Jessica Browdy, Lindsay Scherr, and I were greeted at Verge Art Fair at the Essex Hotel by Nordic vodka girls, a flower installation of topiary wolves eating pieces of faux bloodied meat and a football themed performance art piece with suited up players and cheerleaders. Only in Miami Beach can the brutal, the decadent, and the camp sit side by side with such ease.
Welcome to Miami Art Week.
Miami Art Week happens each year from Tuesday through Sunday, the first week in December, and is anchored by Art Basel, an international fair showcasing the work of over 2,000 artists. Since coming to Florida in 2002, the associated events around Art Basel have grown exponentially. Now, more than 20 additional art fairs have opened their doors during this time.
Art fairs take stamina. It’s like going to Wal-Mart and instead of contemplating toothpaste, you are looking at the blood and sweat work of people who are not getting paid very much (if at all) and deciding if it would look good over your sofa. But Jessica and I are art fair veterans and know how to survive the mental overload that comes from sorting the like/dislike, weird/too weird, cute/too cute art while walking down endless aisles of gallery booths.
Jessica, Lindsay, and I had decided to skip Basel, where the established artists would be, and hang out instead with the emerging artists trying to hustle their wares. Their stories are more interesting than another Andy Warhol print. Verge Art Fair was our first stop. Verge was one of several groups that decided to take over a block of hotel rooms and let the artists work, sleep, and show their works from Wednesday through Sunday. Walking past the glamazons at the bar and the camera crews in the lobby, my group and I made it to the second floor to start visiting the artists.
We were transfixed by University of South Florida, Associate Professor of Architecture, Mark Weston’s structures and sculptures, and LA-based Mike Reynold’s intricate oil paintings of regal Justin Biebers. When we walked into Katya Grokhovsky’s space, we unknowingly happened into a performance art piece. Her room, which was a heap of materials, papers, and wigs, were primed for dress-up time but when I asked if I could borrow her wig for my portion of the performance, she shut me down. Quickly. “Untitled Heroic,” the name of her piece, became our code word for “we don’t know what else to call this” throughout the fairs.
Strolling down Collins Avenue, we happened into an opening party for PD Wearable Art, a collection of clothing designers who specialize in the outrageous. They had re-imagined a residential garden into a catwalk of glowing costumes, and when we arrived at the bungalow where the show took place, we entered into the costume shop for Tron, Dune, and the Lone Ranger. The designers were there in their own creations looking ridiculously perfect, of course. In an industry where the snob factor is very high, these were some really nice, scantily clad, wig-adorned people.
Also along Collins was the transformation of the Lords Hotel into the Black Lords by Desi Santiago, where an inflatable, fortune-telling demon smothered the entire Art Deco hotel. A veritable Magic 8 Ball, we each wrote a secret wish on a card, walked up to the podium where we could stare the inflatable demon straight in the eyes, and dared to have our future revealed. While our response was screamed out of overhead speakers (yes/no/maybe), Gypsy hissed smoke at us demanding that we make room for the next person. But I didn’t get the answer I wanted!
By this point, Jessica and I deserved (late) dinner at my favorite spot – Sushi Samba. Have you ever had a nina fresa? It will change your life.
Getting mentally prepared for the day ahead, Jessica and I met up with a lovely friend for breakfast at Back Porch Café, caught up on computer work, and watched the beautiful people in Miami Beach.
Select Fair was my favorite. (There, I’ve said it.) The Catalina Hotel was a perfect venue for a show. A huge metal skull sculpture greeted us upon arrival. Since the front of the hotel is covered in glass, performance art in the lobby could be seen from the street. A painted mural decorated the spiral stair. Brian Whiteley from NYC, did a great job of getting this fair just right – great venue, great collection of artists. They had some other really cool ideas, as well, like an Airstream full of art (which Miami Beach police made them move even though they had a permit) and a vintage British double-decker bus to transport people.
