Art Basel: Artpocalypse Now

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

Click here for a full list of Art Basel events.

As the art industrial complex storms the Magic City full force for the onslaught of Art Basel this week, some local dealers sound like characters in Francis Ford Coppola's classic Vietnam War epic while strategizing their defense against an economy gone rogue.

Basel propagandists have touted the tent-pole extravaganza as the Super Bowl and the Olympics of the art world wrapped into a single handy package, and that's not accounting for the piggyback fairs, private gallery openings, all-night cocktail soirees, and guerrilla carpet bombings across town. For the next five days, there's art everywhere — from the sweltering climes of the beach to the sprawling mainland bush.

Darby Bannard
Javier Pinon's The Flight of Icarus at David Castillo Gallery
Javier Pinon's The Flight of Icarus at David Castillo Gallery
A sign by Ezequiel Suárez at Glexis Novoa
A sign by Ezequiel Suárez at Glexis Novoa
Justine Kurland's The Mud Puddle at the Margulies Collection
Justine Kurland's The Mud Puddle at the Margulies Collection
A still from Bill Viola's The Raft at CiFo
A still from Bill Viola's The Raft at CiFo
Typoe's Bandit at Spinello Gallery
Typoe's Bandit at Spinello Gallery
Tony Cragg's Good Face at Art Miami
Tony Cragg's Good Face at Art Miami
Sarah Crowner's Geometric Composition #7 at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
Sarah Crowner's Geometric Composition #7 at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
Matthew Weinstein's Detail Chariots of the Gods at Kevin Bruk Gallery
Matthew Weinstein's Detail Chariots of the Gods at Kevin Bruk Gallery
Ryohei Hase at ARTery
Ryohei Hase at ARTery

This Thursday through Monday, you can see work by artists ranging from Pablo Picasso to Paul McCartney, from Andy Warhol to Wangechi Mutu, and from Sherrie Levine to Roy Lichtenstein.

You can find every conceivable genre of visual expression on display from inside the cavernous Miami Beach Convention Center to the 100,000-square-foot tent pavilions housing the smaller fairs in midtown. Wynwood's warehouses and every hole-in-the-wall in town, it seems, have hung exhibits or will host all-night cocktail parties, art breakfasts, or live performances.

You might encounter zombies crawling out of graffiti murals, palm tree huts bobbing in the ocean, art emblazoned on parasails, and artistic fireworks bursting in the skies as Miami is transformed into one sprawling art installation, at times resembling some hyped-up vision of the end of times.

But for some grunts new to the killing fields and on a budget, it seems more like Saigon or a no-limits debauch. In Wynwood, rickshaw drivers will rest beneath neon-lit billboards. Streets will swarm with life as art lovers buy and sell wares, while in an alley nearby, the daily denizens will sleep off a binge as the wealthy speed by in their Basel-sponsored limos, living a life of indulgence and pampering.

Carpetbagger galleries have shot up and then will disappear after the fair; extra rooms in modest homes have been leased out weekly for the price of a month's rent; and on the Beach, visiting businessmen will jam the strip joints or troll the convention center for glamorous girls in gaudy evening gowns.

It's a binge of titanic dimensions, where you can stroll down a sidewalk and find yourself entangled in a ball of yarn-turned-art, watch a drunken collector fall face-first into a $15,000 sculpture at a gallery, or stumble across a performance artist fingering porn star Bridgette the Midget inside a bar while a crowd cheers them on. In other words, everything goes in the Felliniesque bacchanal, and the whole shebang will be lubricated sunrise to sunset with plenty of complimentary booze to keep people spending and the cops busy at DUI checkpoints.

"In these times of cutbacks, resignations, gallery closings, and reduced programming by arts organizations, everyone is retrenching," says Barry Fellman, director of Wynwood's Center for Visual Communication. "We need to step up, make a statement, and buck the trends."

Fellman is one of hundreds of local and visiting gallerists who have marshaled forces to draw the attention of the art world brass in town for what has become the biggest arts confab in the hemisphere.

