THE MIAMI DIARIES – John Zinsser’s dispatches from the fairest city
Even for seasoned navigators, there’s a lot of getting lost to be done in Miami, with everything oriented NE, NW, condo towers being built everywhere blocking one-way streets. Looking for the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) near downtown, we first passed a group of boxy nightclub buildings. These are the after-hours places, which pick up the crowds after South Beach closes down at 4 am. Even at 3 in the afternoon, there was still a crowd of glazed ravers lined up, waiting to get in.
Then, like a mirage, emerged CIFO’s glass mosaic façade, a free-standing converted warehouse on North Miami Avenue. Seen from a distance, the pixilated Bisazza tiles make up an image of a bamboo jungle, the conception of architect Rene Gonzalez. (The benefactor, Ella Fontanals Cisneros, is a Venezuelan real-estate developer on a mission to promote Latin American contemporary artists.) The exhibition, “Fortunate Objects: The Appropriated Object,” is first-rate, a succinctly curated affair that juxtaposes works by Ai Weiwei, Amelia Azcarate, Marcea Astorga, and others.
Next, off to Wynwood proper, to see the Rubell Family Collection. Opened in 1996, the 45,000 square foot former DEA confiscated goods warehouse looks unassuming, even drab, from the exterior. That only sets you up for a bigger surprise when you get inside. It’s a huge space, incredibly appointed, filled with first-rate examples of recent art. (For comparison, it’s about on the scale of New York’s Whitney Museum.). I was blown away. This is the last signifying frontier of private wealth in action. There’s a 40,000-volume art library behind glass in a room with no one in it, a New Media room, a Phaidon bookstore with volumes extending dramatically to the ceiling, a Cerealart gift shop and a new sculpture garden with monumental works by Thomas Schutte. Two exhibitions there were especially strong, a survey of Hernan Bas (b. 1978) who studied in Miami and “Euro-Centric, Part 1,” featuring Thomas Zipp, Urs Fisher and others.
Trying for a trifecta, I embarked for the nearby Martin Margolis Collection, hearing that it had installations by Olafur Eliasson and Anthony McCall. I circled the block, but couldn’t find it. Instead, I spotted a handmade sign, made of paper, advertising a temporary show by Mike Cloud. This turned out to a makeshift outpost of New York’s Max Protetch gallery in a rented retail space. Cloud’s assemblage art inside gives new meaning to “slacker”-ism, raising crappy-looking to unimagined heights. The gallery assistant told me that the Margolis warehouse was indeed next door, but closed early at 4 pm. Closed early? On the Saturday of Art Basel Miami Beach? That’s nuts.
I wanted to see the Peter Coffin show at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin. The Paris-based operation was one of the more visible presences at the fair (it even publishes its own art magazine, BING, to promote its artists). They have opened a permanent space in Wynwood, impressive in its scale and ambition. Coffin is a New York phenom, whose smart neo-conceptual works were to be seen all over the fair. His show, with the fractured title Model of the Universe (e.g. sweet harmonica solo, e.g. the idea of the sun, e.g. frisbee dog c included one of the weekend’s most impressive pieces, a steel spiral staircase twisted into a continuous circle: Tthink MC Escher’s impossible stairways to infinity meets a DNA double helix meets utilitarian found object.
One thing that’s great about Wynwood is—unlike New York’s West Chelsea or Bowery gallery districts—it’s still genuinely gritty. The cross-cultural juxtaposition with what’s going on in the surrounding neighborhood is so strong that it creates shocking 21st Century frisson. On SE Fifth Avenue, for example, is a colorful strip of ethnic fashion stores, in case the likes of Peter Coffin need to buy a sequined prom tuxedo—or some human hair.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7
“The Art Miami fair has redefined itself,” explains Eli Ridgeway, of Paule Anglim, San Francisco, of the original fair that preceded Art Basel and the legion spin off fairs. “Here galleries are showing new works in a historical context.” This means cutting-edge galleries such as Chinablue, Beijing, can cross-contextualize with established programs of New York galleries.
Chinablue, Beijing, mounted an impressive wall-sized photo mural by Wang Qingsong, showing the interior of a vast warehouse with hand-painted employment posters papered from floor to ceiling. I engaged gallery employee U Han to tell me about her experiences here. At first, she was shy, but once she got talking about how Qingsong makes his elaborate photo set-ups, she wouldn’t stop talking.
Bjorn Wetterling, who has run a leading contemporary gallery in Stockholm for 29 years, devoted his entire booth to a multi-layered photographic mixed media installation by New York twin brothers Doug & Mike Starn. He told of how he decided to participate. “I was not supposed to do the fair,” he told me, “because I was already in the photo fair. But they kept calling me, begging and begging. Finally, I was in Malaysia—and they called me late in the evening. I told them, ‘I have an extraordinary idea.’” And that’s how the Starns show was born.
