|Yesterday I tumbled violently off a cliff in Bushwick and landed face first in a pile of purple jellyfish—that is to say I’ve arrived in South Beach, Miami. The art fairs I’m here to cover are lined up down Collins Ave, South Beach’s main drag. The strip is comprised of luxury hotels, done up in pastel colored art deco, and surrounded by everything from well figured women with orange rind skin, to silk wearing millionaires and the severe looking homeless people who ask them for change.|
5th Element By Thomas Seely
Overheard in Miami:
"Oh! it’s at $20,000 now? We keep our Arbus in a very dark room. In fact, there are no lights at all." -A Collector
"This is clearly the worst thing here, but I will never forget it." -William Powhida
Yesterday I tumbled violently off a cliff in Bushwick and landed face first in a pile of purple jellyfish—that is to say I’ve arrived in South Beach, Miami. The art fairs I’m here to cover are lined up down Collins Ave, South Beach’s main drag. The strip is comprised of luxury hotels, done up in pastel colored art deco, and surrounded by everything from well figured women with orange rind skin, to silk wearing millionaires and the severe looking homeless people who ask them for change.
South Beach is a mixed up place. It is a swirl of wealth and poverty, lushness and decrepitude, sunlight and sexual exhibition. I wonder if perhaps the salt in the air and the sand blowing in from the beach have somehow hollowed out the meat and scaffolding underneath South Beach’s pastel exterior. Perhaps, it would at least explain the man I saw at breakfast yesterday, taking bumps of cocaine out of his closed fist between sips of his orange juice. This week’s influx of art world denizens only ads to the peculiar mix. As an out of towner, ignorant to the surly rich history of this place, South Beach exists as though God made a smoothie out of sugar, palm trees and garbage.
This is not meant as an insult however. Garbage can be fascinating, and many of our favorite pleasures and vices would be cast off into the rubbish bin were readers of certain books given the chance. Trash is fascinating. Trash is sometimes beautiful. Often, trash is worth looking at, and after all that’s what I’m down here to do is look. Were it not for the art world all the objects at the fairs here in South Beach would be—you guessed it— garbage.
Yesterday I saw the Aqua and Flow art fairs. Aqua, I’ve decided is the "beach house" of the fair scene. If MTV dragged Kurt London out of the cave he’s been hiding in and made him host an art world version of the Grind, it would be held at Aqua. The fair takes place in a hotel that opens into a plush courtyard with palm trees, and a fountain that turns into a hot tub at night. Galleries from London to Seattle have taken over the surrounding hotel rooms to show work by an equally diverse number of artists. As I wondered from room to room dealers, collectors and artists took notes, passed around beers and convened on the balcony to smoke cigarettes and gossip.
If Aqua is the beach house Kurt Loder fair, then Flow is like that room in your rich friend’s parent’s house that nobody was allowed to go into. If you grew up with a rich friend you’ll know what I’m talking about. This type of room contains stuff like precious vases, fine china and carved statuettes that were probably purchased on a trip to Belgium or Thailand. Growing up, the only time I was ever allowed into a room like this was to chase out a dog. If your parents never had enough money to keep a totally functionless decorative room in your house don’t fret—just come down and visit the Flow art fair.
I must however, acknowledge the two glowing exceptions to the above description. They are Jay Jay gallery from Sacramento and Rule gallery from Denver. These galleries took the time to talk to me about the work and their artists. At Jay Jay we chatted about the difficulties of running an art space in Northern California, and at Rule I learned we had a mutual connection to zingmagazine. This just goes to show how much of a difference actual unpretentious human interaction can make, even if the person your talking to has weird hair, smells kinda funny and left his checkbook back in Brooklyn.
After seeing two fairs, I still can’t nail down the whole atmosphere of the Miami art fair scene. I think it goes something like this: Part prom, part summer camp, part cage match, part corporate retreat, part circus, part peep show, part stock exchange, part brothel, part beauty pageant, part beach party, part casino, part star-trek convention if the Enterprise were the contemporary art scene. Although, I bet that if you really wanted to, you could find, a painting of, in reference to, or about Star Trek. In fact, I’ll propose a challenge: if anyone can find, here in Miami, a painting pertaining to Star Trek I will buy it, no questions asked. I’ll pay premium for any work actually depicting William Shatner.