Local dealer Gary Nader agrees that everyone must step up their game. "I expect business during Basel to be better than last year, but it's crazy to think we can sustain 50 fairs during a collapsed economy anymore," says Nader, who in past years has couched his comments about Basel in martial terms. "People go to war for oil and they go to war for art," he once said.

Nick Korniloff, director and co-owner of Art Miami, calls this a "wildcard year" for local galleries and visiting dealers. "We have achieved a critical mass this week, and I can't think of another metropolitan gathering worldwide where art lovers can access such high-quality works in such a broad array of genres and styles," he says. "Also, the market has been rectifying itself, and serious collectors are back to invest."

At a time when national and international museum honchos, curators, critics, and collectors are setting up base camp in Miami to review the greatest arsenal of talent arrayed in a single theater of operations, the stakes are high indeed. The rules of engagement are clear. Many who are in town will skirmish for a slice of the half-billion dollars in projected sales.

Not unlike Coppola's Apocalypse Now, though, some dealers might find themselves on a metaphorical PT boat navigating up a winding river and confronting perils at every bend. They are hoping collectors will open their wallets during a recession as menacing as the malevolent Colonel Kurtz.

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Sell the house, sell the car, sell the kids.

Now in its eighth edition, Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) has become the Western Hemisphere's greatest art-world clambake and, at heart, a superinflated commercial venture. The high-wattage expo fuels the art world's enthusiasms, passion, and angst like no other affair. Admission is pricey — $35 for a one-day pass or $75 for a permanent pass. You can also purchase an evening pass for $20 beginning at 4 p.m., chug an energy drink, strap on some skates, and zip through the labyrinthine spectacle.

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.

"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.

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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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This sho' enuf a bizarre sight in the middle of all this shit.

This year, Basel's highly trumpeted Art Projects — curated for the first time by Guadalajara's Patrick Charpenel — will stand near the Oceanfront command post. These works will draw friendly fire on unsuspecting civilians and veteran art aficionados by interrupting foot traffic with the force of an exploding Claymore mine.

Most of the 13 works were commissioned specifically for ABMB and will include projects by Karmelo Bermejo, Gonzalo Lebrija, Marc Swanson, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, who will present a site-specific show inside the W Hotel on Friday, December 4. You can find an Art Projects info kiosk at the Oceanfront between 21st and 22nd streets at Collins Park and book a guided tour.

If you are shellacked from too much sauce, can't remember what day of the week it is, and aren't afraid of a case of the squirts, sign up for Eduardo Abaroa's Aereal Diary. It's an interactive event with parasail rides offered to daring sorts.

Each parasail has the day of the week emblazoned on it. The one reading "Friday" must be used Friday, the one reading "Saturday" must be used Saturday, and so forth. It's a nifty way not to lose track of time so your CO doesn't toss you into the stockade or assign you KP duty if you're late getting back to your post.

Karmelo Bermejo would make a great candidate for the U.S. Army Bomb Disposal School. The Madrid native has concocted The Grand Finale, a sensory-shattering project in which he ignites fireworks displaying the word recession at the end of a big bang.

By constructing the R-word in fireworks, the artist juxtaposes the ostentation of the regal spectacle with the poverty prevalent during the current worldwide economic crisis. Maybe Bermejo should leave that fuse unlit if he ever decides to enlist in the bomb squad.

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Charlie didn't get much USO. His idea of R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat.

During the weeklong blowout, ancillary fairs that have sprung like mushrooms from the ABMB compost will be scattered around Miami Beach and Wynwood. Several of the larger fairs have shifted spaces and expanded programs for this year's event.

NADA is back for its seventh edition and has moved from the Ice Palace in Wynwood to the Deauville Beach Resort on Collins Avenue north of the convention center. An enduring crowd magnet because it waives a cover charge, NADA features 80 galleries from 33 cities worldwide, including an intoxicating mix of contemporary talent and provocative free daily performances.

