As I made my way through Wynwood with artist Sergio Garcia this past weekend, it seemed clear that Basel fatigue had set in.
While trying to get into the Moore Space early Friday to catch the "French Kissin' in the USA" show, we were stopped by a bunch of brutes in dark business suits, who told us we had to fork over $15 to gain entrance to the show.
When we responded we didn't want tickets for the Design fair, they said anyone entering the Moore Building during the fair had to cough up the dough.
I showed my business card to a woman behind the steel barricades and told her I wanted to review the Moore Space show — which was purportedly free. She looked us over slowly, head to toe, as if jeans and shirts were unacceptable. Then she blew us off. Incredibly the district was empty and no one was purchasing tickets for the Design fair at the time.
I later called the Moore and was told by a gallery attendant that they had been having a meltdown with Design fair personnel all week. "We've been swamped with calls and it's been a major nightmare," explained Roxanne Bruno, who added that bigwig Miami collector Rosa de la Cruz, who supports the Moore, received the same treatment herself.
Miffed, Garcia and I climbed into his van and headed to Scope. As we neared Roberto Clemente Park, traffic was bumper-to-bumper; we were paralyzed on NW Second Avenue for close to 15 minutes. Car horns blared. Locals, trying to get home, teetered on the verge of road rage.
The cause of the jam turned out to be one of those chauffeured Basel BMWs that had parked in the middle of the street in front of the Scope entrance to pick up a couple of blue-hairs. The driver emerged from the fair carrying shopping bags full of art while the two biddies followed behind. As he pulled away, a City of Miami Police officer waved him over to the curb.
Instead of traffic clearing quickly, some drivers slowed their vehicles to a crawl in front of the cop, lowered their windows, and applauded the officer as they hurled obscenities at the occupants of the ticketed car.
Parking was nonexistent, so Garcia and I headed to the Fountain fair instead. Outside, four graffiti artists were creating murals on the building's exterior in front of a few spectators. For most people, the intoxicating stench of the spray paint was too much to bear.
Logan Hicks, a New York artist, was creating a stencil piece of the subway stop at Union Square as part of "Primary Flight," a curated street art project by more than 20 local and visiting artists on buildings throughout the nabe.
Inside Fountain, Brooklyn's Grace Exhibitions Space was presenting a performance by Melissa Lockwood and Rachel Hoffman, who were dancing to Madonna. Lockwood swung from the ceiling inside a shiny silvery cocoon suspended from heavy chains, while Hoffman, sporting a red bikini with Devil horns jutting from her breasts, shimmied hypnotically and waved a silver scarf in the air.
One of the better pieces at the alternative fair was Sean Pace's Super Natural, a Louisville slugger with a sawed-off shotgun affixed to it, designed to blow baseballs away. The young Ashville, North Carolina artist was left stupefied by the Basel rampage across town. "I wish I would have brought my machine gun sculpture that shoots rubber chickens into walls at 90 miles an hour," he cracked.
Outside we bumped into Mark Koven, a Miami artist and Basel veteran who relocated to Tampa two years ago.
"Dude, I went fishing last year during Basel because it had gotten so huge. This year it has gotten so much bigger it's a fiasco," he said.
Koven wryly observed that the oversaturation of the market and the battle royal to snare attention is destroying careers. "Artists are trying to use this time to get noticed," he said, "but it is working the other way around."
A perfect example seems to be Maite Josune's heavy-handed stab at the spotlight.
As dusk shrouded NW 23rd Street across from Art Miami, a tow truck backed up in front of the Gallery Diet space and began unloading Josune's Basel opus. Her "mixed-media car" consisted of a 1995 Mazda MX-3 that the Miami-Dade County Schools art teacher had painted in front of her Kendall home.
The wreck was slathered in toxic blue, red, and yellow hues, and covered with large images of white and green snails. The trunk housed a garden of ferns, ficuses, and palms Josune had picked from her yard.
As Pedro Perez, the tow truck driver, began lowering the eyesore into a parking space, Nina Johnson, Diet's owner, came outside and asked Josune not to leave it in front of her space.
"It was out here for a couple of nights and homeless people were sleeping and doing drugs inside," Johnson protested.
Josune remained undaunted, telling Perez to continue his work. "Leave me out of this," he pleaded, adding he had been towing the car from location to location "like a Ping-Pong ball."
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A heated exchange took place between the artist and dealer, and Josune left abruptly after her project was dropped off. Johnson called the cops and complained.
A crowd gathered as three squad cars arrived. Artist Beatriz Monteavaro, who has a studio next to Diet, shook her head.
"It's becoming a free-for-all here. This is unacceptable. It's like someone taking a shit in front of your house. You know it's funny, yet sad," she said as Art Miami onlookers across the street pulled out their cell phones and snapped photographs.
Police officers ticketed Josune's tagless jalopy and had it impounded. Reached by phone, the artist said her homeowners' association wanted the car off her property as well. But that didn't stop her from paying the towing fees and having her heinous handiwork unceremoniously plopped onto North Miami Avenue in time for the Basel edition of Wynwood's gallery crawl this past Saturday. "I don't care if the artwork is shit," she brayed.