By Friday, Dec. 7, 2007, Miami’s famous art-fair week was more-or-less half over, and I somehow managed to do nothing all day, except attend a brunch in the Wynwood Art District at CIFO, otherwise known as the Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation. CIFO has a striking façade covered with an image of a bamboo forest, made with small colored tiles. The brunch fare included small squares of spinach quiche in the same tone of green.
Inside, the exhibition, titled "Fortunate Objects," consisted largely of parlor-trick art, things like belts suspended in midair as if around the waists of invisible men, or a pool table with a mechanized hand and pool cue forever lining up a shot on the eight ball. Phooey.
The one person I knew there was the artist Tom Lawson, who looked thin and tan and was wearing a baseball cap. If only I’d had one of Artnet’s new promotional caps with me, I could have given it to him. Years ago, Tom helped launch my art career when he used a couple of my paintings as illustrations for "Last Exit Painting," his then-influential article in Artforum magazine.
Not long after, Lawson left New York to become dean of Cal Arts, and now he also edits Afterall, a magazine jointly published in L.A. and London -- I need to take a look at it some time. Lawson seemed amused when he told me that after 20 years or so, he once again is represented by a hip young art dealer -- David Kordansky in Los Angeles.
That evening I went to a reception at the Wolfsonian-FIU, decorative-arts enthusiast Mickey Wolfson’s museum on Washington Avenue in South Beach. Mickey was nowhere to be seen, but I did run into party girl Judy Auchincloss, who accompanied me to a big UBS dinner in a tent on the beach in front of the Delano Hotel, one of several the art-loving bank hosted in Miami. The crowd was almost all suits.
Next we went to the NADA party at the Paris Theater back on Washington Street, where I never would have gotten past the girl with the clipboard without the intercession of New York dealer John Post Lee, who runs Bravin-Lee Projects with his wife, Karin Bravin. Inside was a crowd of 30-something art dealers and miniature Sloppy Joes.
The point of this chronicle is to compliment Judy’s legendary "car karma," which typically involves a blithe indifference to all the usual anxieties of driving in Manhattan. Down in Miami, it manifested itself first when she found a legal, unmetered parking place on Collins Avenue on Friday night, and secondly when she parked across the street from the NADA party in four scooter spaces, each with its own meter, without getting a ticket. "Think I should put in some quarters?" she asked.
On Saturday, my final day in Miami, I was determined to do better, and got up early and went to the beach. There I ran into David Herskovitz, the publisher of Paper Magazine, which had organized a show in a tent on the front lawn of the Raleigh Hotel featuring copies of works by famous avant-garde artists made by kids from the Creative Growth Art Center. "You should be sure to see it," he said, but sadly, I never did.
At 11 a.m. I drove down to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coconut Grove to see a three-channel video installation by Catherine Sullivan, which looked good in one of the ornately decorated sitting rooms of the old Florida mansion, an over-the-top tourist attraction. Sullivan has gained much success with her collaborative performance pieces, which involve large casts in elaborate costumes and manage to incorporate everything that is annoying about avant-garde theater, and then kick it all up a notch.
Next it was off to Wynwood again to visit the Margulies Warehouse, where developer Marty Margulies has installed his collections of sculpture and photography. He seems to have one of everything, from Claes Oldenburg and Michael Heizer to Mariko Mori and Folkert De Jong. For some reason, it made me think of the arrogance of ownership, the way that being able to buy things confers authority.
Then, since the sun was shining and the weather was balmy -- can’t resist rubbing it in! -- I went to a bunch more art fairs. At Aqua Art Miami, the 45 participating dealers had spacious booths, concrete floors and gallery-quality walls -- the organizers have taken a five-year lease on the space. At the booth of Allston Skirt Gallery from Boston, Joe Zane’s optimistic Applause paintings -- basically, acrylic-on-canvas signs reading "applause" -- were selling for $750-$900, depending on size.
At the end of the aisle was New York dealer Ingrid Dinter, singing the fair’s praises. Actor and art-lover Steve Martin had visited the booth twice, she said, eyeing the small, exquisite and slightly eccentric paintings of trees by Lucas Reiner -- though he hadn’t pulled the trigger, yet. Across the way was dealer Megumi Ogita, who had come all the way from Japan. And next door was my favorite young dealer and blogger from Los Angeles, Caryn Coleman of Sixspace gallery.
In truth, as several younger dealers testified, business at the many smaller fairs, while hardly hopeless, was definitely slow. "There are just too many art fairs," said one.
Over on North Miami Avenue, the AIPAD Photo Show and Photo Miami were housed in matching side-by-side tents, with wide aisles, a gray carpet, and a café courtyard in between. It seemed fairly plush and high tech, as befits a photo show. At AIPAD, a wall of celebrity portraits by Richard Avedon, Fred McDarrah and other photographers at the Steven Kasher Gallery booth reminded me how socially determined the art subject can be -- for instance, images of stars who people already want to see, photographed for promotional purposes or in performance by celebrity photographers or photojournalists working for entertainment magazines or newspapers.