Like Verge, Select visitors moved from room to room. Fave artists? Alesandra de la Cruz and Kennedy Yanko. These Brooklyn-based artists developed a fund-raising campaign (“Basel or Bust”) so they could afford the costs associated with attending the fair. (Without gallery representation, artists have to cover the cost of their flights/hotels/food, booth rentals, art shipping. We’re talking thousands of dollars here). We also liked Don Lisy, who discussed his water-color techniques with us. Anja Marais’ work was terrifying and terrific. She reflected her own personal struggle with the cultural notion of apartheid through multiple media including fabric animals whose teeth and real glass eyes were serenely grotesque.
Time for an overpriced grilled cheese sandwich and then on to Aqua Art Fair.
Leaving the beach and heading to the other half of the show in Miami’s Wynnwood and Midtown districts but first divey Peruvian food with Lindsay and her boyfriend. I heart ceviche.
After a hike through Overtown, the always lovely Miami city space between art and poverty, we encountered Bombshelter Museum, a project by Artists 4 Israel, where an empty lot was transformed into a location for graffiti artists and a band. My favorite work – a piece demanding people disconnect from their iPhones. I took a picture of it. On my iPhone.
More walking and desperation on my part to find a bathroom that is not a stinky port-a-potty, we arrived at Fountain, a fair from NYC who has shamelessly stolen its name from my beloved Marcel Duchamp. The DJ is mediocre and so we choose bed and a cab instead of hipster kids and blistered feet. We are in our 30’s.
“I can do this,” I tell myself. “I can do Context Art Miami Fair and all 125 galleries. On a Saturday. With thousands of people. And their children. I can do this because I have my own fool-proof art fair rules. I will take breaks, drink too many cappuccinos, close my eye lids when my eye balls start burning, and move quickly away from the bad art that makes me grumpy.”
I gave up. It was too freakin’ crowded with all the people in crazy snake outfits, baby strollers lodged in the middle of gallery aisles, people meandering aimlessly, old people haggling, people running to windows to get cell service. It is in those moments that I remember that I am related to my father who regularly makes cattle noises when he’s in public places because he feels like he is being herded around. Even with all those things going on, Jessica was productive. Must get to this fair earlier next year. Moo.
I was trying really hard to focus on being a disciplined art writer when, I saw a beacon of light through one of the exhibition windows. A distraction! A carnival ride! We headed promptly to Peter Anton’s “Sugar and Gomorroh.” Jessica, Lindsay and I waited in line for about 15 minutes, not knowing what we had in store for us except that it probably involved pastries and sex, given those were the images on the bright yellow signs draped from the ride. First thought – not appetizing or hygienic. When we hopped aboard a small carnival truck we stopped/started through a dark passage where an insanely beautiful (and skinny) woman was in a rapturous pose with an insanely handsome (and skinny) man. Through the black drapes and onto a zig-zag track where an insanely handsome (and skinny) man in his Speedo was drinking a beer and eating a sandwich. His beautiful (and skinny) half-naked companion was dozing while eating cupcakes. I screamed while leaving not because the track was scary (it wasn’t) but because I was happy to have not ended up in an art porno.
Tapas! Sangria! A dinner bill less than $70 for two people. This is worth celebrating! Please do not ask how much Sushi Samba was.
I really wanted to go out. I really did. But instead: sleep.
We actually weren’t going to go to Scope Fair, but they came through with my press pass. Reluctantly, I proceeded. It was there that we met Oleg Petrenko Gallery of Switzerland and saw the works of Korean artist Suh Jeong Min. Using pieces of calligraphied paper, Min creates vast canvases that resemble galactic terrain or expanses of rock.
Located inside Scope was Art Asia where we met Meenakshi Thirukode, a performance/film artist from Brooklyn. She talked to us about how she creates her alter-ego serial films revolving around Isha, a young Indian woman who moves to New York City to make it in the art world.
Next stop, Red Dot Art Fair, a new fair for 2012. Mixed bag of artists here but I did get to meet Jane Seymour the actress / Kay Jewelry designer. Yes, she is as nice as her character in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and she is just as pretty.
One of the best parts of Art Miami? Pop-up restaurants! Sushi Samba in Midtown and one last nina fresa before I started going through all my notes, papers, photos, and videos.