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MIAMI EN GARDE
by Walter Robinson
 
The Wednesday afternoon preview for Art Basel Miami Beach, Dec. 6-9, 2007, got off to a disconcerting start when overvigilant guards at the entryway insisted that visitors check their cameras (while saying nothing about ubiquitous photo-taking cell phones). Once inside, the odd rule proved meaningless, as enforcement was nonexistent.

The aisles were crowded with private collectors and museum people, and landmark business was being done, though without the sense of frenzy that many remember from earlier installments. Miami Art Museum director Terry Riley, who was unveiling an exhibition of designs by Herzog & de Meuron for the museum’s new $208 million home on Biscayne Bay the next day, seemed calm. He committed to nothing, however, save a claim that he was related to Megan Riley, the former New Yorker who now works for Wright auction house in Chicago.

Art fairs are about buying, and art fairs are about seeing new art. In a combined space, Mary Boone Gallery and Galerie Jablonka from Cologne jointly exhibited a suite of five new mural-sized paintings by Eric Fischl, forceful scenes of Ugly American beach-goers (with nary a dog nor masturbating teen in sight). Easily Fischl’s best work, I thought. The paintings were all sold to a single client, according to Boone’s Ron Warren, for something like $2 million apiece.

The Berlin gallery Contemporary Fine Arts was also doing land-office business with the agitated and colorful paintings and expressionistic bronze busts of Jonathan Meese. "They’re constantly reinstalling as they sell the works," said one observer. "I think they’ve almost run out, though," he said, guessing that they’d done $3 million in sales.

Across the way, New York dealer Zach Feuer was exhibiting a pair of zany stop-motion-animated videos by Natalie Djurberg. Both were sold, at $15,000 each in editions of four. "I’ve got others," he told an inquiring couple. The young Sweden-born, Berlin-based artist’s work deserves a broader U.S. public. Museum of Modern Art curators, take note.

Also on hand was New York dealer Oliver Kamm, who said that after five years of running a public gallery, most recently on West 27th Street between 10th and 11th avenues in Chelsea, he was closing and going private (his space is being taken over by Bill Brady’s ATM gallery). "I’m happy," he said, noting that his last two shows had both been positively reviewed in the New York Times, resulting in no (as in zero) sales. "We are truly living in a post-critical era," he said.

One dealer who specializes in what might be called "post-critical" art (though in a slightly different sense) is Gavin Brown. While visitors to his Greenwich Village gallery are left contemplating a hole in the ground, courtesy Urs Fischer, at Art Basel Miami Beach the GBE booth has been converted into a semblance of a luxury goods store, with shelves displaying assemblages of sneakers, fine wine, watches and other items, courtesy of British artists Oliver Payne & Nick Relph. Called Ash’s Stash, the items in question all come from the many collections of Ash Lange, an old friend of the artists and the founder of London’s Herald Street Gallery.

This year Art Basel Miami Beach has a special section called "Art Supernova," a kind of curated exhibition of works by artists from various galleries, with the dealers all ensconced at desks in an adjoining room. Comic.

The estimable writer Anthony Haden-Guest was up in the press office, looking for ideas for his new blog on the fair, which is being posted I forget where. As luck would have it, on hand was Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, the much-liked curator and art writer who is now taking over as artistic director of Art Basel. Artnet’s online version of Art Basel Miami Beach, by the way, goes live next Monday. Our website for Design Miami is up now, and can be found at www.designmiami-artnet.com.

I beat it out of the convention center and headed for nearby Collins Avenue, where I had the idea that several motel fairs were on view. The exhibitors were still installing at the Bridge Art Fair in the Catalina Hotel, and the Ink Miami Art Fair, sponsored by the International Fine Print Dealers Association at the Suites of Dorchester motel, had closed for the day, but Flow at the Dorset Hotel was just launching its vernissage.

Now in its second year, the fair is small, with perhaps 30 dealers, and co-organized by Julie Baker, whose gallery is in the mountain town of Nevada City, Ca., and Matt Garson, whose Garson Fine Art is in Cleveland. Garson is opening a New York gallery next year.

