By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Ric Delgado
By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
For a solo show in early 2009 at the Bass Museum of Art, he shocked visitors at his opening in a performance titled What a Tree Feels Like, in which he had himself buried like a Hindu ascetic near the exhibit's entrance.
Sitting inside his apartment recently, he pauses to look up from his computer, where he's designing a minimalist soundproof cube bed for his swank new digs overlooking Biscayne Bay.
"I work late at night sometimes, and my girlfriend is moving here from Seattle and I want her to be able to sleep without being disturbed," he says. "The bed is something else I can exhibit at the convention center."
Rodriguez wasn't remotely stressed about what he would produce for Basel. "I joined a band and might be performing during the fair," he says.
Snitzer, for his part, shows little concern whether Rodriguez will be able to generate some last-moment magic. Rodriguez doesn't owe his accomplishments to Basel, the dealer says.
"Basel is good. It brings an international audience to Miami. But the work has to be good," Snitzer says. "Bert's career has evolved internationally not because he was in Basel but because of the Whitney and Frieze instead.
"It's important to have a career outside this place and outside of Basel, and that's going to be the test for any artist."
Rodriguez is on his way to guitar practice, and he offers his opinions about the pressure of Art Basel and how it's affecting a new generation of local talent.
"These kids coming out of art school now, with Basel already present, some of them have it in their mind that the second they graduate, they are going to get into a gallery, get a show, and make money. It doesn't work like that," says Rodriguez, a graduate of the New World School of the Arts.
"I mean, quien carajo tu te crees que tu eres? Some 23-year-old, piece-of-shit, little punk that doesn't know anything yet? They have to get out there, fuck around first, and pay their dues."
Rodriguez says some of the students have the right attitude to deal with the expectations Basel can breed. Instead of trying to get into "20 group shows during the fair after not working hard the rest of the year, the smart ones are working steadily at preparing for their careers," he says.
"I see them talking about sticking it to The Man, talking about going and doing a little show at a hotel room somewhere, getting out there and doing something interesting with the right attitude. When you see them with the right approach, I think, All right, this one is going to be OK. The other ones you feel like telling, 'C'mon, man! Success happens to one in a million. You have to work hard first and not worry about the rest.'"
With Basel just around the corner, Rodriguez seems more interested in channeling his inner 15-year-old guitar hero.
"I kinda have that hot-dog, big-hair rock star still making noise somewhere in my head," he muses. "I was making music way before I made art, starting when I was in about third grade." At one point or another, Rodriguez says, he dabbled in 14 instruments, including the piano, saxophone, guitar, oboe, clarinet, and violin.
"I gave it up when I began making art, which turned out to be a better creative outlet for me," he says.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Rodriguez takes a seat in the living room of Ed Matus's fourth-floor apartment overlooking Biscayne Bay, twanging the bass during a rehearsal with his friend's band, the Waterford Landing.
Matus's band is undergoing a lineup change and has invited Rodriguez to join its ranks. "Lately, I've caught myself creating this character of who I'm supposed to be," Rodriguez says.
"I know what you mean," Matus chimes in.
"Dude, fuck that guy," Rodriguez says.
"It's bad to think of yourself in the third person," Matus says.
"The former bass player had big-ass fingers and could do things I can't do," Rodriguez says as he launches into a whining lick from a song called "Shotgun to Heaven."
Asked if he'll do something music-oriented during Basel, Rodriguez stops to think. "I'm not sure yet," he says. "Maybe I'll do a photo piece in which I dress up like one of those teenage guitar freaks with big hair and write a guitar lesson like the ones you see in those weird music magazines."
When the artist launches into a solo riff, Matus's Dalmatian, curled up on a rug in the next room, cocks its ear.
"Dude," Matus crows in disbelief, "this guy has come in cold and already knows three of our songs by ear. Then he lays it on me that he hasn't picked up his instrument in three years."
It is now Thanksgiving week, and Rodriguez, true to form, is ready for some razzle-Basel sleight of hand.
He decides he wants to shave his body, paint it silver, and re-create for New Times a page in W magazine's recent art issue featuring a naked Kim Kardashian. "I'm going to blow up the photos into posters and plaster them on a booth wall at the convention center during Basel," he says. To him, the gesture represents everything inane about the art fair circuit and contemporary pop culture.