The long days are those that start the night before. So let’s begin in the dark, at a just-assembled picnic table on the back patio of the new "pop-up" Max Fish bar in a creepy Wynwood neighborhood rife with crackheads and whores and only a half-block away from the Ice Palace, abandoned this year by the NADA Art Fair and soon to be taken up by Helen Allen’s Pulse art fair.
Max Fish proprietor Ulli Rimkus had been lured to Miami by Al Moran, who publishes artist’s books (the latest by Don Attoe) and runs an art gallery named O.H.W.O.W. (and who himself plans to invade NYC with a bookstore at Waverly Place and East 7th Street in the Village in February 2010).
A Brooklyn artist named Krink was using old-fashioned fire extinguishers to spray long loopy swaths of yellow and blue paint on the tall whitewashed walls of the Fish building, the spray arcing over the roof (toward the cop car parked out front?) and running down the back façade like a living thing. "He’s famous for making fat writers," Ulli said, in reference to graffiti markers that draw a thick line (I think).
Inside the Fish, the bar surface was decorated with a giant print of a snow-covered tree by Seton Smith, which had been coated with a thick layer of epoxy and looked rather like marble, and the walls decorated with geometric wallpaper and a large assortment of artworks, including a striking dual portrait of Dash and Agathe Snow.
Sitting and gossiping at one of the picnic tables, Rimkus and I drew the attention of some 20-somethings, who pronounced us a "perfect couple" and took some pictures. I always wanted to grow up to be a curiosity for the party set.
The next morning’s schedule started at 10 am, and included an unveiling by Shepard Fairey of a street-long mural project on NW 2nd Avenue in Wynwood (missed it), a press conference in the "collector’s lounge" at Art Basel Miami Beach (missed it), and the preview for Ink Miami 2009 at the Suites of the Dorcester Hotel, which I made my destination.
On the way I ran into Robert Lynch, Nora Halpern and Katherine Gibney of Americans for the Arts, down in Miami to lobby the assembled art lovers -- they still want artists to get tax deductions for donating their own works to nonprofits -- and to huddle with Miami cultural affairs chief, Michael Spring, who is a boardmember.
The night before they had attended the Art Miami opening gala, which featured a Los Angeles band named OK Go performing on guitars decorated by Fendi with neon and feathers. Very Vegas.
On the way I stopped at the Catalina Hotel, home to the Verge art fair --but all was quiet, as the event debuted the next day.
For its part, Ink was up and running with its brunch, giving away iced cans of Illy Cappuccino along with the pastries. Energy drinks, often in small "booster" sizes, turned out to be a leitmotif of Miami art week events and gift bags. A jittery art dealer is a good art dealer.
Ink’s dozen or so print dealers include Glenn Dranoff from New York, who frankly noted that "of 50 things I have only six are prints." This included a suite of four Jasper Johns color etchings from his 1987 "Seasons" portfolio, priced at $150,000. "It’s ready to go into a collection," he said.
Next door was Jim Kempner Fine Art, where his gallery director Dru Arstark was touting delicate stipple-pen portraits, done with a Bic, of everyday African-Americans by Craig Norton -- "I bought one myself!" (they’re $3,500). Norton is doing an 88-figure installation of Civil Rights images for a benefit at the Museum of Television and Broadcasting, now known as the Paley Media Center, in February 2010.
Arstark was also enthusiastic about a new suite of color photos by Steve Giovinco, her husband, depicting the two of them as an alienated couple. A fiction, one suspects. "I put the camera on a ten-second delay," Giovinco said, "so I never know what’s going to happen." They’re $2,500, in editions of five.
Next door I met Margaret Miller of GraphicStudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa, the largest school-based print program in the country. It was GraphicStudio that produced those unique cyanotypes by Christian Marclay, bluish x-ray-looking grids of stacked cassette tapes or tangles of loose recording tape. Collectors love ‘em, and they’re selling like hotcakes at $14,000 and $30,000 -- buyers include the Boston MFA, the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan and the Whitney.
Marclay is holding back a suite of 14 new images for his 2010 show at the Aldrich Museum of Art, and is also working with GraphicStudio on a 50-foot-long scroll-score, based on the "zap and pow" sound effects of Japanese comics, for a show at the Whitney next spring. It will be performed by a voice choir.
Also on hand was David Norr, curator of the USF’s museum, which is officially named the Institute for Research in Art, for public-private-partnership-type reasons that escape me, even though Miller explained it all in detail. Norr’s current show, "New Weather" -- it’s about "the atmosphere in the studio," he said -- includes Diana Al-Hadid, who has showed in New York with Perry Rubenstein Gallery and who is doing a project with GraphicStudio as well.