The rooms at Flow seem good for art display, with their dark hardwood floors and elaborate wallpaper. At David Lusk Gallery from Memphis are several desktop sculptures of what look like slices of layer cake, elegantly confected of triangles of plywood iced with thick paint. Made by the 55-year-old Memphis artist Greely Myatt, the works are $500 each, no matter how many the layers, and moving fast.

In the JG Contemporary room, New York dealer Jay Grimm had installed a two-man show of paintings by Joe Fyfe and John Zinsser, whose largish, pared-down abstractions can be had for about $10,000 each. Zinsser, who also writes about art, arrived a few moments later, and said he had gathered copious notes for a blog about the fair for David Cohen’s Artcritical.com.

Next on the schedule was the opening of Art Basel’s Art Positions section, the little container village right on the beach. The setup has been nicely tricked out this year, with an outdoor grill, a deejay booth, seating, skateboard ramps and elaborate signage by graphic maestro Ryan McGinness. A good place to hang out, maybe, but the containers are no place to look at art, especially with crowds.

Painter Will Cotton introduced me to L.A. artist Delia Brown, whose paintings of decadent poolside life in California are among my favorites. "The new catalogue for her show at Harley Baldwin Gallery in Aspen is the best I’ve ever seen," said Cotton, who has been working on a commission for a children’s hospital (courtesy of RxArt) and who also has a show at Baldwin coming up himself.  

Dinner was at Joe’s Stone Crab, courtesy of Nora Halpern and Americans for the Arts, the advocacy group that recently elicited a pledge from Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson to boost the National Endowment for the Arts budget by $250 million (it’s $125 million now) – if he is elected. According to a recent study, New York City boasts 23,394 arts-related businesses that employ 195,223 people. For details, see www.AmericansForTheArts.org.

A South Beach institution, Joe’s Stone Crab was filled with art-world notables, not least at my table. To my right was Michael Goodman, a photographer (and son of dealer Marian Goodman) who specializes in images of epic civil engineering projects under construction, like the "Bird’s Nest" stadium in Beijing. He is working on getting a book of his photos published. On my right was the artist Maggie Michael, a painter who shows her subtly erotic, mostly abstract works with G Fine Art in Washington, D.C. (and now at the Aqua Wynwood art fair) and at Rule Gallery in Denver (and at Flow). She had left her husband, D.C. sculptor Dan Steinhilber, at home with the kids, though she was departing Miami the next morning to take over childcare duties, enabling him to visit the city over the weekend.

Across the table was Terry Morello, the new vice president of development at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Even though everyone else already knows all about it, I made her fill me in on the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), which debuts at LACMA with an 11-day-long opening, Feb. 9-20, 2008. Designed by Renzo Piano as a "container for art," the 60,000-square foot, three-story building is all open space, with skylights on the roof.

Supercollector Eli Broad contributed the entire $50 million cost of the project. Also slated for LACMA’s 21-acre campus is a palm tree garden by Robert Irwin and a "big rock" sculpture by Michael Heizer. The fantastic sculpture of a full-sized locomotive dangling from a construction crane by Jeff Koons is presently undergoing an engineering feasibility study, courtesy the Annenberg Foundation, she said.

Also across the table was Annie B. Wrinkle, the estimable marketing manager for Site Santa Fe, whose forthcoming biennial next summer is organized by Lance Fung. The ca. 25 artists in the show are slated to visit Santa Fe during Jan. 7-13, 2008, for a kind of "boot camp" during which they get to know the local scene, as well as review the exhibition design by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

In between Morello and Wrinkle was a charming 24-year-old, as-yet-unemployed art dealer, who was busy texting with Lance Armstrong, who she’d gotten to know at a party the evening before. I forgot to ask if he’d said anything about the art.

The food was great, and the party closed out the restaurant. But thanks to dinner I missed the Zingmagazine party at Le Baron nightclub, the opening of "Promises of Paradise" at the Bass Museum, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and CocoRosie performance at the Raleigh, and the special live performance of Iggy and the Stooges on the beach. That’s what I get for eating.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.



 



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