By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, ABMB features 250 top-flight galleries from 29 countries representing North and Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, exhibiting 20th- and 21st-century works by more than 2,000 artists, including Bert Rodriguez.
During Basel week, Miami transforms into a sprawling installation covering the area from Ocean Drive to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and points in between.
In addition to the arts glitterati gathered at the convention center, where everything from bleeding-edge projects to museum-quality works will be on display, a dozen additional fairs will run at the same time, including NADA, Pulse, Scope, Red Dot, Art Miami, Design Miami, and indie expo Fountain Miami, among others. Those ancillary shindigs house countless other galleries and visiting artists from South Beach to Wynwood. (For a list of fairs and locations, see "Art Basel satellite fairs" in this issue.)
For local talent such as Jessica Laino, Limchoy Lee, Jose Felix Perez, and Sleeper — all poised to graduate from the New World School of the Arts and become the next generation of Bert Rodriguezes — the stakes couldn't be higher.
Those four young artists (see "Fountain Miami artists make a splash" in this issue) will perform at the Fountain Art Fair as part of "Hotbed," a 24-hour project featuring an installation and performance by each of the artists. Organized by Miami's Wet Heat Project, which has also produced a full-length documentary about Rodriguez himself, the event will be broadcast live on the Internet and chronicled in a documentary film scheduled for release in 2011.
With nearly a half-billion dollars expected to swap hands during the mega-art fire sale, the pressure on South Florida artists to break through the noise is intense, and the competition is beyond fierce.
Bert Rodriguez sits behind a fastidiously ordered desk in his capacious Wynwood studio with rows of receipts lined up in front of his computer to forward to an accountant. He's a commercial success now, selling just about anything he makes, often sight unseen.
The 35-year-old says he has built his career in slow increments since his appearance at the Whitney in 2008. He has always exhibited works on the art fair circuit, riffing on rampant consumerism with neon signs trumpeting, "Xmas — it's closer than you think," or "The true artist makes useless shit for rich people to buy," or a wall of individual drawings emblazoned with the phrase "Like hotcakes."
Today he is no longer a starving artist relying on Basel to get fat. Rodriguez credits Basel's presence for his financial turnaround but exposure outside of Miami for his career taking off to another level.
"I made a real chunk, selling a piece for ten grand during Basel rather than my little shows with Fred [Snitzer]. But for me, it's always been a slow and steady climb," Rodriguez says.
"For my last show at Snitzer's — "I'll Cross That Bridge When I Get to It" — I opened the exhibit with an empty gallery space. The concept was for me to make a different piece each day of the show. I made 25 pieces in 25 days."
All the work was offered beforehand to collectors as a set of futures, Rodriguez says. Buyers could secure a piece for about $2,500.
"It forced me out of a comfort zone, because I usually don't make art that way. But I sold 60 percent of the show," he says. Nonetheless, Rodriguez admits to "shitting my pants the whole time since I never work that way," yet he's satisfied the exhibit was "conceptually sound" as well as successful.
"The show had to do with the concept of faith," he says. "Now that I am thought to be like some kind of important artist by some people who place a higher value on my work for some reason, I figured I could subvert that somehow. I was surprised that the few works I didn't sell at the show were offered by the gallery afterward in the $12,000 range," he adds, eyebrows raised. Some later sold at their full market value.
Next to the receipts on his desk sits a plastic bag full of bent twigs. He pulls out a piece of knotted wood and palms it gingerly as if it were a Fabergé egg.
"I collected these over the summer when I was in Seattle for an arts residency, and I'm going to dip them in resin to harden them and make a circular coat-rack-type installation for my new place. Maybe I'll have Fred show them at the fair," he cracks.
The truth is, it's six weeks before Art Basel 2010, and Rodriguez has no idea what he'll be showing this year.
But he isn't worried and neither is his dealer. Rodriguez has a reputation for pulling a rabbit out of his hat, and collectors and observers of the local scene will just have to guess what he'll come up with for Basel this year.
"Most people think I pull work out of my butt at the last moment," Rodriguez says. "But the truth is by the time I present something in public, I've already worked it out way in advance. That's how I work. I make things in my head."