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Art Basel Miami Beach 2011


by Walter Robinson
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Call it the iPhone art fair. Art Basel Miami Beach, Nov. 30-Dec. 4, 2011, with tons of avant-garde art from 260 dealers, may be the same old same old, but one thing is different -- the ubiquitous use of smart phones to assemble personal collections of art works on view at ABMB or any of the dozen other fairs opening this week in the sunny seaside city.

This digital revelation came to me during the festive opening of Aqua Art Miami at the Aqua Hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Always everyone’s favorite for atmosphere, Aqua has two levels of rooms arranged around a verdant open courtyard. There, while resting on a bench, I watched Art Critical editor David Cohen and Manhattan art dealer Frank Bernarducci compare notes by using their iPhones to show each other artworks they had seen during the day.

A few hours earlier, at ABMB proper, I had run into Liz Parks, a former Artnet colleague who is now a private dealer. She had displayed an impressive collection of jpgs on her iPhone that she had assembled for a client from works on offer at the fair. Using Google’s Picasa website, she had posted the group of pictures in a password-protected folder.

That Steve Jobs, he’s done it again, transforming our everyday experience with one of his gadgets.

Meanwhile, in the old-fashioned real world, face-to-face networking proceeds as usual. Within a few moments, in an aisle at ABMB, the irrepressible Volta art fair director Amanda Coulson -- who noted that she had moved with her husband, German art dealer Uli Voges, back to her native Bahamas, as a result of her recent appointment as director of the seven-year-old National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (she’s keeping both jobs) -- had introduced me to Isolde Brielmaier, the new chief curator at the Savannah College of Art and Design -- “We need critics,” she exclaimed. “I’ve been writing criticism myself for Art in America” -- who quickly roped in Jeffrey Grove, curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Grove said he was on his way to buy something for his museum, but in the rush of conversation I didn’t get to press him for details.

Coulson and Brielmaier showed me their feet. This, too, may be more common in Miami than other art climes.

One topic of conversation was a rumor recently reported by the Miami Herald that had the Miami Art Museum board was contemplating changing the name of the museum in return for $20 million from Argentina-born Cuban-American condo magnate Jorge Perez (b. 1950). “It’s going to blow up,” someone predicted. “Don’t quote me!” Perez, who has been called the “Donald Trump of the Tropics,” already has the Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.

A few steps away, at the booth of London dealer Stephen Friedman, a new work by Rubell Family Foundation scion Jennifer Rubell was prompting avid audience participation. It was a life-sized wax mannequin of Britain’s Prince William, standing on a low podium that invited passers-by to have their pictures taken side-by-side with the man who would be king. The mannequin has a ring strategically placed on the prince’s arm, positioned just so, allowing the pretense of marriage. You can buy it for your own private museum for a friendly $95,000.

Otherwise, what’s trending? Galleries with whole-booth installations, for one thing. L&M Arts filled its spacious stand with an impressive abundance of works on paper by Andy Warhol, hung against a pink and lavender wallpaper made from a Warhol portrait. Across the way, Mary Boone Gallery had wrapped its booth with floor-to-ceiling black-and-white slogans by Barbara Kruger, at her most classically minimalist -- “money makes money” and “bleed us dry,” in all caps, natch. It’s yours for $250,000.

Some people are cursed to travel to art fairs in far-off cities, only to visit galleries from their own hometowns. Boone’s booth also boasted paintings by two of her signature artists, Eric Fischl and David Salle. The new Salle works, looking good in his old style, are $275,000, while the two Fischls, dating from 2006 and 2009, are painterly “snapshots” of family get-togethers at the beach, both prominently featuring images of his wife, painter April Gornik.

In Fischl’s eternal search for subjects -- most recently, ballet dancers, bullfighters and a kind of modernist bedroom melodrama -- this autobiographical solution is particularly amiable. I like the more recent one, done on the occasion of photographer Ralph Gibson’s 70th birthday on Saint Barts and including portraits of Steve Martin and his wife, Anne Stringfield. The painting is priced at a cool $1.2 million.

And of course the fair abounds in eye-catching trophy art of all kinds. A kind of endless column of 13 oversized cocktail olives, complete with pimento stuffing, made of pigmented rubber by Martha Friedman at the Wallspace booth, for instance. It looks piquantly delicious, and is $18,000.

At the booth of Galerie chez Valentin from Paris was a large tank, filled with yellow fluid and containing a rotating fan, working, though slowly, in what turns out to be its bath of oil. The device is by Eric Baudart, and is one of a trio, the others being a blow dryer and an electric drill, each submerged in its own type of lubricant. “Andres Serrano has a new fan,” hazarded the aforementioned Cohen in his posting. Another reference would be the basketball equilibrium tanks of Jeff Koons. The price is €10,000, and the work was on hold for 24 hours by “a Boston museum.”

In this vein, one last image, featuring superdealer Larry Gagosian, spotted sitting in his booth like a kind of objet d’art himself, drawing more attention of fairgoers than the paintings and sculptures surrounding him.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.