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Finally, the Main Attraction
“You can spend the whole week at Basel without going to Basel,” is something uttered frequently in Miami during the art fair. It always feels like you’re supposed to be at the convention center, but the beach and all the other art are pretty tempting too. We finally stopped by on Saturday and Sunday. Highlights below:
Rapper Mykki Blanco Literally Goes Ham on Klaus Biesenbach
Saturday, 2 AM
“I think I just saw a piece of ham fly through the air,” my friend tells me.
We’ve been sitting at the poolside patio of The Edition for a few hours at the mellow, open-bar party hosted by Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MOMA PS-1. Before I have time to look over my shoulder to see what happened, I hear the voice of queer, New York rapper Mykki Blanco calling Biesenbach “a Swiss-German faggot” and a racist. “He doesn’t like black people. He likes black culture,” Blanco yells from the top of the hotel bar.
It takes everyone a moment to realize what’s happening. On the ground next to the bar are chunks of Subway sandwiches that Blanco has thrown everywhere. Blanco dangles a piece of ham in Biesenbach’s face. “He’s a fucking opportunist!” Blanco yells, as security tries to get him out. Meanwhile, Biesenbach—known for exhibiting art-world celebrities (Marina Abramović and Olafur Eliasson) as well as for collaborating with celebrity artists (Björk and James Franco, pictured below with Biesenbach)—makes a quick exit. “I’m not James Franco,” Blanco shouts while some partygoers start to boo. “I’m not Kehinde Wiley,” the A-list black painter.
Afterwards, Blanco addressed hecklers who didn’t even realize they were at the PS-1 party, telling one woman that she didn’t “know shit about the art world” and was only at the Edition in search of “some Jewish dick.” (Blanco, born Michael Quattelbaum, is part Jewish. “I had a Bat Mitzvah, bitch!” he quickly clarified.)
Friday, 7:30 PM
Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic has had a big year. The New York painter and calligraphy artist showed work at MoMA’s Armory Arts week, did the visuals for the CFDA Fashion Awards, and collaborated with fashion lines Rodarte and Public School, among other accomplishments. Tonight, he’s posing with oversized paintings he created for the finale party for SCOPE, another satellite art fair.
“I hadn’t really done anything like it before,” Mestrovic says of his 150-foot painting. “The aim is to take painting out of the context of a gallery, a frame, and wall and turning it into more of a sculpture. I want the movement to follow the movement of the gesture… It’s almost like choreography. When you’re dancing with somebody, you’re in dialogue, you’re not thinking about evey step. You’re feeling the movement.”
Lex says he usually listens to music when he works (“Jersey club shit or some fucking turn up, I don’t even know.”) Tonight he’ll listen to Swizz Beatz and Nabiha who are playing the party. Co-hosted by VHI, it already had a line down the block at 8 PM.
Hennessy’s Newest Product: Shoes
Saturday, 7 PM
Leather sneakers by luxury brand Buscemi typically retail for $1,000. A pair designed in collaboration with Hennessy, released just for Basel, doesn’t even have a price.
We stopped by the location where designer Jon Buscemi himself (pictured below) was giving out his new creation to influencers and tastemakers— in another example of Basel branding madness. "These sought after items are not for sale,” as the sign says. “Instead, they are earned by those who Never stop. Never settle.”
The calf leather sneakers with “hand-painted edges” and “a rich cognac hue” feature Buscemi’s singature padlocks on the back— in 24k gold and with the word Hennessy engraved. (If you’re willing to settle for anything else, maybe you shouldn’t be Basel'ing.)
Untitled, Not Unlabeled
Friday, 6:30 PM
Like Nada, the Untitled fair has a name that hits at nothingness and is meant as an alternative to the main Basel fair. The fair is housed in a temporary structure, erected beachside for the occasion. In many ways, the beacon of light, glowing on the beach at sunset, was the most visually striking part of the fair.
That Miami Traffic
Friday, 5 PM
Miami traffic sucks, particularly during Basel.
Getting a cab can devolve into a near-street brawl, while waiting on an Uber isn’t much better.
At least there’s no traffic on the beach.
