On my plane down from JFK to MIA on Tuesday morning was art dealer Alexander Apsis, Art & Auction reporter Judd Tully, Wall Street Journal reporter Kelly Crow and artists Gedi Sibony, Daniel Davidson and Tricia Keightley. All were sitting in economy class. A limo driver stood at the gate holding a sign that read, "Doug Aitken."
As I drove my bulbous white rented Chrysler Sebring across the so-called Dolphin Expressway from the airport to Miami Beach, traffic suddenly slowed for a just-happened smashup, glass and other bits littering the road as cars snaked around the two wrecked vehicles, one with the driver still in the car, talking on his cell. Always a useful warning -- drive carefully.
I’m staying at the Avalon hotel on Ocean Drive and Seventh Street, around the corner from a municipal parking garage ($14 maximum per 24 hours) and right by the premier Cuban restaurant in South Beach. Some rooms have ocean views, but mine is in the back, quiet and nice. The Avalon is rather too long a walk from Art Basel Miami Beach’s headquarters at the Miami Beach Convention Center and the party hotels up by 16th Street -- but the bowl of golden delicious apples in the lobby is a plus.
First up is the official Art Basel Miami Beach welcoming party at the Delano Hotel, notable primarily for the gauntlet of models in low-cut black dresses and golden earrings welcoming the visitors. Out by the pool is a buffet of grilled meats and some live Spanish music.
I’m leaving when I run into Michael Rush, director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, which just sold its Childe Hassam Sunset at Sea (1911) for $3.7 million. "It was a sweet picture, totally unique," he said. "Just out of step with our collection." In addition to eyeing potential new acquisitions, Rush is on the scene to conduct his talk show on Art Radio WPS1, called Rush Interactive. He said he was trying to nail down Eli Sudbrack of assume vivid astro focus for an interview.
Outside, peripatetic curator Peter Doroshenko told us that he had left the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead up on the northeast coast of England after three years and moved to Kiev, all the better to head the Pinchuk Art Centre there. Opened in September 2006 by Victor Pinchuk, the Ukrainian steel billionaire who has clearly caught the art bug, the center currently is presenting an exhibition of avant-garde art titled "Reflection" and including works by Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, as well as Antony Gormley’s Blind Light, a glass room dramatically filled with impenetrable steam (now also on view in New York at Sean Kelly Gallery).
Did Pinchuk buy the Jeff Koons Hanging Heart for $23.5 million at Sotheby’s, or his Diamond (Blue) for $11.8 million at Christie’s? "He could have," says Doroshenko, cagily. "He likes Koons."
Further up I-95 on NW 125th Street is the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, which was opening "House," Dec. 4, 2007-Mar. 2, 2008, the first U.S. museum survey of works by the Cuba-born, L.A.-based artist Jorge Pardo, who is essentially a designer, using CAD-CAM to craft elaborate folding screens, items of furniture, chandeliers and lamps and even whole houses from steel, wood composite, veneer and plastic. His sensibility is a little like Charles and Ray Eames plus mid-century modern, as if it were transmitted digitally from outer space.
"House" is very interesting, as design shows go. Large photo blow-ups of Pardo’s previous projects line the walls, and the installation of objects plays off of them. The museum looks "furnished" rather than installed. His Spiders-from-Mars hanging lamps are clearly a favorite, though he could have done without the Wal-Mart synthetic blanket and foam-rubber pillows in his bedroom ensemble.
Of all the fair previews on Dec. 4, perhaps the best ticket was NADA –- a ticket I didn’t have, since it was a benefit for the New Museum, and we at Artnet don’t seem to be on the A list of the suddenly hip institution (remember when the New Museum was a joke? Those were the days).
Later, the Chelsea dealer Elizabeth Dee told me that she had done enough business at the NADA gala to surpass her expectations. Other dealers hadn’t all met with that kind of success, she thought. Perhaps the sensational buzz that usually attends the New Art Dealers Alliance is beginning to dissipate. It’s a notoriously subjective call, so let’s check it out in person later.
Instead it was off to Pulse, which has set up in a kind of compound, with a courtyard filled with large-scale sculptures and a deejay booth that kept the opening rocking. Hors d’oeuvres included barbequed shrimp and fresh-cut ham and, when supplies began to run low, a rather inventive snack -- a slice of brie and a dab of avocado on a saltine.
Inside, the atmosphere was relaxed and people were having fun. At one of my favorite Madrid galleries, Travesia Cuatro Arte Contemporaneo, the glowing young co-owner of the gallery, Ines Lopez-Quesada, showed off a comical sculpture by the young Mexican artist José Dávila -- a version of a Donald Judd "stack piece" made out of cardboard boxes. Comical, that is, in a wholly Minimalist way. It’s priced at $14,000.
