Art Attack

From Basel to Brazil, the world's high priests of high culture invade Miami this week, and the locals are ready

"I said: 'Well, I'm not sure, but I do know that this neighborhood is coming up in the arts and it's very important and we're all very happy about it. This is a great place to invest in real estate.' I just kept doing Gretchen Bender, and he didn't recognize me."

Same goes for this show, when Rohn says he'll have to stay in character as collector only: "I can't do Herb Katzenjammer and sell the works at the same time." So will anyone buy David Rohn? "I'd love it if someone bought the whole Kollection, but that's not likely."

"Kollection of Kontemporary Konceptual Art," opening 7:00 p.m. December 5 through December 8 at the Buena Vista Building, 180 NE Second Ave. in the Design District, Miami; 305-576-2000.

Words, backward and forward, are a theme for Eugenio Espinoza -- and he'd like to get Miami talking about art
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Words, backward and forward, are a theme for Eugenio Espinoza -- and he'd like to get Miami talking about art
How to view contemporary art in public places: as inspirational or as creepy?
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
How to view contemporary art in public places: as inspirational or as creepy?

Over the years Craig Robins, in whose building "Katzenjammer" will exhibit, also has enabled Argentine artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt to decorate the Design District with what amounts to the most prominent display of public art in Miami. Robins commissioned the couple to do several projects, including the wall murals visible from I-195, as well as the giant mauve Living Room, with mega-size sofa and lamps, at the other end of the district. Tonight, Behar and Marquardt will unveil their latest monumental addition to the area, this time in the courtyard of the public Design and Architecture Senior High, which commissioned it -- about as public as art can be.

On the opposite end of 40th Street from the Living Room, two eight-foot-high statues of students will be erected atop two existing giant columns towering in the courtyard above neighboring buildings. Kids!, as this project is called, will also be part of the sightline when you drive along the freeway. "It's like two huge pedestals," says Marquardt, wearing her trademark square black glasses. "When you are driving you'll see these two kids rising up."

"Instead of having a pope or a general on a pedestal," adds Behar, wearing his trademark porkpie hat, "we want to subvert that idea and put up kids. Instead of celebrating power, we want to celebrate youth."

It may be the only local work that some Art Basel visitors see, as they whiz from the airport to Miami Beach. But these two social activists want the art world to see Miami -- as a whole, as one big installation -- rather than an individual artist's work. This first time around, Basel should be less about how an artist or gallery owner can network at a party, says Marquardt, and more about positioning our community as a viable art center. "It's more about what we all did to get ready for this. In a way, it's [already] done something for us, no matter who sees it during those days."

In an organic sense, the event could, over the years, become part of our own history. "The Europeans will be coming here to witness our [artistic] birth," suggests Behar, "and to be a part of it. It makes it exciting from both sides. It's more about defining ourselves at this crucial time than about selling the art."

Which puts a lot of responsibility on a place that has a tradition of embarrassing itself. But Behar and Marquardt, sitting in their South Beach living room surrounded by their colorful artworks, aren't worried. Miami's warts make it attractive, they claim, as a free-forming new center. "Let's face it, these guys are coming from Switzerland," says Behar, referring to the notoriously well-run mountain nation. If being an unpredictable, unformed city weren't an intriguing part of who we are, Behar says, "well, they would have stayed in Basel."

Kids! unveils 9:00 p.m. December 5 in the courtyard of the Design and Architecture Senior High, NE 40th Street and Second Avenue, Miami; 305-573-8116.

All the commotion stirred up by Art Basel may inspire you to become a collector yourself. Say you're contemplating the work from the local artists' collective Guerra de la Paz at Brook Dorsch's big warehouse gallery in Wynwood. Just look for the cigarette girls milling about there, as well as at neighboring Locust Projects, the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery a little north, and other galleries. But instead of cigarettes, they'll be selling baseball trading cards in packages of five, with bubblegum of course. But wait! That's not Barry Bonds -- that's artist Adler Guerrier, Bass Museum director Diane Camber, Miami Art Museum curator Cheryl Hartup. Flip over the card and you'll find interesting stats about your favorite artist, collector, or museum. Not your favorite? Trade 'em at the next opening! That's part of the concept of this "traveling exhibit" of 88 people in Miami's art world.

Brainchild of local artist Julie Kahn, the trading cards are a way for people to get to know our scene. You can collect them all or trade and gather a select few. There are 950 copies of each card, with some limited editions (and three wildcards, Kahn herself being one of them). Kahn wanted participants to be creative and have fun with what we already have here. The idea hatched after last year's non-Basel week, when even then, remembers Kahn, "people were grumbling about how their stuff wasn't seen, and that was when the fair didn't even come! And there was frustration from artists who were anchored to a space -- if you were in the wrong place, you were invisible."

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