As Street Art Conquers Basel, AholSniffsGlue Is Everywhere
AholSniffsGlue, pictured at his new mural at the Standard for the 2014 Basel season
Ask AholSniffsGlue what he has planned for this year's Art Basel, and Miami's favorite gold-grilled, eyeball-painting street-art genius admits the truth: He can't fully wrap his head around all the murals, gallery and museum shows, parties, and film projects he has lined up.
"I don't even know where to start," he says. "I have so many things [to do] that the days are running together."
You won't see Ahol's work at the massive Art Basel fair that anchors Miami Art Week at the Miami Beach Convention Center. You won't see it in any of the white-walled booths that make up the vast landscape of satellite fairs stretching from the Beach to midtown and beyond, either.
Truth is, though the big-money art fairs and champagne-soaked parties are still a part of Art Week's draw, recent years have found street art becoming an ever more integral piece of the experience for visitors and locals alike.
Ahol's slammed schedule is more than evidence of the artist's talent and hustle; it's the natural result of an increasingly street-art-savvy industry taking over Miami for the week. Wynwood's warehouses have been getting annual face-lifts at Baseltime for years, and that aesthetic is now spreading to fairs, galleries, and more commercial enterprises.
Scope Art Fair, for instance, is hosting a giant structure called the Heineken House where street artists will live-paint all week. At Wynwood design shop Elemental, you can see "Leaps & Bounds," a collection of tiny street-art-covered water towers. And Beck's beer, which annually launches a series of artist- and celebrity-designed labels to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach, this year selected Typoe, a Miami artist who began his career in street art, to contribute a design.
"Miami is a new, young, vibrant city," says gallerist Gregg Shienbaum, who represents Ahol. "It's not a 200-year-old city like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, or D.C." -- meaning it hasn't had as much time to grow culturally. "We're going to look at this wave of new [street] art as the beginning of the art movement down here."
Ahol has been a local street-art star ever since his most famous motif -- an infinite series of interlocking, sleepy-looking eyeballs -- appeared on the side of the Margulies Collection building near I-95. He's since expanded into everything from sculpture to painting with shows at venues such as Shienbaum's gallery and Mercenary Square.
This year, Ahol made the leap to national notoriety -- albeit in a courtroom instead of a gallery. In July, New Times broke the news that clothing retail chain American Eagle Outfitters had used images of Ahol's murals in ad campaigns, on in-store décor, and at promotional events without asking permission or providing compensation. The company posed pale, clean-cut models with spray cans in front of the art, implying it had been created by a very different person from the tattooed Cuban with the epic beard. For an event in Colombia, AEO even hired local graffiti artists to re-create Ahol's signature eyes.
Ahol filed suit against AEO this past summer. For him, it's been a personal struggle. His lawyers advised him against talking to anyone about the suit -- not an easy task for the friendly, well-known artist.
"It was really difficult for me to sit back and watch it all happen and still come out pushing my art," he says. "I stopped going out too much because that shit really weighs down on my head...
"It's been the weirdest shit that I've ever gone through, you know?" he says. "And I've gone through a lot of weird shit."
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In the meantime, Ahol's lawsuit has made waves across the world. New Times reported Tuesday that AEO and the artist reached a settlement. Several artists have launched lawsuits of their own, including Detroit muralist Revok and San Francisco artists Reyes and Steel, who claimed that fashion designer Roberto Cavalli ripped off one of their works in a recent collection, and Argentine artists Jaz and Ever, along with Canadian artist Troy Lovegates, who opposed use of their mural in a Terry Gilliam-directed film project.
"I've never dealt with something like this before in my life, so it's really intense," Ahol says. "I honestly do my best to not think about it."
Instead, he's keeping his head down and focusing on his art. The result: Ahol is damn near everywhere this Basel.
His claw machine, an arcade-style game that lets participants play to win an Ahol-created plush toy, is on display at Pérez Art Museum Miami. Basel visitors to the Standard will walk past one of Ahol's murals, encompassing three stories of stairs, on their way to the hotel pool.
But it's the collaborative projects he's most excited about. Notably, he's one of 33 artists who've volunteered to paint the walls of Wynwood's José de Diego Middle School, which despite its location in Miami's biggest arts neighborhood has had no art department of its own for the past five years. The project culminates during Art Basel with a silent auction and fundraising event to create an arts program at the school.
"This is the rawest thing that I feel is going on," Ahol says. "I don't know if it's going to have that much of a party vibe to it" -- this is still a middle school, after all -- "but they've got some heavy hitters from around the world to paint it. People are so thankful to have them out there painting, even the teachers. Hopefully, some kids get inspired and realize that art and the creative side is an outlet for anything."
There's one more project Ahol is working on during Basel -- and it's perhaps the biggest sign that street art in Miami has reached peak saturation. That's right: Ahol is hitting da club.
"I'm not really one to frequent the fancy-schmancy, South Beach-y clubs and stuff, but [the Opium Group] reached out like, 'Yo, we wanna do a jam, and we want you to be there.' And it's gonna be a Miami-based type of thing," he promises, listing barbecue, a performance by Otto Von Schirach, and free tattoos of his signature eyeball available to anyone in the club among the night's charms.
"I really wanted it to be a Miami takeover of something that normally wouldn't happen in a place like Mokai," he says. "They're an awesome place, and I'm glad they're working with me, but I wanted to show out-of-towners this is how we do it. It's an authentic Miami getdown."
Project: Wynwood Silent Auction, December 2 through Sunday, December 7, at José de Diego Middle School, 3100 NW Fifth Ave., Miami. admission is free. Fundraising event December 2 at Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St., Miami. Admission costs $10. Visit projectwynwood.com.
Aholsniffsglue Backyard BBQ, With Otto Von Schirach, DJ Poshgod, Juleisy y Karla, the Suarez, Master Feathers, and Killaka5. 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. (barbecue until midnight) Friday, December 5, at Mokai, 235 23rd St., Miami Beach; mokaimiami.com.
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