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Art Basel Wrap-Up: Part Two (NSFW)

December 10, 2013

This year, there was some new public art (for the benefit of those stuck in traffic on the I-395 Causeway) by Miami artists Jim Drain and Bhakti Baxter. “VIP Party” is a fake party in cargo containers at the Port of Miami, complete with searchlights and parked luxury cars. It’s so exclusive, no one is there. Which is exactly the logic of everything this week; everyone wants to throw the biggest and best event; balancing a display of surplus with scarcity of access. It’s really dumb.

The weekend is always, somewhat ironically, the most anti-climactic part of Art Week. All the fairs, institutions, and galleries have their big previews with gift bags, fun parties, performances, and open bars early in the week. By the time Friday rolls around, my “must see” list is oddly empty, but Collins Avenue is packed with people frantically trying to get into parties like South Beach is a vacuum and some hotel bar is hoarding oxygen.

This Friday, I literally didn’t see any art. Like, anywhere.

Some friends and I were about to see a performance and reception hosted by MOMA PS1 when a friend of a friend’s friend from LA convinced us to leave the line and follow him to an event Jack Shainman gallery was hosting at the Seven Seas hotel. I got there and was disappointed that there was neither art nor free booze, bought a drink or two, and left after a little over an hour to search for some art.

The closest thing I saw to art was this bedazzled ice cream truck almost collide with a Bentley.

no crash

When I came back a little later to gather my friends, there were about 100 people literally shoving each other to get through the door. I asked someone what was going on, confused as to what all the fuss was about; when I left, everyone was standing around a pool (that you couldn’t swim in) staring into their drinks like a really boring David Hockney painting.

Someone told me Nick Cave had just arrived. Yay! I would love to see a performance! I can write about that!…Except… What? He’s not performing? He’s just sitting there? At a party? And everyone is trampling each other in 6 inch heels to get inside to just look at him? Why? Is Nick Cave a rare endangered baby panda born in captivity that everyone wants to see at this really awesome zoo before he inevitably dies?

This reminded me of the one time (Art Week 2011?) someone tried to get me to go to Basel Castle (which is this really overrated party with “global DJs” and “live painting” that happens every year at a place that locals say “Is just like a castle!” and everyone from places where Gothic architecture actually exists kinda smiles and plays along and doesn’t have the heart to break it to them that its a shitty stucco miniature-golf-looking place). Anyway, two girls who were both named Kaylee (but apparently spelled it differently) were  physically fighting over who was “the Kaylee” who’s name was on the guestlist. It was so much better and so much more relevant than “live painting” could ever hope to be.

This year, after the Perez Museum opening, Dis Magazine threw a party at this place south of 5th street called “Story” and it was the absolute worst. But I think maybe that was the whole point? Based on the crowd shoving each other outside, it seemed Dis deliberately curated the best/worst examples of everything everyone hates about Miami nightlife: The guy who claims to be “really involved in the hip hop industry” and wears shoes that match his hat; the girl who monthly spends more money on her hair than I do on my rent; men who wear track jackets when it’s 87 degrees outside; women who wear nothing even though it’s air conditioned to 54 degrees inside; and all of their frenemies. Knowing Dis’ interest in collapsing the spectrum of good and bad taste into one digitally-printed yoga-pants-with-stripper-heels mess, it seems highly likely that this whole event was staged as a relational aesthetics meta-statement about the nightlife spectacle (and different flavors of snobbery) in which the Miami art world is situated. Is Dis Magazine the Rirkrit Tiravanija of vodka and Axe Deodorant Body Spray? Have I lost my mind? Is this just what all the nightlife this far south on Miami Beach is like?

My suspicions that Dis deliberately threw an unenjoyable party were further validated by the fact that a lot of their staff were actually partying at a really fun event full of all the usual Brooklyn weirdos and MICA grads a few blocks away. That party was in a barber shop that is also a bar. You can get your hair shaved and drink weird open bar drinks and look at all the people you already know from New York or art school in a new, barber-shop-like context. Because in Miami Beach, every service-providing business transforms into a club at night.You can get a tattoo, or dry cleaning, or spray tan, or rental movie, or yoga class, or palm reading by day and then come back to the same place after a disco nap and it will be selling $17 cocktails and people are buying them even though a liquor sponsor is giving away new organic açai-infused mojitos with like 40 ingredients that you don’t really want but drink because, hey, it’s free and you just spent more money on one cab ride than you do on a month of MTA trips in Baltimore.

I love and hate this place so much. I (never) want to go home so badly. Like a zen koan contemplated through the imagery of Brazilian waxing, perhaps the Dis Magazine p(art?)y was an attempt to reconcile that dichotomy.

But when we come south to Miami and proactively create the spectacle we all make fun of, what kind of ironically-puffy-painted-carpetbaggers are we?  I find myself especially guilty of this, but like taking a photo of a hilarious typo on a shirt at a “luxury” outlet mall it’s sometimes just too tempting to resist.

#NADAWAVE, a project by Jon Santos, offers a better alternative. As an extension of the NADA art fair, Santos brought performers and DJs to the Sandbar, a kind-of-divey bar across the street from the hotel where the fair takes place. Here, dozens of blocks north of the South Beach glitz, artists, curators, and collectors mingled with local regulars over cheap (by Miami standards) drinks and a changing selection of cumbia and reggaton mixed into more obscure tracks. It was the first time I’ve ever felt over-dressed in Miami Beach. We danced with a cop using his flashlight as a strobe light! The floor is covered in sand! It was such a welcome oasis of fun after the stressful escape from the Seven Seas portico.


Next year, can we have more of these? No guest lists or ironic VIP areas or sincere VIP areas or dress codes or mean-spirited meta-commentary or weird drinks that taste like candy you would be so pissed off if you got trick-or-treating?

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  • Caleb

    Dear CITY PAPER, please find a less insufferable writer, or at least refill his anti-depressant prescription.

  • Michael Farley

    Caleb, I am so sorry, but I think mixing anti-depressants with open bar might be the root of the problem.

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