Flashes of conscience mingled among polished art sniffers who trod over the red shag carpet of the Catalina Hotel for Thursday's opening night reception of the Bridge Art Fair.
Exhibitors from both coasts, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Paris and Canada took over 80 white-walled hotel rooms to exhibit mostly contemporary art that wasn't only priced for deep pockets (i.e. Muscle Baby, a baby's jumper stitched with photos of veined-muscles went for $400).
Steven Gagnon, a Miami Beach artist, set the tone with Border Cruiser; an old police Crown Victoria parked outside the hotel that flashed videos of a Brazilian immigrant telling of his border crossing on the windows. Gagnon, who is 34, plans to drive the car through Art Basel and was there video-recording the pensive looks of admirers. He wanted people to make a personal connection with the immigrant: "I was amazed by the obstacles they face just to work here."
Sprinkled through the Collins Avenue hotel's faintly musty halls were Clinton Fein's in-your-face, politically-charged digital depictions of torture that you couldn't pass without a glance or thought, even if you wanted to. On the first floor, a 60-by-45 shot showed a naked model of an Abu Ghraib prisoner with a sack over his head on his knees forced to perform oral sex on another.
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In the Bert Green Fine Art gallery, Room 224, were Wayne Coe's Artsploitation series of 14 ink sketches, $1,000 each, which are inspired by 1970s and 1980s ads for gay porn. One read: "Art Basel Boys, only $3.00 in Tricks of the Trade." (In his artist statement, Coe explains how the New York fine art market looks like "male pornography.") There was plenty of thought-provoking art at the Bridge including a painting of a panda holding a rifle and an oddly sweet contraption that moved a pair of filled wine glasses back and forth to represent chance encounters.
By the end of the night, the pretty girls in red dresses uncapping Amstel Lights were apologizing for passing out warm beers to the healthy, but not mammoth crowd. The Bridge at the Catalina, 1732 Collins Avenue, is free and open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 6 p.m. on Sunday. There's a nightly happy hour from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. And, by that time, the Amstel Light will probably be cold.