New York gallerist Alexander Gray is featuring confrontational works by Kathe Burkhart (“Up Your Ass”, from the Liz Taylor series) and Cary Leibowitz (the artist formerly known as “Candyass”). His booth’s exterior has a Karen Finley piece consisting of a blank wall with Sharpie markers for people to write their mother’s maiden names (by the time I saw it, it was already completely covered). I asked Gray if his fares shocked anyone. He told me, “No, it’s not possible to scandalize any more.” Of the Finley, he said, “the public has been incredibly engaged in this monument to matriarchy.” Gray’s painting program is really interesting, as well, as it includes 1970s-era abstract works by Jack Whitten as well as contemporary offerings from Jo Baer and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe.
Meanwhile, young artist Crystal Kanney drove “all through the night” from Savannah, Ga., to attend—and to wear her full-body Elvis suit, a kind of self-promoting art billboard.
Next, I headed back to Miami Beach, as I still hadn’t seen the “containers,” metal shipping units fashioned into galleries for Art Basel Miami’s Art Positions section. (This means, sadly, I had missed Iggy Pop’s performance Wednesday night).
By the time I got there, it was after nightfall. I had yet to see the ocean, so I wandering alone down the vast expanse of empty beach, gazing up at the illuminated million dollar condos and stars above. As you approach Art Positions, it sounds like a party, thanks to WPS1.org’s radio DJ booth and booming sound system.
The containers fair is hilarious. Stoned-looking gallerists slouch in their expensive clothes in inexpensive beach chairs as legions of curious unfatigable visitors troop through, jamming themselves into these brightly-lit air-conditioned shoeboxes.
I could hear the sounds of Ozzy Osbourne and AC/DC coming from the central bar area next door. Curious, I wandered over toward the colored lights and fog machines. Under pop graphic signage by Ryan McGinness and a giant video screen featuring assume vivid astro focus’s neo-psychedelia was a plywood skateboard ramp with a demo going on. For myself, having spent this past late August skating at Owl’s Head skateboard park in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, preparing for the “Old Man’s Bowl Jam,” I was intensely curious. Turns out, this was Art Radio WPS1.org’s “Concrete Waves: Homage to Skate Culture at Art Positions.”
A strange figure, with flowing dreadlocks and a sweat-drenched plaid shirt, carved elegant kickturns from side to side of the elongated half-pipe. I did a slow burn. It was Tony Alva, legendary 1970s cult hero, Z-Boy of Santa Monica Dogtown renown, the inventor of pool riding and the frontside aerial. For the first time since arriving in Miami, I was genuinely star-struck.
I approached him afterwards, told him how closely I had studied his pictures in Skateboardermagazine in the 1970s (this was before I started reading Art in America). He was gracious, but physically spent (he’s now 50 years old!). He autographed a paper Ryan McGinness skateboard deck for me. Finally, I could go back to New York satisfied.
It was time to hit the party circuit, off to the Belle Island apartment of collectors Alfred Gillio and Paul Berstein for an exclusive soiree for Art Basel Miami’s Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. But that’s another story…
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6
After the glamour, glitz and polish of Art Basel Miami, the Pulse fair seems funky, almost shabby, by comparison. That’s good. It gets you rooting for the underdog.
The Pulse fair, having built its reputation in a tent in years past, has moved to a Deco-era concrete warehouse with adjoining sculpture courtyard. (The outdoor pieces include a working one-man submarine by Duke Riley, the Brooklyn artist who was arrested last summer as a would-be terrorist for impinging on the water-space of the Queen Mary 2, docked off of Red Hook.) Here, hipsters milled about aimlessly, while bigger fish arrived in black limos and yellow pedicabs.
I had talked to Pulse participant Magda Sawon, director of New York’s Postmasters, at the David Yurman/Whitney Museum party the night before. She was super-enthusiastic, saying the fair had great energy and brisk commercial action. Upon arriving, that mood was palpable, as gallerists enjoyed free beer being doled out from a galvanized metal wash tub of ice on a rolling dolly.
Postmasters, true to its politically-conscious program, was showing an outrageous video by Kenneth Tin Kin Hung, “Because Washington is Hollywood for Ugly People,” which included, among other photo-collaged imagery, a tableau of Condoleezza Rice riding a giant turd above the capitol city.
For people who hadn’t yet realized that buying art is a form of shopping, Jonathan Seliger’s editioned bronze Gucci shopping bag at Jack Shainman, New York, brought the point home with post-Duchampian panache.
An engaging wall of big buttons with slogans at Catharine Clark, San Francisco, [photo 5655] turned out to be by artist Walter Robinson. I queried, did this mean the return of Walter Robinson, now editor of Artnet magazine? (His paintings from the era of his showing at Metro Pictures in the 1980s have since gained a cult following.) No, an exasperated Clark responded, there is anotherWalter Robinson, in California, now making art.
