Text by Caitlin Donohue. Top image, glittering junk food at Art Basel 2013. Photo by Amos Mac.
It was the end of Art Basel week 2013. Artists and girlfriends Signe Pierce and Alli Coates were moments away from premiering their short film in a Miami Beach dive bar whose walls appeared to be covered by garbage bags for the occasion. I was unsurprised to learn that the art at the storied Miami expo — perhaps the largest art fair in the United States — had failed to stun the duo with its risk and relevancy. The question of whether Art Basel Miami is the center of the American art world, after all, hinges on your definition of the word “art”.
Last year, a record 75,000 art lovers attended Art Basel Miami at South Beach’s glittering convention center, many of whom also tottered around the 20-plus smaller fairs that have popped up in town during the week that Basel proper brings in the high rolling art freaks. If you’re hypebeast enough to want to enter into this fray, you probably will add magazine events, product launches and pop-up clubs sponsored by emerging booze brands to your schedule. Most attendees spend the week functioning on no sleep and several thousand cortaditos, the tiny Cuban coffees that deliver an atomic bomb of caffeine and sugar.
Miami ambiance. Photo by Caitlin Donohue.
The $2 billion worth of art on display at the convention center, with its attendant wheeling and dealing, hardly impressed Pierce and Coates. “Are we just going to pretend that the Internet hasn’t existed for the last 10, 20 years?” scoffed Pierce. “I just kept saying ‘where’s the photo art, where’s the digital art?’” She shrugged. “And then I was like oh, it’s all on Tumblr.” Like I said, they didn’t come away with any art crushes. But it did make them want to suck face in the face of so many soulless canvases, said Pierce, who wore a cartoon print crop top over a pink fishnet body stocking and under a high peroxide blonde ponytail.
“And wear price tags,” continued Coates, flashing the palm tree tattoo she’d gotten that week in Miami. “It’s definitely not something that I’d want to spend a lot of time around,” concluded Pearce. Minutes after our talk, the duo’s genius “American Reflexx” rolled, projected on a drapey bedsheet that wasn’t quite as large as the image of the film. Upon it, Pierce vamped robotically down the crowded sidewalks of vacation mecca Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She wore a blue micro-dress with a silver half-dome strapped to her face.
BYOB art. Photo of Kelly Lovemonster’s ass at Basel 2013 by Amos Mac.
The horrifying, real life climax to this promenade (no spoiler) spoke of American mob mentality and the hideous ramifications of slut shaming. After “American Reflexx”‘s credits unfurled to whooping applause, the event that had been organized by artists from the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn segued into screamy holiday songs being sung by New York scenesters SSION and Lauren Devine. Then there was a number by LA’s Jesse Hoffman a.k.a. Ben Woozy, who rapped with his arm in a sling, shoulder dislocation sustained during an ill-timed dive from a speedboat en route to a private island concert earlier in the weekend. Because, Basel.
It seemed a little surreal that such a freaky, downtown affair would take place in Miami Beach. But then, I had arrived in Miami the Monday before, so maybe I was just a little delirious by the time Sunday night rolled around. My 2013 Basel crew, 4U co-editor Kelly Lovemonster and photographer Amos Mac — we called each other “the Basel boyfriends” — hadn’t yet arrived so I headed solo direct from my flight at Miami International to a party for Elton John’s AIDS Foundation. This being the third Basel I’d be reporting on, I didn’t want to miss the early week VIP orgies. The event featured Marina Ambramovic and Ricky Martin. By the time Wednesday morning rolled around, I was sitting on a folding chair with a hundred other journalists in the well-appointed Art Basel Art Fair Collector’s Lounge. We were in the pregnant moments before the convention center floor and its 250-plus gallery displays opened to the first wave of VIPs. To the right of us reporters sat a BMW race car painted by Andy Warhol. Behind us, a quiet man employed by the art fair’s cigar sponsor sat at a desk rolling “authentic” tubes of tobacco. And in front of us, a parade of dignitaries told us why we were at the center of the art world universe. Salient points: the 6,297 artists and 1,000 galleries represented at various fairs during Basel week 2013, their impact on Miami’s economy, and the admittedly fabulous array of Art Basel public programming like al fresco screenings of artist Mickalene Thomas’ film about her mother and the US premiere of the Nan Goldin documentary.
Andy Warhol’s BMV, Art Basel Art Fair Collector’s Lounge 2013. Photo by Caitlin Donohue.
After the speechifying, we solemnly munched the crustless sandwiches and eclairs provided for our brunch, wondering whether our 10am flutes of champagne would sharpen or hinder our journalistic verve. In short order, we would find out. One otherwise well regarded art publication tailed Leonardo DiCaprio through that first day of the fair, fully documenting his convention floor wanderings in a print publication handed out at the Miami Beach Convention Center the next day. Was it the champagne?
I read somewhere that going to Art Basel, for an artist, is kind of like seeing your parents have sex: you know it’s why you exist in the first place, but that doesn’t mean you want to see it happen.
