Art Basel: Artpocalypse Now

A voyage into the art of darkness in an economy gone mad.

The main fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center houses more than 250 of the world's elite galleries and upward of 2,000 artists from across the globe. There you can find paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography, and videos from galleries representing 33 countries, whose wares range from hundred-dollar works by young artists to multimillion-dollar museum-quality masterpieces.

However, 60 exhibitors from last year's edition have not returned, including some big names. To camouflage the loss of spaces gone AWOL in a jungle economy, organizers have added 65 new exhibitors, including several that Basel's snooty selection committee had previously shunned. Still, local galleries remain conspicuously absent, with only Fredric Snitzer and Kevin Bruk represented at Basel this year. It seems organizers believe Miami is a great place to party, but its culture still falls short.

This year, ABMB has undergone a major overhaul, corralling its exhibitors into four halls at the convention center, up from the usual two. It has also widened exhibit booths and aisles to make the fair easier to navigate. The popular Art Positions, the container village that in the past has featured upstart galleries on the beach, has been moved inside the convention center this year.


Click here for a full list of Art Basel events.

"People are bringing higher-quality works to the fair," gallerist Kevin Bruk says. "The fair has undergone a redesign, and there is already a buzz in anticipation of the changes.

"Instead of going to four or five fairs this year, many of the dealers who are coming are focusing on just this one fair and concentrating on showing A-plus material that will sell no matter what," says Bruk, whose booth in ABMB's Art Nova sector will showcase works by Matthew Weinstein, Daniel Hesidence, and Su-en Wong. And with the stock market bouncing back, "collectors are returning aggressively because now is a good time for them to purchase blue-chip work," he adds.

Bruk is among the dealers licking his chops over a visit from tycoon collectors such as Donald Marron, former director of the New York Stock Exchange; and prefab housing mogul Eli Broad, noted for dropping up to $25 million on art each year. Broad is famous for charging a $2.4 million Lichtenstein painting on his American Express card at Sotheby's in 1994 and donating the frequent-flier miles to the California Institute of the Arts for student travel. Artists, both emerging and established, are poised to give the fat-cat collectors the treatment, performing the hind-lick maneuver and praying they cough up a commission.

The big spenders will have plenty to choose from. Works on display will include Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Marina Abramovic, Tom Wesselmann, and Robert Rauschenberg, along with top-drawer emerging talent.

Some of the biggest artillery on display can be found in ABMB's Art Kabinett, a sort of special ops curatorial project within 28 select booths of the fair's Art Galleries sector.

Carlos Garaicoa's Las Joyas de la Corona will be on view in the Galleria Continua booth. His installation was conceived with two audiences in mind: those living under political systems where human rights are suppressed, and those in systems that claim to have solved such inconsistencies. The artist's work strives to convey his pressing concern for societies to become more humanized.

New York's Francis M. Naumann Fine Art weighs in with "Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess," devoted to exploring the impact of the seminal artist's activities as a chess player on his artistic production. The exhibit will showcase an early cubist drawing titled Study for Portrait of Chess Players (1911) and photographs of Duchamp (1887-1968) either playing chess or seated before a chessboard. The gallery will also feature works by Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali, as well as chess-related pieces that contemporary artists created specifically for this show.

Among the more intriguing Art Kabinett offerings is Samar Hussein, a digital slide projection made by Vera Lutter between 2003 and 2009. Staged by New York's Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art, it comprises 500 images in an endless loop commemorating the estimated 100,000 civilian deaths caused by the American-led occupation of Iraq.


Charlie don't surf!

Although ABMB cleared the Art Positions tin shacks from the beach and placed the shipping containers in the convention center, it has replaced the well-liked coastline pit stop with the Oceanfront, which will anchor the bulk of the fair's free events. The area has been spruced up by Creative Time, the legendary New York City-based public art outfit. It shanghaied Los Angeles artist Pae White to design the central element of the space and commissioned an artist DJ to provide music for those aching for a free night on the town.

During the mornings, visitors can attend briefings and discussion panels by the Art Basel Conversations series, featuring eggheads from every branch of the art world. Other events at the public encampment will include the Art Video program, curated by Creative Time, and the Art Film evening, curated by This Brunner. ABMB has also introduced the Oceanfront Café for those wishing to catch some light grub to soak up the hangover or refreshing drinks to wash down those malaria pills.

On view in the area will be public sculptures such as Jorge Mayet's Deseo, the re-creation of a traditional Cuban dwelling called a bohio. He plans to float it in the ocean outside South Beach's swank hotels, juxtaposing the luxurious resorts with the ramshackle constructions typically found throughout the Caribbean. The hut, he says, was not created as an abode but rather as an "architectural skeleton to host the souls of the dead." We would gladly trade our foxhole for his ephemeral digs if he included a toilet lid in the deal.

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