The thought occurred to me that I had been writing altogether too much about food and that I should try to make a change. So, at the booth of [DAM] Berlin, whose initials stand for Digital Art Museum (and are bracketed to distinguish it from a German museum with the same acronym), I spotted a large tapestry of a reclining nude at the computer keyboard. Titled Venus (2006), it is by the 52-year-old artist Margret Eicher, who currently has a museum exhibition at the Kunsthalle Ziegelhütte Appenzell in Switzerland. Eicher "always works digitally," said DAM director Wolf Lieser. The tapestry is priced at $25,000. Had it sold? "Oh, yes," said Lieser.
Over at Photo Miami I spotted a large color photo by the English artist Julia Fullerton-Batten of a young "giantess" walking along an expressway. I began asking questions about the work, and the dealer, whose name is Dr. Caprice Horn, interrupted me and said, "Just where is this going?" It turns out that she was a psychiatrist before opening her gallery in Berlin. Her assistant gave me a button, reading, "In Therapy with Dr. Horn," and told me the photo was about the problems of teen girls, saying nothing about the male sexual fetish typically associated with giant women.
Perhaps Dr. Horn isn’t a Freudian. In any case, Fullerton-Batten’s photos are priced between $2,500 and $12,000, depending on the size of the print and its number in the edition.
By 4 pm I was done with Wynwood, and headed back across the causeway to Miami Beach. There, at the Miami Beach marina, David and Lee Ann Lester’s fabulous new Seafair was tied up, a giant yacht named Grand Luxe with three floors of blond wood, chrome-lined gallery booths and an observation and dining deck above. If you need reminding that art is a plaything of the masters of the universe, being surrounded by dozens of fancy white boats will certainly do the trick.
The two dozen or so dealers on Seafair rose to the occasion quite well, decking out their spaces with high-key art, contemporary, modern and classical. Phoenix Ancient Art was there, with a gallery of priceless antiquities. Rudolf Budja Artmosphere brought Andy Warhol (and mock life preservers printed with the slogan, "Art dealers & children first.") Galerie Terminus from Munich was displaying sculptures by John Chamberlain and Roy Lichtenstein, and a 1928 landscape by Oscar Kokoschka that carried a $1.1 million price tag. "Play money," said the dealer.
I beat it out of there -- valet parking only $5 (and a $5 tip, because I am a big shot) -- and my day ended with a deluxe dinner party in the beach pavilion of the Raleigh, where Brooke Geahan and the Accompanied Literary Society, along with Swarovski, put on a panel on "Art and Value" to mark the limited-edition U.S. publication of French art journalist’s Judith Benhamou-Huet’s new book (a second version of one she published in 2001), The Worth of Art (Assouline). Among the members of the panel were Artist Pension Trust director David Ross, Phillips, de Pury & Co. chief auctioneer Simon de Pury, New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch, and Benhamou-Huet herself.
The panel was chaired by Glenn O’Brien, who impishly launched the discussion by quoting art critic and MacArthur Fellow David Hickey, who said that the present art bubble was the result of "greedy artists and stupid collectors." Art connoisseur Ricky Clifton, who was sitting beside me at the dinner table, leaned over and said, "Life is a bubble."
The panelists, of course, focus on art’s true value, whatever it is, and simply marvel at the market like the rest of us. Deitch noted the importance of what he called "a new culture-based economy," which is boosting art’s economic role. Later, he expressed amazement at his clients, who would commit to $250,000 purchases without so much as a murmur.
Back on the dais, O’Brien mordantly noted that since the artworks were all priced in dollars, they weren’t as expensive as they seemed.
David Ross told the story about how his first job in the art world was to keep John Lennon company while his wife, Yoko Ono, installed her art show. "I was paid $100 a week to smoke pot with John Lennon," he said. "It’s been all downhill from there."
O’Brien wondered whether the art boom was all about conspicuous consumption, and again quoted Hickey, who asked, "What is it about these Frank Stellas that turns on bond salesmen?"
Deitch countered with Richard Prince, calling his "nurse" paintings "brilliant" examples of a truly successful art product, since they are 1) easy to make, 2) photographs with handmade additions, like Warhol, 3) images of women, 4) a little bit retro, nostalgic and recherché. "Put it all together, and they’re exactly what the art world wants," he said. "I heard one sold for $10 million."
After some more talk-show-quality patter -- someone brought up a scandal in Japan where a politician was apparently bribed with the gift of an artwork, to which O’Brien replied, "Are you saying that a U.S. politician could be bribed with art?" -- dinner was served.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.