I ran into veteran independent gallerist Paul Morris at the booth of Bischoff/Weiss, London, showing the work of Olivier Millagoul. When he struck up a conversation, the two young partners asked him who he was. He produced a card, and pronounced, “I founded the Armory show.”[photo 5673] For me, having attended the first New York alternative art fair at the Gramercy Park Hotel, I knew his history. But I wondered how amazing it must be for him to think that he, Pat Hearn, Colin de Land and Matthew Marks dreamed up this whole fun art fair movement—the nonstop moveable feast—and look where we are today.
Upstairs from Pulse is a highly appealing mini-fair, GEISAI. It was founded in 2001 by the artist-led enterprise Kaikai Kiki, brainchild of Japanese superstar Takashi Murakami. In it, individual artists are given booths from which to present a one-person show. Most were there, on site, to further engage the public. Some 20 international artists were selected by a jury from a pool of 716 applicants.
I ran into painter Charles Clough, a familiar figure from the New York art scene of the 1980s and 1990s, who has since moved to Rhode Island. He told me, “I did my last show with Tricia Collins in 1998. When she closed, I went out with the tide.” He has published a compelling book for the event,Pepfog Clufff, which displays methods of rephotographing painting details to develop a new working language (a project he began in 1976). So, how was the fair going? “It’s funny running into a lot of people from the past 35 years I’ve been amongst in the artworld,” he told me. “But,” he continued wistfully, “I’m still waiting for the ‘legendary sales’ to start.”
By contrast, two booths down, Eric Doeringer was having the opposite experience. He makes small knock-offs of well-known works by art stars—and sells them for $250 apiece (usually on the streets of West Chelsea). How were sales for him? “Fantastic,” he gushed, “like nobody’s business.” He told me that he had brought “four gigantic suitcases full of works, a few hundred.” He says his best sellers are Richard Prince, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Rob Pruitt’s panda.
Around the corner was a wall-mounted flat screen TV featuring Walter Robinson talking (he’s one of the GEISAI jurors). But was this the real Walter Robinson?
I left, battling insane traffic, to get to the hotel fairs at South Beach, along Collins Avenue.
There were literally throngs of art soldiers and fabulous trophy specimens to be seen crowding the overflowing hotel lobbies. At the Dorset, hosting the flow fair, an exhibitionistic DJ Hottpants [photo 5687] was spinning CDs (I didn’t know they “spun”) in front of a garish painting. At the bar, a youthful hustler approached two young females. His pick-up line: “I’m surprised to see two cute girls here. I thought it would just be ‘artsy’ types.”
I ventured across Collins Avenue, dodging Lamborghinis and Bentleys, to go to the Red Dot fair at the South Seas hotel. Here, a few quality galleries had decamped in their rooms with surprisingly esoteric works. At Howard Yazerski, Boston, I saw beautiful paintings by Cologne’s Peter Tollens. At Brian Gross, San Francisco, there were exquisite historical works on paper by Richard Pousette-Dart. New York gallery Anita Shapolsky, which specializes in artists who were represented in the 1940s and 1950s by Martha Jackson Gallery and Betty Parsons Gallery, had brought unusual small works by Buffie Johnson, Ernest Briggs and others.
I came away thinking there might be a true heart and soul art community here somewhere—even on Collins Avenue.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6 – BREAKFAST TIME
At the Vicente restaurant this morning, a Spanish joint on Collins Avenue, I ran into Paul Ha, a familiar face from his time running White Columns in New York, who has since decamped to St. Louis to run the Contemporary Art Museum.
Paul had befriended a young artist from Washington, D.C., Adam DeBoer, 23, exhibiting his figurative paintings at the booth of his home city’s Conner Contemporary Art at the Go Go Art Projects section of the Pulse Fair. It’s “like a farm team,” DeBoer explained. He was riding high, as he had sold his largest work the night before. “It’s the first painting I ever sold,” he told me. “It was wild out there. A buying frenzy. Red stickers all over the walls after only four hours.”
This was the youthquake I had been warned of. “Aren’t you worried about pushing out all the mid-career artists?” I asked. “No,” he replied, he was only worried about “burning out at an early age.” I told him, “Move to New York.”
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5
The Art Basel Miami Beach fair at the Convention Center opened at noon sharp, with a literal rush through the gates. (Think Aqueduct Raceway, but with stiletto heels, not horseshoes.) Inside was a glittering spectacle of art and excess, laid out with impeccable Swiss style.
To the left of the entrance, at the booth of Deitch, N.Y., the first painting that viewers saw was Kurt Kauper’s “Bobby 3,” a full-length realistic portrait of the Boston Bruin hockey great Bobby Orr, nude. The funny thing was, instead of looking like Orr, the figure resembled Kauper’s rival painter John Currin.