Miami dealer David Castillo, who will exhibit at NADA this year, expects lots of foot traffic at the popular free fair. "People who are coming to Miami for Basel are looking very carefully at the work and being smart about buying," he says.

Pulse has relocated to NADA's former space at the Ice Palace and will open its fifth season with more international galleries and sterling-caliber programs. Admission costs $15, or $10 for students and seniors.

This year, Pulse has also launched an ambitious series featuring daily outdoor concerts and the debut of Pulse Performance, anchored by emerging artists such as Miami's Maria Jose Arjona, who recently collaborated with legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic. Other highlights will include music performances by Vivian Girls, the Blow, and Exene Cervenka.

During the week, Arjona will engage in a series of lengthy performances called The/Affirmation/cycle, in which she will test her body's endurance. It's reminiscent of the opening scene in Apocalypse Now, where a special forces assassin on a boozy tear trashes his Saigon hotel room and ends up a bloodied mess after he smashes a mirror into shards.

In one work, she'll use a rope dangling from the ceiling to shift her weight while she stands upon four glasses containing goldfish. In another, she'll attempt to straddle a giant ice cube containing nails and knifes that she plans to remove with her toes as she balances on the melting block.

The Scope and Art Asia fairs (each $20 general admission or $10 for students and seniors), as well as Red Dot ($10), Design Miami/ ($20), and Photo Miami ($20 general admission, $15 students and seniors), return with a vengeance, joined by a new addition to the Wynwood satellite fairs: ARTery Miami ($10). The newbie expo is a strategic alliance between Miami's Soho Studios, Florida collectors, and international art dealers seeking to push the envelope in contemporary art.

"Our concept is to show the work of artists who are making a difference in the art world," explains Adela Holmes, ARTery's chief curator. "Because a lot of galleries have closed due to the economy, artists need representation, so we are exhibiting the work of individuals from Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and from here in America."

As a counterinsurgency to the stodgier fairs, ARTery will exhibit a painting by Victor Safonkin that depicts a titanic struggle between a single Teutonic warrior and an army of ghouls and goblins. It appears to presage an art-world cataclysm of Mayan-calendar proportions. A painting by Jeff McMillan portrays a yeti unleashing a blast of foul breath on unsuspecting viewers, while David Ho has rendered the image of a half-man/half-pig with a jet engine strapped to its hindquarters.

It's a reminder that anyone with a bucket of white paint and a space can open for business during Art Basel, even if his or her logic is termite-infested, local dealers complain.

"Just because you have five gallons of paint from Home Depot for a nice white space and a sign that says you're in the art business doesn't mean serious collectors will buy from you," says Gary Nader, whose eponymous Wynwood gallery is featuring a survey of the works of Roberto Matta, the late Chilean surrealist master. "People that are coming here to buy during Basel are looking for recession-proof blue-chip names and not giving a second glance to unknown commodities."

Nader is a lifer who is dug deep into his 50,000-square-foot concrete bunker, which houses $100 million in modern and contemporary art. The hangar-size space is ringed by a phalanx of butterball Botero bronzes strong enough to stop an armored cavalry assault. His Mattas could fetch prices from the hundreds of thousands of dollars to as much as $2.5 million.

"People are tired of getting fleeced and looking to invest with a consultant or dealer that's been in the business 20 years," he adds. "There are a lot of greedy people and Madoff-type operators out there. You have to remember that this is a business that's not regulated."

For collectors looking for a one-stop PX to pack their shopping carts with Tamayos, Mattas, and Kippenbergers, Nader's superoutlet might merit a parachute drop.

Nick Korniloff, director and organizer of Art Miami ($15 general admission, $10 students and children, children under 12 free), South Florida's oldest contemporary art fair, recently poured concrete slabs for his midtown Miami firebase. His state-of-the-art 80,000-square-foot pavilion houses 80 galleries from Europe, Asia, Latin America, India, the Middle East, and the United States.

