Hands, Hickeys, and Hurly-Burly

Art Basel leaves its mark on Wynwood

During Art Basel Miami Beach last year, Lilian Fernandez was crestfallen that none of her abstract paintings was on display at any of the fairs' events or exhibits.

To cope with her depression, she ritualistically ripped one of her canvases, The Flowers That My Mother Painted, into 38 envelope-size sections, wrote the title of the work and her information on the back of them, and handed them out to strangers at the Miami Beach Convention Center, hoping her luck would change.

"I did it as a cleansing, sending the work out into the world sort of like a message in a bottle that people toss into the ocean, dreaming of a response in the future," the Cuban artist said. "My hope was that this year I would have the opportunity to exhibit my work during the fair and that the people I gave the pieces to would remember my performance."

At the Pulse fair, work from Travis Somerville's Peckerwood Nation series stole the show
At the Pulse fair, work from Travis Somerville's Peckerwood Nation series stole the show

During the past several months, Fernandez peppered Miami with flyers bearing images of her shredded painting, offering anyone who returned the pieces a reward. She did so as part of an effort to restore the work for her Basel project at the recently opened GIL Art Gallery in Wynwood.

Even though Fernandez still found herself a world away from the glitz and glamour of the convention center big top, by early Friday, some of the strangers she encountered last year had shown up with six sections of the painting. She exchanged them for one of her works. "I wanted to reconstruct the piece as part of the cycle. The response has been humbling," Fernandez said, adding with a laugh that instead of her going to Basel, it was now coming to her.

Despite the hundreds of artists scattered in and around the convention center and the smattering of small fairs on the Beach this past weekend, many collectors in town for Art Basel seemed to be sinking their attention and cash into Wynwood. I stuck to the hood to see what all the hurly-burly was about.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper day and night, with throngs of visitors clotting the streets. Locals like real estate broker/developer David Lombardi wondered why the City of Miami would choose to do road work on North Miami Avenue during the fair. "This city can fuck up a wet dream," he sniffed.

Early Friday the city had blocked the street in front of the Edge Zones building to repave a strip of North Miami Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets, creating a detour snafu and giving Zones Art Fair organizer Charo Oquet an ulcer. After Oquet raised a stink, the city moved the bulldozers to a side street across from her space, where a crew of laborers continued working noisily and raining clouds of dust on visitors.

At Zones, Morten Viskum's installation Love from God featured a life-size silicon replica of the artist wearing a Catholic priest's getup and standing in front of 200 pairs of scuffed and ratty flip-flops, sneakers, and shoes he collected in Cuba.

Viskum, who was standing near his opus and donning similar vestments, said that when he first showed the work at the ninth Havana Biennial, he had used new shoes in the installation. He ended up swapping them with those of spectators who had hounded him to trade their shoes for his.

The Norwegian creeped me out when he produced a photo of a desiccated hand he uses as a painting tool. Pointing to one of his messy canvases on a wall, the pseudo-padre confessed, "Ten years ago I found a human hand and started making abstract paintings with it." When I asked him why a large, garishly colored canvas, which looked like a preschooler's fingerpainting, was called New Hand III, he said he'd recently unearthed a fresh paw. "I'm not supposed to say where I got it," the former veterinarian mumbled.

Over at Scope Miami, Marlene Haring gave art lovers hickeys for ten bucks a pop as part of her Sucking Marks performance.

The fetching Austrian artist sat patrons on a barstool, swabbed their necks with alcohol, and left her mark on everyone from middle-age matrons to slavering young schlubs. "Oooh, that was good," cooed Montreal's Luc Etienne Gagnon, admiring Haring's work in a hand-held mirror. He asked the artist to authenticate the art piece by rubber-stamping his neck with her credential to prevent any trouble with his girlfriend.

Anthony Spinello's eponymous gallery featured some eye-popping Hackworth Ashley paintings that depicted Paris Hilton and Mary-Kate Olsen sporting penises. "It has been crazy busy," the young dealer said. "We have been packed every day, and people have bought early."

Saturday the hive of activity continued at Pulse, where spectators had to jostle through crowds for a glance at the work.

Travis Somerville's installation in the Impulse section of the fair stopped viewers in their tracks and was one of Pulse's show stealers. California's Nathan Larramendy Gallery devoted its entire space to the artist, who offered a stinging commentary on race relations with work from his Peckerwood Nation series.

The booth, resembling the interior of some lunatic redneck's backwoods cabin, featured political figures in blackface, a Klansman's hood fashioned from deerskin, and a stunning graphite drawing of Dubya with "I Love Black Folks" scrawled across the composition and "FEMA" etched over the prez's pearlies.

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