What hath postmodernism wrought? I don’t think we know, even yet.
Also at Pulse is Galleri Faurshou, opened by Luise and Jens Faurshou in Copenhagen in 1981 and more recently in Beijing, where the gallery is presenting a show of both new and old works by Robert Rauschenberg, the artist’s first major appearance in China since his 1985 "ROCI" exhibition at the National Art Museum of China. "Older Chinese artists still remember that show," said Jens Faurshou.
In the booth is a Pardo-esque installation by the Copenhagen-based artist Erik A. Frandsen, complete with brightly colored plastic floor tiling, wall decorations of large aluminum panels etched with the image of a coke bottle holding a flower, and an abstract neon chandelier the pattern of which was made from sensor readings when the artist was hugging his wife. The panels are $13,000, while the chandelier is $36,000. That "art and design" thing really seems to have legs.
At the booth of Monique Meloche Gallery from Chicago, the artist Rashid Johnson had constructed an impressive altar to "the Crisis of the Negro Intellectual." A large black-and-white photograph of a young man hangs on the wall behind a low table containing several black vases dabbed with gold paint, a gold-painted rock and a spinning, gold-painted ball.
"I imagined W.E.B. Dubois’ ‘Talented Tenth’ actually becoming a kind of alchemist collective," Johnson explained. "As if ‘identity politics’ had driven me out of my mind. The altar features a revolving gold ball, after all." He is having his first New York show at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in February 2008. The altar is a bargain at $10,000; the accompanying photo is $8,500.
But I was really at Pulse to lend support to Geisai Miami, the art fair presented by Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki Co. and featuring 20 artists who are presenting their own works in small booths upstairs from the Pulse fair. Since I was on the panel that selected the exhibitors, I was especially glad that the artists all seemed to be enjoying themselves, even if the installation was having some issues with the lighting. Murakami himself was at the opening to the end, bopping to the house music in the courtyard.
At this point I turned control of our itinerary over to Macu Moran, a persuasive 30-year-old woman from Madrid who works for Artnet, and off we went to the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District in search of an installation by the Mexican-born artist Carlos Amorales. It turned out to be a large, irregularly shaped room with a bar at one end, and Amorales -- who has had two exhibitions at Yvon Lambert in New York -- had covered its walls with butterflies made of black construction paper, a work called Black Cloud (2007).
More to my liking was the video in an adjacent room, a clashing montage of silhouettes of birds, skeletons and images of faces metamorphoses rapidly to an abstract musical soundtrack. This installation is $45,000, I was told. "He has a very avid collector base."
Waiting around for the rest of my party to reappear after a bathroom break, I was forced to look at a show called "French Kissin’," also in the Moore Space, and kind of liked a film of black powder explosions running backward, done against a black background so that they’re very origin-of-the-universe. It is by an artist named Loris Greaud, also represented by Yvon Lambert, and titled Illusion Is a Revolutionary Weapon (2007).
Our next and blessedly final stop was Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, a two-story complex in the Wynwood Arts District, where a party was well under way, complete with dancing in the garden out back. The bars had only tequila left, so things were getting lively. In the gallery are small photographs by the New York artist Peter Coffin of blobs of Silly Putty with pictures on them, which does something -- I’m not quite sure what -- with postmodernist "picture theory." They’re a modest $800 each, though a minimum of five photos must be purchased -- several are marked with red dots already.
Sometimes it’s all about the fliers. When you’re in the news business, both strangers and friends approach to press upon you an invite card. In the street, a guy gave me an announcement for something called A.N.E.W. Museum, located at 35 NE 40th Street in the Design District.
The irrepressible Juan Puntes of White Box in New York handed me an invitation to something he organized with Ethan Cohen called the "Unfair ‘07" at a place called ArtHaus Miami at 1616 Drexel Avenue in Miami Beach. "It’s not Eurotrash, it’s Euroasiantrash," he said, not completely seriously.
Los Angeles dealer Daniel Hug, holding a glass of pure tequila, outlined for me the lineup of the next Art L.A., Jan. 24-27, 2008, for which he has been "consulting." The fair promises to bring 64 hip galleries (Fontana, Fuentes, GBE, Ishii, Koyama, Nagel, Painter, Perrotin, Regan Projects, Spaulings) to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Theater "just to have a good time and not to deal with the wretched market." Wretched in this case because it is so powerful.
And, last but not least, someone put a flyer under my windshield wiper. It has a cross and reads, "I ain’t gonna ask ya."
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.