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Miami Art Week


by Walter Robinson
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On the flight to Miami I was startled to see none other than Work of Art judge Bill Powers on the TV screen, wishing us a good flight, courtesy of NBC, which owns Bravo, which airs the art-reality show.

Powers showed up in person in Miami to help launch, via his ingenious photomultiples operation Exhibition A, a suite of ten reproductions of hyper-realist paintings of young celebrities by Richard Phillips, called “Most Wanted,” which are benefiting something called “Youth Insights” at the Whitney Museum. Each of the ten prints is in an edition of two, priced at $5,000 apiece, which means the Whit gets about $100,000 when everything is sold, which is going to be pretty soon. Yvonne Force Villareal bought one, and both copies of the Taylor Momsen portrait are already gone.

I have all this via Phillips’ publicist -- didn’t quite make it to the party, sorry -- who adds that the artist is off to Moscow for the launch of Interview’s Russian edition, which features on its cover his portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio, and that Phillips is to appear as a guest judge on Work of Art next week. Sounds like synergy to me.

On the way back to New York, I found myself seated next to a real celebrity, Isabelle Dufresne, the 80-year-old former Andy Warhol superstar otherwise known as Ultra Violet. She had been in Miami to show her 9/11 memorial sculpture, which consists of the Roman numerals IX and XI set up like the letters in Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE.

George -- she said people call her George, though she may have been kidding -- then quizzed me a little bit about what it takes to be a success in the art world, as if I’d know, and next showed me a brochure with some of her Rorschach-style paintings of cloudy blue skies, which I told her had real success potential.

In between the two flights, I managed to go to seven art fairs, out of about 18. For one that I missed I have an excuse: Pool, the French-accented New Yorker Thierry Alet’s fair for unaffiliated artists, was shut down on opening night by the city when the hotel owner failed to obtain a permit -- 27 participating artists had paid $2,000-$2,500 -- and only later relocated in the 45th- and 50th-floor condos of Miami art patron Deborah Tynes.

As for two of the top B-level fairs, Pulse and Scope, they were doing very well, thank you. Both appear much expanded, with new annexes and gardens, and were thronged with touristy locals on the weekend. And the air conditioning was pumping.

Among the dealers at Pulse was Max Davidson IV, who had red-dotted a kind of mobile of scrap wood painted fluorescent orange, made by Sarah Hardesty, whose first show at the New York project gallery is coming up in a month or so. The sculpture was $8,500 (I think he said).

Down the aisle at Danziger Projects, the suave New York photo dealer James Danziger was touting his portfolio of photos of Kate Moss along with Yuji Obata’s high-focus black-and-whites of falling snowflakes. My eye was caught by a photo diptych painted with dripping Takashi Murakami-type color Louis Vuitton logos by Zevs, priced at a healthy $25,000.

More value for the money could arguably be found at the booth of Elizabeth Leach Gallery from Portland, Ore., where small (24 x 18 in.) oil-on-board nudes by Joseph Park -- sharply shadowed monochrome figures done with simple sweeps of the brush -- were on offer for $1,500.

More treasures were to be found at the table manned by members of the 27-year-old ArtCenter South Florida. There, small white plaster bunny planters held succulents and cacti, and could be had for $240. The artist is Paloma Teppa. “We’ve sold tons of them,” said a volunteer. “The princess Aga Khan bought one at the 2010 Verge Art Fair.” Move over, Jeff Koons.

The traffic was swarming at Scope, housed in a giant tent at Midtown Boulevard and NE 30th Street, just across the street from Art Miami. Inside, the New York private dealer Hamburg Kennedy Photographs had an open-booth set-up right on the aisle, with a 40 x 60 inch C-print by Guido Argentini -- a bit of erotica featuring a girl in her underwear -- that was marked sold, twice, at $12,000.