Speaking of buying stuff…I’ve decided to try an experiment. I’ve seen this performed by at least two other people, but have yet to see put into print. The experiment is this: I’m giving myself $1,000,000. That’s right. Let’s just pretend I won the lotto, or robbed a bank, or was the CEO of Morgan Stanley, and despite losing the company 5 billion dollars received a $100 million severance package and decided to invest one percent of it on artwork to put in the home I just purchased on an island in Dubai shaped like Australia. As I stagger from Aqua to Scope to Pulse and other interchangeably named fairs, I will keep a running tally of the work I purchase by the end of the week, creating a kind of fantasy collection that I can then hang in the imaginary museum in my mind/on the internet.
Now let me say, this idea is not totally out of left field. I conceived of it after reading the following quote from Jeffrey Deitch in the New Yorker:
"The physical presence of the work is not the primary stimulant…People will ask me to send them a digital of the next available thing by an artist whose work they know and like, and they will buy from that."
The premise for my JPEG Collection is basically to go around to all the fairs and "purchase" work by photographing it with a digital camera. In a way I’m trying to reverse engineer the process Deitch describes by using my camera as a checkbook. If his clients can acquire physical artworks from digital representations, then I can see the work in person and own the JPEG reproduction. I hope this doesn’t get me in trouble…
Please Note: I’ve noticed that most galleries located east of Denver don’t like to post prices at the art fairs. I’m not sure who they think they’re kidding. These galleries aren’t to interested in talking to me when I walk in, so I don’t really feel comfortable asking the dealers for prices. However, I do feel comfortable making them up. All imagined prices are marked with an asterisk (*).
Day One "Purchases" from Aqua and Flow
Total Spent: $67,200
Remaining Funds: $932,800
Adam King (http://www.lounge-gallery.com/artists.php?mode=view&id=13)
Adam makes sweet collage work. His works on paper look like your recycling bin full of magazines blasted through a wood chipper onto paper. His installation pieces resemble neurological networks or ivy made from consumer catalogs creeping across your ceiling.
Brian Ulrich (www.qpca.com/artists/ULRIB)
This is from his series of pictures taken at thrift stores. Brian made my day with this large scale photograph of VHS tapes. VHS will rise again my friends. Just you wait.
Adam Dant (www.adambaumgoldgallery.com/)
This piece is a map titled "Dant Art World Atlas." All your favorites are there. Including Richard Prince’s head drawn onto the body of a fish.
Carl James Ferraro (carlferrero.blogspot.com/)
I saw this great drawing at Platform Gallery’s (http://www.platformgallery.com/ ) room at Aqua. The piece is titled What Not to Wear.
Jon Haddock (www.howardhouse.net/artists/index.html)
This is a big purchase. In fact I couldn’t get the entire piece in the shot. For his Screenshot Series Haddock has drawn famous scenes from history—MLK’s assassination, Tiananmen Square, Columbine shootings—and drawn them using isometric perspective, a rendering technique used in computer games like SimCity to depict 3D environments in two dimensions. This work is unsettling and rather humorous, which, given the content, left me feeling even more disturbed.
Melissa Hogan (www.artnet.com/artist/425137656/melissa-hogan.html)
This was by far one of my favorites from the first day in Miami. Melissa Hogan is a 71 year old woman, whose narrative photographic series are based on conversations she overheard while riding the bus! Totally amazing. This one is called I was in a coma for three months, they shot my pit bull.
Rick Wright (couldn’t find website. He’s showing at Quality Pictures at Aqua www.qpca.com/)
I have special relationship to this photograph because it depicts the product of one of the nervous ticks I developed when I went to college: obsessively pulling the hair out of the right side of my head. Wright photographs tangled wads of hair that his wife is constantly tearing from her scalp. Against a white background the hair looks like it’s been delicately drawn. It was only upon close inspection that I realized it was a photograph.
I actually don’t know who made this, what it’s called or how much it actually costs. I love this tooth-like stone sculpture because it looks like one of the Stones that Bruce Willis needs to save the world from Gary Oldman in the 90s sci-fi classic The 5th Element. If I actually owned this glorious object instead of just a picture of it, I’d put on The 5th Element on my 600 pound, 55 inch television, position the sculpture between my legs and blow on it just like Korben Dallas. I think that experience would be worth $10,000. Super Green!