Marking its 20th anniversary, this year's edition of Art Miami will feature a sweeping range of exhibitions, including a large outdoor sculpture by Tony Cragg, a series of museum-quality video installations curated by Asher Remy Toledo and Julia Draganovic, and select offerings from private and public collections.

London's Olyvia Oriental will display quality modern pieces, including those by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. New York's Edelman Arts will show work by Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, and Alberto Giacometti.

Art Miami will donate part of its opening-night proceeds to Miami's Lotus House Women's Shelter, which serves the needs of local homeless and downtrodden women and their children. "The past two years, we have donated close to $20,000 to the shelter," Korniloff says.

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I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor.

When it comes to guerrilla incursions, it's every man for himself. No one wants to crawl into an evil-smelling, anything-goes dive and risk getting evac'd to a MASH unit. For our money, here are some of the best off-the-radar events this week.

For the sonically challenged, check out "Digi-a-GO-GO!," a multimedia art exhibit in Wynwood hyped as the new-age Digital Salon. The exhibit will showcase experimental and psychedelic artwork by Brinson Renda, Preston Poe, and M. River of MTAA; Ricardo Agudelo; Kristen Anchor; Craig Coleman; Gerald Habarth; David Gladden; Scott Vollmar; and many, many others.

It will also feature "YouTunes," a special performance project that will create custom songs for 99 cents. All participants will receive instant recordings of their personally crafted songs on-site. International DJ Special K and South Florida band Murderous Rampage will provide live music, with visuals by acclaimed VJ Dark Intersection. Fuck, yeah! We love the smell of napalm in the morning.

At the fringe HQ that is O.H.W.O.W. (which stands for Our House West of Wynwood), the crackerjack commandos running the joint have enlisted remix artist Danger Mouse and alt-rock band Sparklehorse, who will create sounds to accompany "Dark Night of the Soul," an exhibit of 50 original photographs by iconoclastic filmmaker David Lynch. Seven limited-edition prints of each photograph will be available for purchase. Fuck, dudes! Save us some purple haze.

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You're in the asshole of the world, Captain!

Young Miami galleries and upstart curatorial projects thumbing their noses at Basel include Anthony Spinello's Littlest Sister 09, a microfair housing 50 artists, many of whose works prick the hype balloon surrounding the major fairs.

Spinello is exhibiting a work by Pachi Giustinian titled Valve, which consists of a nozzle used to inflate beach balls installed directly into a wall. It reminds spectators that boatloads of Basel events are hyper-inflated and likely to attract as many boozy revelers as art connoisseurs.

The gallery is also showing a video by Kristofer Paetau in which the artist ingested two bottles of water laced with a pound of salt each and, in a scene straight out of The Exorcist, puked inside the stall of an unsuspecting dealer at the 2005 Art Forum Fair in Berlin. Paetau's bowel-cramping intervention is a strident commentary on the consumptive habits of rabid collectors flocking to the art-fair circuit.

"It almost becomes self-defeating worrying about sales in this atmosphere," Spinello observes. "I decided to focus on promoting my artists rather than getting all angsty and sweating over the economy like everyone else. It's counterproductive."

Likewise, a provocative exhibit titled "Art Baselita: Mama's little girl" piggybacks on ABMB's trademark pink and gray colors and deploys guerrilla marketing tactics to generate buzz.

Cocurated by Miami's Glexis Novoa, Gean Moreno, and Charo Oquet — along with Sandra Ceballos and Ezequiel Suárez of Havana's Espacio Aglutinador, Cuba's oldest indie alt space — the show offers a survey of the contemporary Cuban and local culture.

"We are doing our exhibit at Edge Zones' nonprofit space in Wynwood," Novoa says. "We are using a stealth marketing ploy to draw attention to noncommercial proposals during the Basel fairs. For us, Art Basel has never been interested in what's happening locally.

"There has always been a poor or nonexistent representation of local spaces and talent at Basel, and that remains a huge problem every year. We wanted to include serious proposals in an ironic and humorous way to address this failure."

The horror... the horror...

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