Motohiko Odani's Rompers
Motohiko Odani's Rompers

Video Eye For Basel

A: Three minutes. Q: How much time is spent viewing a work of art, on average?

For a gallery hopper plied with wine and small talk and distracted by the scene, logic suggests those minutes are even fewer. And one can only guess at the attention span of a viewer at a fair on the scale of Art Basel, with its thousands of artworks on display all over town, and the attendant parties, and just four days to take it all in. Which makes devoting ten minutes to a video, even a seminal work by Rory McEwan (Joseph Beuys in Scotland from 1970), something of a commitment.

But despite the dedication required of an art form that asks more from a viewer than a glance, film and video art are flourishing at Art Basel Miami Beach -- one of the largest and most significant art fairs in the world, officially running from December 4 to 7 (there are other events straddling both sides of those dates). It's evident from the top down; from the Art Video Lounge -- an official Art Basel venue and major component of the fair -- to individual and group shows at galleries and museums around town, to the purely guerrilla tactics of roving bands of artists and their drive-by projections. And it's what gives Art Basel an edge, providing some of the most provocative and least commercial elements of those well-heeled happenings.

The Art Video Lounge, an event at the Miami Beach Library (2100 Collins Ave.) offering more than 50 works that mixes obscure or forgotten pieces by major artists, early influential video art, and current work by young artists, is a counterpoint to the commerce of the fair going on a few blocks away at the Miami Beach Convention Center. And it's also a chance to relax from the bustle, slow down, and actually enjoy some art in a space that encourages viewers to linger.

"The primary impulse was to show the art world things they might not have seen by artists they thought were familiar to them," says Art Video Lounge curator Chrissie Iles, a curator at the Whitney Museum in New York, on the concept behind the show. "And also it's an opportunity to offset the work on display in the art fair by something curated, but that relates to what people are showing that perhaps has a few historical connections."

Housed inside the rotunda of the library, the video lounge is open throughout the fair, day and evening, and includes early work by Derek Jarman with Jubilee, a film about the British punk scene from 1977. Or there's John Baldessari's rarely seen Police Drawing from 1971, in which people try to draw someone who enters a room and leaves again, like a police drawing from memory. There's also Jack Hazan's film from 1974 about artist David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, and Raymond Pettibon's music scene-themed Sir Drone from 1989.

"You may see drawings by Raymond [Pettibon] in the art fair, but you'll never see this tape of his that he made," says Iles; that applies to many of the older artists and their rare, early film and video works. It's in contrast with works by young artists like the Beige & Radical Software Group and their Video Graffiti from the Commodore 64 computer.

Of course, there's still the problem of attention span and the length of some of the works, such as the 106-minute film about Hockney. But part of that issue was addressed by the avant-garde architect team of LOT-EK, which designed a space in the rotunda with lounge appeal, encouraging viewers to sit back and relax. "We've been concentrating on how the body relates to the moving image," says LOT-EK architect Guiseppe Lignano. "In the rotunda, you lie down or incline, almost as if on the beach. We call it the foam beach."

From the metaphorical and literal beach, head inland to the hammocks for the Fresh Video Lounge by Rocket Projects gallery, as part of the Wynwood Art District gallery walk (or trolley ride) on Thursday, December 4. Under no specific theme, the show combines the works of six young and emerging Miami artists, with pieces ranging from abstract to figurative video; it is housed in a large warehouse space with hammocks spread around to encourage lingering. Rocket will be open December 4 through 6 from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., 3440 N. Miami Ave.

Besides the lounges and group shows, there are several solo video art exhibits going on during Art Basel, including one from local artist Wendy Wischer. Her projected work Full to Wailing and Back Again -- a piece that imitates the three-quarter moon that will be in the sky the same night of the show -- will be shown at Miami Art Museum's VIP party on December 4. Another Wischer piece, Under the Spell of Maya, is a continuously looped video projection of an eight-foot human eye, iris and pupil, that slowly dilates and contracts; a blue eye made to have planetary references. The work will be on display from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on December 4, in the Design District at 160 NE 40th St.

In the solo show of New York-based artist Sarah Beddington, her studied video pieces of everyday life slowly unfold in sometimes bizarre ways, especially since the settings are public spaces in New York, Miami, and Las Vegas. Lupita, shot on a platform of a New York subway, is of a dancing street performer and his life-size partner, but viewed from an angle that reexamines an otherwise common scene. It's the same with her series of mechanical pets sold in the malls of Las Vegas, as well as the street scenes of Miami Beach alleyways, familiar situations that have far more to offer than a passing glance. Her show runs 7:00 p.m. to midnight on December 4 at 47 NE 36th St., then through December 8.

For a unique multimedia experience, a consortium of local artists has assembled a show revolving around a single theme and a script by Rey Parla. "Erasing Memory" is a combination of still photographs, video works, and live performances involving the mythical Kryonetics Corp. and the characters Agent Intellect, Kokoff, and Persona Nongrata, all with the Borges-like idea of fluid memories in mind. The show is from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. December 5 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 512 Española Way.

But perhaps the most potent aspect of Art Basel is in the guerrilla video art that randomly appears wherever there's an art gathering, such as "Transmission," planned by four Florida-based artists. Renting a U-Haul truck, the group, which was put together by Miami artist Judith Robertson, will appear at some of the larger outdoor art events from December 3 through 6, and project images on a Mylar screen hanging from the truck's open back. "This is a response to the video lounge," says "Transmission" artist Dimitry Said Chamy. "Where you go there and wait forever."


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