Also near the entrance was an impressive installation by Christof Buchel at Hauser & Wirth, Zurich. It was culled from the artist’s recent debacle (cancelled show) at Mass MoCA, consisting of metal storage container with a ladder leading to a make-shift roof deck. Mounting this structure, one could see the trashy leavings of a kids’ pizza party—Jello coagulating, half-consumed Kool Aid, etc, with an official US Army 750 lb. “leaflet bomb” hanging above. Looking through the Gauntanamo Bay-style cyclone fencing, viewers could then survey the entire fair.
Two booths chose retail themes: Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York, fixtured to look like a Prada store, and, at Shanghart, Shanghai, a full-blown convenience store, with external street façade. There, outside, a woman told her friend that she had just sent her boyfriend inside to “buy condoms.”
Among the early VIP attendees, competitive buying was fierce. At Gladstone’s booth, a woman was looking at a Richard Prince painting, “My Life as a Weapon,” 2007, which has a joke text painted in blue and black over a grid of color porn magazine photos. Turning to her husband, she said, “This is your thing. The fact that you don’t own this is terrible.”
I also heard the whispering murmurs among gallery employees, “the Kapoor just sold.”
Mary Boone’s booth was true to her 1980s West Broadway glory days: Barbara Kruger, Ross Bleckner, a large group of new Eric Fischls, “Scenes from Late Paradise” (sold already, together, according to Ron Warren, the longtime public face of the gallery).
Speaking of Mary Boone, I was surprised to see a painting by her wunderkind noir photorealist Damian Loeb at Acquavella’s. The Color of Money (2007) shows a house on a darkened street.
“How much is that painting,” a woman demanded.
“It’s sold,” a gallerist informed her.
“Do you have another?”
“We have another work, but it’s of another subject.”
“How much was this one?”
Then, the woman exclaimed, “That’s my house. That’s my house. That’s the house I grew up in.”
Sighted: Author Tom Wolfe, in trademark white suit, greeting well-wishers with his skull-cracked smile… New York art consultant Kim Heirston, elegantly educating her clients (and, no, she was not the tallest woman there—in the context of this XL Germanic crowd she is average height)… Brit scribe Anthony Haden-Guest looking pale-but-determined, notepad in hand… Talent scout Clarissa Dalrymple, puposeful in white cowboy boots… Miami’s own supercollectors Don and Mera Rubell, ever optimistic… 1980s East Village doyenne Gracie Mansion… OmnipresentArtforum publisher Knight Landsman in white suit and yellow tie (no doubt he has packed six such natty outfits)… 1980s art stars Doug Starn and Mike Starn looking smashing in matching frayed denim jeans and hair gone gray… New York painter Melissa Meyer (a friend, at last)…
Overheard: A woman complains to her female companion, “I can’t find anything to buy for $15,000.” Another man scolds a dealer, “Call us when the dollar gets stronger.”
Two observations: When it comes to art fairs, there is no such thing as fatigue. Also, after about four hours, everyone starts to look familiar (you begin to “know” the characters).
Finally, I was actually looking for art, paintings in particular. Some notable examples:
At Paula Cooper’s, Dan Walsh’s Pass (2007) consists of horizontal violet bands stacked upon a white background to buzzy hypnotic effect.
Kai Althoff’s dispersion work of blocky forms on cloth, created a gentle play on the optic relationship between gray and red, at Barbara Gladstone’s booth.
At Hetzler’s of Berlin, Arturo Herrera’s acrylic on felt work looked like a Robert Moskowitz in its silhouetted reduction—and was set up against a recent Bridget Riley.
At Michael Werner, New York, a self-contained Sigmar Polke room was installed with four fantastic ghostlike figure-ground abstractions (all sold as a set, at $5 million, a prospective buyer was informed).
Anselm Reyle, the hottest young abstractionist of the moment, had a sexy/decadent purple mylar-on-violet painted canvas work, encased in lucite box, at L & M, New York (marked sold, with a red dot at $250,000).
A new Baselitz “Remix” cowboy (!) painting (image right-side up) at Ropac, Salzburg, looking fresh and neo-Richard Prince.
Brooklyn’s own Pop Tantric Chris Martin with two forceful works at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Lydia Dona, recombinant and delirious, a large diptych with engine parts outlined over shimmering silver, to the electronic soundtrack of the Dino Bruzzone piece next to it, at Karpio, San Jose.
Fabian Maracaccio and Jonathan Lasker, masters of mutant formalism and extruded brushstroke, facing off at Schulte, Berlin.
Kate Shepherd’s Pewter, American, Death, Revere (2007), white interstices of geometric netting undulating against a graphite ground, with elegant contained light, at New York’s Galerie Lelong.