Some artists avoid Basel altogether. Otherwise capitulate to the looming menace of their FOMO. In 2013 panicked pre-Basel thoughts might have included: Miss the show of Tracey Emin’s neon art at North Miami’s MOCA? Perish the thought! The opening week of the Pérez Art Museum, with the country’s first Ai Wei Wei retrospective? No! New York City artist Matthew Stone’s epic fashion opera, co-starring rapper Zebra Katz, athletic haute couturiers Hood By Air, and avant garde performance artist/”it” person boychild, all on a glass runway extending over a luxury hotel’s swimming pool? Nope. Forgo lingering Nas at the Vfiles party hosted by A$AP Rocky? NEVER. Give me Instagram likes and complimentary alcohol or give me DEATH.
Your author after a lot, maybe too much, Basel. Photo by Amos Mac.
Despite the fact that Amos, Kelly and I all navigated the week based on the power of hard-won press passes, none of us published a word about the proceedings. Which is not to say we didn’t document — Amos got a photo published in Butt Magazine of Kelly’s ass raised suggestively off his beach towel in the Miami sun.
The most memorable art I’ve seen at Basel weeks was a large hamburger made entirely of rhinestones. It is always at SCOPE, somehow, and it sits with a similarly spangled boxes of French fries and roll of Live Savers. I’ve seen people inquire about its price, but never get around to buying the monstrosity.
On Saturday night, my crew suffered a severe ego blow when we couldn’t get into the MOMA PS1 event — even though we were on the VIP list, even though the person who had put us on the list was the headliner, even though the party’s doors had opened 20 minutes before. We arched our eyebrows aggressively at the stone cold doorman — until we realized the line of Internet celebrities behind us was doing the same thing, confronting the same lack of shits given. Perhaps that when I decided it would be my last year at Basel for a minute. I was defeated, for the last time, by the posturing and faux wealth. It can give you acid reflux if you don’t already have a well-fortified wall erected around your sense of self worth. And of course, there’s your standard art world idiocies, both high and low. A potato faced dude wearing a “Girls Love Graffiti Writers” t-shirt that confirmed my resolve to miss the street art-heavy Wynwood neighborhood I’d spent so much time in during past years of Basel.
Artist Monica Canilao at her installation at the Shore Club South Beach last year. Photo by Caitlin Donohue.
Installation artist Monica Canilao is good at Art Basel. The Bay Area’s Juxtapoz Magazine and soon-to-open Chandran Gallery invited her in 2013 to trick out the tony South Beach hotel Shore Club’s private beach house for the art fair hordes. Her only question: whether they could supply her with a canoe, or if she had to bring her own?
True to form, she is decorating said vessel with curlicues and color blocks when we arrive to kick it with her. Thanks to Canilao, the Shore Club’s beach house pool area now looks like an aristocratic desert wraith’s messy boudoir – strips of lace, weathered rope, lightly colored fabric swatches hang from every tree branch, pool house beam, even on strings crisscrossing above the pool. Canilao’s band of helpers, who came on planes from New York and in a hippie bus from New Orleans, saunter about setting the stage for the night’s Juxtapoz festivities.
This was not Canilao’s first Basel. “When we came a few years ago we got a moped illegally,” she remembered. She also staged a marriage to papercut street artist and painter Swoon in an abandoned Miami building. “We lit some couches on fire and were like ‘we just got married!’” Canilao tells us matter-of-factly. So she did find some moments in which to be a freaky artist. Still, she thought Basel was kind of lame. It was hard to find places where you could just hang out with friends you rarely saw during the rest of the year. Hence, the desert wraith palace. “I’ve always made forts and hangouts — since I’ve been doing work, since I’ve been doing installations. They’ve just gotten more and more elaborate over the years.” Later that night, we return to see Canilao’s “epic secret ceremony,” for which her band of misfits attired themselves in ivory and gold tones to move glacially across the landscape they’ve built. Over the fence from this weird world, in the main pool area of the Shore Club, David Arquette is hosting an event for his LA nightclub.
Juliana Huxtable DJs at a Sunday afternoon party hosted by NYC’s Topical Creams in 2013. Photo by Caitlin Donohue.
“There’s so many people doing their thing,” said Canilao of the contrasting events before offering me a paintbrush to leave my own magic symbol on her canoe. “I’m reveling in the funny craziness of Art Basel. Everything is funny.”
That convergence was a theme that even the Basel rebels kept coming back to. “Just as important as going to see art this week is meeting other female artists,” said Coates. “Our contemporaries,” added her closest contemporary. “Even when you see people on the Internet or at parties all the time, it can be intimidating,” reflected Coates. “It’s great to be like ‘you’re in Miami, I’m in Miami.’ Being removed from the party scene so you can actually talk about real ideas.”
Basel boyfriends. Photo by Amos Mac.
So Art Basel may be the center of the art industry in the US, but it is hardly the center of creativity. No lie, it indisputably provides a yearly – sunny! By the beach! Get a tan and make your snowbound friends jealous! – meeting of successful creatives that you can’t quite find anywhere else. Fortunately, I have creative friends I get to kick it with year-round, and in places around the world where the guest list equals the guest list and not everyone’s one cortadito shy of keeling over from exhaustion.
But … did I mention I saw Ricky Martin and Marina Abramovic at the same party last year? Or that LiLo’s boyfriend got in a fist fight with Paris Hilton’s brother after an after-party for a party we actually attended? That I received my first B12 shot mere feet from one of my favorite New York DJs spinning on the sunny roof of a South Beach hotel? That a year later I can’t remember a single piece of art I saw that week? I mean, except the slut film. And the fort. And Kelly’s ass.