is lively, but word on the beach greatly affects sales at the alternative fairs, and if the action moves elsewhere there's nothing to do but hope for a change before Sunday: It has little to do with the art. Feeling a sudden need to escape the Collins Avenue art-party row, I headed to Wet Willie's on South Beach (“a bar, a party, an institution,” according to the souvenir cup), where bikers, students, and barflies took the place of dealers.
I wanted to arrive at NADA for its 10AM opening on Friday, and though my waiter Herman's 150-proof frozen cocktails were still whispering to me, I posted up to the gates of the Ice Palace Film Studios at a quarter past. Six booths were dark for the first half hour, a forgivable grace period perhaps, though a few pushed it irresponsibly past that. An old friend from New York came last, showing up almost two hours late. “I went to four parties last night, and the last one wasn't even really a party. Someone gave me a Vicodin at some point. It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she recounted. I looked at her with a fair amount of concern and asked how business was going. “Oh god, it's great! Are you kidding?”
If only we could all be so breezy. “This fair and this week is more expensive than it's ever been, but we don’t advertise and this is the best advertising there is. We will break even and we’ll be happy with that,” said Sara VanDerBeek of Guild & Greyshkul, a to-watch New York space that deserves congratulations for exhibiting one of the largest, grandest works in the whole fair, Valerie Hegarty's heroic rendition of a boring Bierstadt painting, seemingly pecked corner-to-corner by angry sculpted crows still scattered around the booth with their scraps of the American west. It wasn't quite museum-quality, but it was museum-scaled, a smart angle for a two year-old gallery to pursue. “We need to sell more T-shirts,” lamented a nervous participant a few aisles away at non-profit Participant Inc. She was selling affordable artist-made clothing that was popular but evidently needed to become more so to recoup the cost of the fair. I wouldn't mention that the public thirst for thrifty merchandise might slake itself with fabulous free tote bags at White Columns. In addition to the accessories, a bazaar of cute short- and unlimited-run prints filled that space, red dots snaking across the wall.