Down the way I ran into my old pal Luis Accorsi, at the booth of the tiny East Village space Dorian Grey Gallery, filled with works by Keith Haring and Richard Hambleton, including a golem-like figure on canvas priced at $10,000.

Though Art Asia is marketed as a separate fair from Scope, it shares half of the tent. Even the celebrated Ullens Center in Beijing had a booth, with multiples by Liu Ye, Yang Maoyuan and others.

On the way out, a long line of people had gathered to have a fortune told by the Amazing Ultran, a bearded, turbaned fellow sitting in a vaguely Orientalist booth and writing rather lengthy predictions in longhand for $1. As blogger Jerry Mullins puts it, “that’s a business plan?”

In between fair visits I met Zingmagazine publisher Devon Dikeou for lunch at the Betsy on Ocean Drive and 14th Street, a nice place with free copies of the New York Times in the lobby. Devon had done an installation at NADA of what she calls “a digital reinscription” of Robert Rauschenberg’s signature in the wet cement outside his studio on Lafayette Street in New York, which had been dug up by Con Ed several years ago while in pursuit of a gas leak.

Then we found out that the autograph was actually not by Rauschenberg at all, but rather by his grandnephew, Dylan Rauschenberg Begneaud, who some say fancies himself to be Bob’s reincarnation. In classic artist fashion, Dikeou pronounced the new backstory as improved and better.

Before lunch, a tan and healthy-looking Tracey Emin passed through the lobby. She said she was headed to New York to promote her new book, a memoir titled My Life in a Column, with a reading and book signing at BookMarc at 400 Bleecker Street on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, 6-8 pm. That’s tomorrow.

I also managed to motor down to Coconut Grove for a visit with the celebrated Florida art couple, Mette Tommerup and Robert Chambers. Robert immediately enlisted me in one of his signature “ribbon drop” performances, where brightly colored ribbons unspool from a gnarled tree in the backyard with modest assistance of participants such as myself.

Next we traveled via backroads to a show they were both in, “Ping Pong Miami 2011,” organized by the Swiss artist Sue Irion, who runs Projektraum M54 in Basel. “Ping Pong” is installed in a soon-to-be-demolished storefront building at NE 2nd Avenue and NE 38th Street, and includes Irion’s own faded-out images of Miami tropicalia.

Next door was Locust Projects, which was presenting an estimable installation by Ruben Ochoa, for which he had sawed square chunks out of the concrete floor, dug holes down into the dirt, and elevated the minimalist chunks of floor into the air on steel girders. He also produced a benefit edition of concrete pieces, measuring 12 x 41 inches, priced at $4,000 a piece.

In the vacant lot next door was a space-age geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller, along with a beautifully restored green Dymaxion Car. The car never went into production, Chambers explained, because at speed the rear wheel would lift from the road -- and that was the one the auto steered with.

The Fuller was purchased by Miami real estate mogul Craig Robins -- for a sweet $1 million, they were saying, though that sounds a lot -- who is soon to build a giant new development on the site. And Locust Projects? It is simply relocating to another property nearby.

Tommerup was also exhibiting her paintings at Dorsch Gallery at NW 24th Street, one of the first to set up in Wynwood (founded by Brook Dorsch and directed by his wife, Tyler Emerson-Dorsch), in a show titled “Full Salute” -- which she tells me is sexist street slang that refers to the anthropomorphic attitude of the painted vegetables -- tumescently deformed eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. Also on view, paintings of a couple of cakes, a green velvet-lined gun box that resembles a Mark Rothko, and a Barack Obama garden gnome.

The show’s star lot is Les Demoiselles Stand-ins (2011), a version of Pablo Picasso’s Cubist masterpiece with what look like dark-skinned wrestlers and bandidos substituting for the original women. Tommerup’s figures are actually based on the Village People, giving the picture a homoerotic spin and adding a bit of contemporary vogue to the primitivist western nudes of Picasso’s pioneering modernist “philosophical brothel.”

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.