Art Miami Highlights
Friday, 4 PM
Pork and Posters
Friday, 3 PM
Adrian Rosenfeld was director of Matthew Marks in Chelsea for 15 years, selling work by blue-chip artists like Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns to major collectors. “In the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about how to bring art to wider audience,” he says. “In fashion, if you are in love with a designer and you can’t get the couture, there’s a sunglass way in.” His art-world solution is The Posters, a new, LA-based venture with Athena Currey that prints work by well-known and up-and-coming artists as $55 posters, made in small batches and available only for 45 days before they’re stashed away in a vault.
Typically art posters are either cheap and low quality with a museum’s name printed on the bottom. Or they’re very limited edition and sold for hundreds of dollars. The Posters strikes a middle ground, while donating 10% of proceeds to arts education groups.
Rosenfeld and Currey gathered at the Standard today to celebrate their launch with a Cuban-style pig roast and posters on display from by Wyatt Kahn, Nate Lowman, Owen Schmit and Paul Wackers.
The specter of reality haunts Art Basel
Friday, 8 AM
On Thanksgiving, the New York Times published an article by film critic A. O. Scott with the headline “Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?” Oddly the article didn’t call out Basel by name, but it feels like a relevant question to ask a week before the art world descends upon Miami for a weekend where excess is the norm and the rest of the country is protesting. As one Los Angeles gallerist at NADA fair told me, “This is the most apolitical place, which is frustrating cause it should be the most political.”
A protest against the lack of indictments against the cops who killed Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York could change that though. Saturday at sunset a crowd will gather to light candles and chant “We Can’t Breathe.”
Where exactly? Just ask the Uber to bring you to the Ritz-Carlton.
Water, water everywhere…
Thursday, 11 pm
Performers got wet at tonight’s perfomance by Kelela and Future Brown, which included these hover-boarders.
Paging Kim K.
Thursday 10:30 pm
Kim was in town to enjoy a dinner party in her honor thrown by Paper magazine. She has since declared it “the best dinner party at Art Basel,” FYI.
Thanks for NADA
Thursday, 5 pm
NADA fair was founded in 2003 as a free alternative to Art Basel (which costs $45 for one day or $100 for four). When I first heard people talking about it a few years ago, I assumed the name was Spanish (this is Miami, right?) but NADA stands for New Art Dealers Alliance, the non-profit for up-and-coming galleries that runs the fair.
The first NADA had very little budget and originally took place in a vacant retail space right by the convention center that hosts Basel. “It was hugely succesful,” says director Heather Hubbs. “A couple of Brooklyn galleries that did the fair made enough money to move to ground-floor spaces in Chelsea.” NADA itself has moved to glitzier digs: three ballrooms at the chic Deauville Beach Resort as of 2009.
The Deauville is buzzing at 3 PM, and it’s clear why hotels love the art world: people are dropping cash everywhere I look. One of the first things attendees see as they make their way to the art is this booth for Beats by Dre.
It’s an example of a kind of branding opportunity that’s #soBasel. Beats collaborated with the collective Snarkitecture to produce this piece: a pair of white headphones resting upon a limited-edition marble pillow. (Price tag: $599.99)
NADA has a reputation for helping artists jump a level in their career and their pay scale. When I ask Hubbs for an example of an artist who’s benefitted from the NADA effect, she takes me to see the work of Juni Figueroa.
The Puerto Rican artist, represented by the Guatemalan gallery Proyectos Ultravioleta, shows me work from his “Tropical Ready Made” series: basketballs repurposed as planters and a wall-piece made to look like a window with shutters closed and laundry hanging out.
“In Puerto Rico, this would be a typical window where people would hang their clothing to dry,” Figueroa explains in Spanish. “A tropical window.” All of the pieces are simple but elegant and covetable, the kind of things you wish you thought of yourself.
Hubbs says that even though NADA is smaller and cheaper to attend, the marketplace has become comprable to plain old Basel’s. The collectors are “the same people that go to the main fair,” she says. Many of NADA’s galleries have graduated to Art Basel. A couple have even returned to NADA afterwards. “They felt like they were spending a lot of money for no reason,” Hubbs says. “They’d rather be at NADA.”
