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Art Fair Vital Necessity and Dirty Whore

Miami Art Scene

Art Fair Vital Necessity and Dirty Whore

By Katherine Sweetman

Each year thousands of patrons (65,000+ this year) make the pilgrimage to Art Basel Miami Beach and/or the countless other happenings, satellite fairs and parties that intentionally overlap this weekend of art-flavored events.

This was the 10th year for the Miami fair that’s billed as “the most prestigious art show in the Americas“, and the rumors are that attendance is up, sales are up and rich folks think that art is a better place to stash their cash than Wall Street.

The Art Fair knows its role as both vital necessity and dirty whore. It is necessary to keep art glamorous and trendy in the eyes of the outsider (and stock holder) in order to keep the arts economically viable, but the concept of the Art Fair is inherently problematic and, dare I say, dirty — dressing up the art and hoping for a high bidder to take it home. The fair(s) takes something that is supposed to be pure, like art (or sex), and puts a price tag on it. The fear is that artists become corrupted by the knowledge of what sells and then become “sell outs”– a good phrase for dealers but a bad phrase for artists. But it is when this duality is made apparent, when the art-commodities at the fair point to the fact that commodification of art is dirty, THIS, in my opinion, is the most interesting situation at the Art Fair.

Jonathan Horowitz, Art Delivers People, Art Basel Miami Beach

Jonathan Horowitz, Art Delivers People, Art Basel Miami Beach

While I paused to take these photos (above), very few people stopped to watch Jonathan Horowitz‘s  Art Delivers People, 2010. The piece is a play on Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman’s early 70’s video, Television Delivers People, that effectively critiques television– informing the audience they are the product TV is selling; they are the product that the advertisers are purchasing. Horowitz replaces the critique of television with that of the ART WORLD, and now the fair goers walk by a critique of the art market at that same art market’s most sacred event. At first I thought this was a brave move on the part of Sadie Coles, London (the gallery that paid for the wall space where Art Delivers People was hung), but perhaps collectors enjoy this dichotomy. A prime example of this was seen elsewhere this weekend in Miami, at the Rubell Family Collection‘s exhibition held in conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach aptly titled American Exuberance. Bert Rodriguez’s The True Artist Makes Useless Shit for Rich People to Buy, 2008, seems to let us know that collectors, at least the Rubells, are in on the joke.

Bert Rodriguez, The True Artist Makes Useless Shit for Rich People to Buy, Rubell Family Collection

The Flash Art magazine booth, back in the Art Basel Miami Beach proper, had one particular item that was selling like hotcakes. The 20$, “Fuck Art Fairs” T-shirts (done in the Art Basel font) were flying off the table. There was actually a line to buy them, and yes, I was in this line. I bought one, and wore it all day Saturday at: Scope, Red Dot, Art Miami, SEVEN.

Booth selling "Fuck Art Fair" T-shirts at Art Basel Miami Beach

On the topic of ironic T’s, I thought I would throw in an image of fair goer (below) sporting a T-shirt with a famous quote from Nazi playwright Hanns Johst (although may be bad translation). Phrase is often attributed to the ultra-evil Nazi henchmen, Joseph Goebbels, but upon closer inspection, it seems the shirt is a commemorative souvenir from another ultra-sheik curated art exhibition, The Venice Biennale.

"When I Hear the Word Art I Reach for My Gun" T-shirt seen at Scope Art Fair

Venice Biennial 2009 Souvenir?

Self reflexivity abounds at the art fair(s) as evidenced by Simon Thompson’s Fuck Off Art Cunts series. I should mention that these images (below) are not from Art Basel Miami Beach but from Scope Miami. An easy tell could be that the booth selling “Fuck Off Art Cunts” prints is a local Miami gallery, the Robert Fontaine Gallery. Art Basel Miami Beach includes very few local galleries. The vetting process is beyond my comprehension, but of the 260 galleries allowed into Art Basel Miami Beach, only three are located in Miami.