After idling away the morning at the print fair, I directed my feet toward the Convention Center for Art Basel Miami Beach, which was having a day-long preview. The show seems larger than ever, and presents, as everyone knows, an all-but-endless spectacle of art and money. Funny, there’s so much art that it seems almost random, while the money is invisible, though it’s why everyone is there. We all construct our own narratives as we go, like picking out messages in alphabet soup.
I had just decided to plumb the mysterious appeal of painterly painting via large works by Emilia and Ilya Kabakov and Georg Baselitz at the booth of Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac when I came upon Curt Marcus, who I first met 30 years ago when he worked at Grace Borgenicht Gallery. Marcus was genuinely psyched, not least because he had just returned from a trip to Marrakesh and the hip nightclubs of London with his 19-year-old musician son.
One definite change for the better at ABMB: the fair has given up on the shipping-container village at the beach, and instead placed the young dealers in booths around the square center of the convention-floor proper. Here was much interesting young work, including a working (electronic) piano made from barn wood by Brent Green, an artist from Central Pennsylvania, though when I started to play chopsticks he stopped me, saying that dealer Andrew Edlin promised to make any such two-fingered virtuoso buy the thing (it’s $35,000).
I spotted an unfriendly art-blogger dogging my steps, and hastened away, stopping further along at a booth filled with large raucously colored bobblehead constructions -- a giant fried egg with a pair of oversized Jockey shorts, a papiér-mâche King Kong climbing the Empire State Building while surrounded by mouse balloons -- works by Agathe Snow, presented by Lower East Side dealer James Fuentes. They’re $12,000-$17,000, and financier Asher Edelman has already spoken for the sculpture with Homer Simpson’s head.
I jumped in my rented Dodge Charger -- the smallest vehicle available, honest -- and headed across the causeway to Miami proper, in search of Scope and Art Asia. Ever thorough, when several byways beckon, I’ll be sure to take all the wrong ones first, and instead I found the sprawling building in Wynwood rented, for the fourth year now, by Pierogi from Brooklyn and Hales Gallery from London.
Four young art dealers were sitting in a row of chairs in front of the door -- funny, but not an artwork -- and I had the large exhibition all to myself. Very impressive, including the works by the 52-year-old Hew Locke, a London-based artist who grew up in Ghana, where he became fascinated with the trappings of empire. Thus, a vast portrait of a "puppetmaster" made of beads and gold braid on black wool, adorned with images of samurai swords, the Scottish lion and a griffin ($50,000), and smaller, densely tinsel-and-plastic-jewel-encrusted portraits of the Queen ($16,000).
After driving around several blocks several times, I found Scope and Art Asia, which share space in another sprawling, many-roomed facility. At the entrance was veteran journalist Anthony Haden-Guest, who promised performances of his inflammatory verse at the Standard Hotel every night at 8 pm. "Just don’t call it poetry," he said.
Right inside the front door was the booth of Jonathan LaVine, whose artists -- he specializes in exceptionally accomplished illustrators like AJ Fosik, Jeff Soto and award-winning comic-book cover artist James Jean, whose images were adapted by Prada for its fashion line -- have an enviable surfeit of skills. The thing about illustrators, they can draw anything (while Mark Rothko could just make those big squares of color).
Nearby, Jacob Karpio, the madcap dealer from Costa Rica, was highlighting a video of "surfing in Cuba" -- cars driving down flooded streets with kids hanging onto their bumpers -- and the serene poured-paint abstractions of L.A. surfer artist Andy Moses. "I’ve sold two," said Karpio, referring to the surfing video, which goes for $8,000. As for Moses, his painting is $22,000 -- and has been featured in Surfer’s Journal magazine.
Both Scope and Art Asia have enlisted the efforts of several curators this year, and before I got much further, Art Asia director Jeffrey Lawson called one of them on his cell and arranged an impromptu tour of "Truly Truthful," a show of pan-Asian art -- 30 artist from 15 countries -- assembled by the estimable Leeza Ahmady, an Afghanistan-born curator who lives in New York and works for Asia Society.
"Truly Truthful" suggests a quest for a deeper honesty, and listening to Ahmady’s impassioned remarks made me realize that not only are curators charged with finding new art, but they also must buttress their discoveries with words. One of Ahmady’s choices, a black-and-white video of a Western bicycle that its Afghan owner had set on fire, she described as emblematic of resistance to civilization via colonization.
I couldn’t help but waste her time, but eventually her waiting companions came and dragged her away to go to the ABMB vernissage. Me, I was hearing the siren call of a whole list of publicist-abetted events at swanky hotels along Collins Avenue, including something involving Bruce High Quality Foundation promoted by Vito Schnabel, but I couldn’t find a parking place.
Better luck was had at the Delano Hotel, where you couldn’t even go inside unless you were on a guest list. Something called AnOther Magazine was throwing a party on the roof, with a buffet, alcoholic punches and a DJ. I beat it out of there in short order, but not without collecting copies of the mag, which is quite thick and published in male and female versions. Wonder which one to open first?
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.