Other fair highlights:
Going for a Ryde with Ryder
Thursday 3 pm
New York artist Ryder Ripps picks me up in a red camero convertible that he sucks at parallel-parking.
We cruised around and chatted about what it means to be an “Art Whore,” the name he gave to a controversial project involving Craigslist sex workers at the Ace Hotel New York.
Watch him and other funny artists subvert stand-up comedy at LOL Basel Friday night.
Full interview with Ripps coming soon.
Good Morning / Afternoon.
Thursday, 12:15 pm
Got to stay on top of your hydration game at Basel.
Even demons need to rest.
At a certain point “work” must stop. Bye.
The DJ is a Jonas Brother and He’s Playing “No Scrubs.”
Thursday, possibly 2 AM.
I head with Brooke Candy and entourage to the party for Galore magazine, whose latest oversized issue, strewn about the party, is dedicated entirely to Lana Del Rey. Their summer issue featured Joe Jonas, who I realize is the guy earneslty DJ'ing an unremixed version of TLC’s “No Scrubs” from his laptop.
Brooke Candy Goes Demonic
Thursday, 1:00 am
Brooke Candy performs at the Miami Beach Resort hotel with small horns poking out of her head and black boots up to her knees.
“I’m your next cover girl,” says Candy. After her performance, the space quickly clears out, revealing one of Basel’s only bargains: bottle-service leftovers.
I’m here and I missed Miley.
Thursday, 12:00 am
The first Instagrams I see after landing are shots of Miley performing at V Magazine’s party. When I get into my taxi, the text Omg I’m on Miley’s bed arrives. Do my friends think they’ll be dancing with Miley for a while? “Probably not that long.”
I feel like sad Miley.
Leaving Los Angeles
Wednesday, 3:10 pm
Edie, the 73-year-old Viennese lady on my plane to Ft. Lauderdale, is confused. “There are a lot of young people on this flight,” she tells me, with a bit of apprehension.
She’s right. The population of the flight is split between retirees heading back to South Florida and L.A. party people. “Everyone’s heading to the art fair in Miami,” I tell her. She blinks. I begin explaining things the way I do to my grandmother, slowly and sweetly. “Galleries from all over the world go to sell art. Tons of people go. It’s basically a big party.”
I don’t really know too much more than that. I’ve never been to Miami for Basel so I’m feeling a mix of anxiety and excitement as I wait for the flight to take off. I’ve heard it’s one of the more socially competitive experiences that exists. Endless lists and RSVP-ing and publicists. Enough wealth to make you feel inferior no matter your earnings.
The annual event has turned into a major moment in the social calendar of the global elite and creative class—timed perfectly at the end of the year when people are rounding up 2014 trends and spotting 2015 ones, not only in art but in hospitality (Ian Schraeger’s new Edition Hotel is using Basel for its glamorous debut), fashion (endless pop-ups), music (Miley, Kelela and Brooke Candy are all performing), and branding (picture every brand doing something custom with every artist).
Increasingly, the city of Miami seems to revolve around Basel. The last time I visited it was early March, and Miami was dead. Everyone I spoke with applied the word “Basel” not just to the event but to a unit of time. “We opened two Basels ago,” a juice shop owner informed me. Others were waiting around for “next Basel” to open a shop or launch a new product.
It makes sense—Basel draws 75,000 visitors (many on private jets) and tourists who spend tens of millions of dollars. Celebrities and rich people descend. Branding, social media, strategies for exclusivity, and nightlight all follow. Spectacle is guaranteed.
I’ll be thinking about all of that as I live-blog the #ABMB experience through Sunday afternoon. What makes this event special for devoted fair-goers, many of whom return each year? What’s the importance of the fair for the artists and gallerists who show up? Does anything truly exceptional go on here or is it all hype? And what’s the real impact of Basel on Miami Beach, other than traffic? Does what happen in Miami stay in Miami, or is the impact felt more widely?
Stay tuned with updates from the parties, the art, the parties, the beach, the parties, the pools, the parties, the parties and more.