Simon Thompson, Fuck Off Art Cunts (in the back there), Scope Miami

Simon Thompson, Fuck Off Art Cunts, Scope Miami

Artist Paulo Nazareth was a big hit at Art Basel Miami Beach this year. His piece may be one of the most cited and photographed works in the fair, but I have yet to see anyone giving any sort of critical overview of the situation. Perhaps the situation is to obvious to analyze. The installation, paid for by the São Paulo-based gallery Mendes Wood, included a rusty VW bus filled up with one-ton of ripe bananas– spilling out onto the convention center floor. The artist seemed to always be on hand, and he became part of the installation.

artist Paulo Nazareth (left)- notice sign (left wall), photo credit: Barbara Revelle

He had a few hand-drawn signs with him. Thursday’s sign said (in Spanish), “Soy un hombre extraño en sus ojos? Saca un foto conmigo por Q1”. Translation: “Am I an exotic man in your eyes? Take a photo with me for 1 Quetzel” (1 Guatemalan Quetzel equivalent to about 12 cents US). The sign was inspired by one of the artists’ photographs of an indigenous-looking Guatemalan man with the same sign obviously posing somewhere tourists frequented. Now, the artist is the hombre extraño in the eyes of the art collector and fair goers.

(detail) "Soy un hombre extraño en sus ojos? Saca un foto conmigo por Q1"

I watched people interact with the installation and the artist, and I saw many of them stop to pose and have their photo taken, but I didn’t see anyone really fork over the Quetzel. Perfumed, face-lifted, white ladies with their older husbands paused and spoke with the Brazillian artist. Lots of people smiled and laughed, “what an interesting installation,” they remarked as they took photos. The artist’s objectification and the critique on class, wealth, and power became a critique on the fair goer and the fair itself. Nazareth’s work was the closest to performance that I witnesses inside the Art Basel Miami Beach fair although some performances were moved outdoors to be part of the Art Public (Public Art mainly in a beach-front park separate from the fair). The only performance that I happened across was by new york artist Jen DeNike from the same São Paulo-based gallery as Paulo Nazareth (Mendes Wood).

Jen DeNike, Lemanjá, Art BAsel Miami Beach- Art Public

Jen DeNike, Lemanjá, Art Basel Miami Beach- Art Public

I read that the piece was about the worship the Brazilian sea goddess “Lemanjá”, but the highlight of this performance, for me, was the backdrop because typically when I see performance art with pretty girls in pretty dresses my brain shuts off, and an 80° South Beach day in December was breathtakingly beautiful. I wondered why I didn’t skip the art and go grab my bathing suit and a Piñacolada. (Actually I did have that Piñacolada.)

I believe that for most people, self-included, Art Basel Miami Beach, is eclipsed by the other events and happenings around Miami during this weekend. The Wynwood area events, for example, are an amazing and sprawling collection of galleries, warehouses, public and private collectors’ spaces, pop up galleries in vacant properties, parties in parking lots, live street painting, and general parties with live music, fashion shows and art backdrops.

vacant lot, pop up gallery, featuring Art Cream Truck

Art Cream Truck (above) in a open lot in the Wynwood Arts District.

“I got tired of waiting for you to come to my galleries so I decided to bring my art to you…” from Art Cream Truck website.

Wynwood Arts District


Bride as art, Wynwood Arts District gallery

Although these murals (below) were not made for this particular iteration of Miami Basel, Wynwood Walls featured many of the famous street artists, the ones that now sell work for millions of dollars.

Shepard Fairy mural at Wynwood Walls ... (done in 2009)

Ron English Mural (2010)

On the topic of pop culture, and street artists… Absent from Wynwood Walls, but showing very strong in both Wynwood and in Miami Beach was Mr. Brainwash. He had two large events during Basel weekend. I only got into one of them.

Mr. Brainwash takes over a building in Miami Beach, photo credit: Barbara Revelle

Mr. Brainwash poses for Reviewer Magzine


In closing, the Art Fair is necessary and dirty. Some might argue the same traits apply to the prostitution industry. Either way, it was a fabulous experience. And I think I would do it again.

See more images at my personal blog

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