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Rapper Mykki Blanco Draws Attention to Art-World Racism by Literally Going Ham at Art Basel

Rapper Mykki Blanco Draws Attention to Art-World Racism by Literally Going Ham at Art Basel: Terry's Diary

Terry's Diary

This post was originally published on our Art Basel Live Blog on December 6.

“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.

#artbasel

A video posted by Akeem Smith (@akeemouch) on

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.)

The performance was messy, shocking, funny, and obnoxious and quickly became the only thing anyone wanted to talk about after sitting around a party with no music and no performances for hours. Most people felt like it was in poor taste to go after the person whose booze you’re drinking, but no one was particularly surprised that Blanco—known for bringing a punk ethos to hip hop—would go there. New Yorkers talked about the two having beef that goes back at least to October, when a performance by Blanco at a MOMA party for fashion label Hood By Air degenerated into moshing and beer bottle-smashing.

Most people saw a grain of truth in Blanco’s comments. The artists Biesenbach champions are typically white or Asian. Of the 25 solo exhibitions he’s organized for MOMA and PS-1 since 2000, only one was for a black artist, Mickalene Thomas. The rest were mostly Europeans plus a few Asians and white Americans.

The context surrounding Blanco’s outburst added a bit of poignancy to a sloppily-delivered message. Earlier in the night, demonstrators protesting the lack of indictments for the cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner vowed to “shut down Art Basel”. They briefly closed down Interstate 195—Miami Beach’s crucial lifeline to the mainland—temporarily marooning thousands of (mostly white) Baselers on their island of privilege.

But Basel was hardly shut down. Inside the universe of hotel parties, security keeps reality from getting in: racial politics are never on the list. Blanco managed to sneak some inside.

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