So Art Basel is finally over, leaving in its book-fair-fatigued, film-festivaled wake a gasp of air before Winter Music Conference lethargy sets in. Barely a single installation, gallery, or wine-and-cheese reception was devoid of condescending hipster irony.
In Miami Beach, limos did their regular thing, filling three parking spots and not moving. The Moore Building, in the center of the Design District, tried to jack visitors out of a ten-dollar admission fee to see an installation by John Bock, the anti-romantic artist who began his career making assemblages with junk picked up from the streets of Berlin.
The Art Bar at the Delano on Collins Avenue in South Beach theoretically should have been the winner in the pre-advance opening-night luminary showdown. Its competition was down the street, at the Ritz-Carlton. The latter's lobby contained the lackluster "Masters' Mystery Art Show" reception, which, like less competent clones, offered six-by-nine-inch enhanced postcards created by none other than Whoopi Goldberg and Madonna's daughter Lourdes).
By comparison, the Ritz-Carlton was its consistently lame self, with typically impeded pedestrian traffic flow and unctuous yet unfriendly conciergettes.
The Delano tanked by technicality, defaulting through duplicity. The much-vaunted Art Bar opening, which was supposed to include an appearance by all-the-rage painter Kehinde Wiley, ended up being a sort of performance piece in which guests who had made it through several rungs of hotel security milled about by the pool; they searched for a Diet Coke costing less than five dollars or a glimpse of Wiley, whose grand canvas concept is to place contemporary urban figures in Renaissance settings. But they found neither. Instead, according to Delano spokeswoman Angela Forbes: "Russell Simmons and Wiley decided to have a private dinner for the crème de la crème of the art world on the rooftop solarium." This crème included Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and Tracy Mourning, wife of the Miami Heat center.
To be fair, The Bitch had been warned. New York City-based consultant and global tastemaker Russell Hassell, who parachutes into Miami Beach once or twice a year for a coolness check, intercepted the dog on Lincoln Road to wave her away from the dueling hotels. "You've got a postcard by Willy Chirino at the Ritz-Carlton and some cheap champagne at the Delano. What you need are some 'Art Positions,''' said Hassell, making air quotes in reference to the container show on the beach itself, before he darted into the crowd.
A better side of AB was the super-preparty at Photo Miami, which was held in the Soho Building on NW First Avenue. The spectacle would have pleased a fan of Surrealism. The portrait-heavy exhibit included all manner of work ranging from that of tiresome locals to entries from Munich's Galerie f5,6. While controversial photographer Andres Serrano stood quietly unrecognized amid his recent images of threatening, colorful foliage, property magnate Jorge Perez and his wife Darlene, both attired in blinding post-Labor Day white, were mobbed by eager agents.
"Are you an experienced collector?" someone from Calgary's Skew Gallery asked Perez.
Meanwhile in the Design District, the much-missed Etra Fine Arts got back into the game with a strong show featuring the work of Nadin Ospina, who has exchanged a fascination with tapirs for a collection of blue rams' heads. Silver-haired Etra owner Stefano Campanini, who nervously paced the small space on NE 40th Street, paused to introduce the most charmingly unassuming artist in all of Basel mania, Rosalyn Engelman. Unlike the surfeit of invading fauxhawks, conspicuously bald pates, extreme horn-rims, and vintage Doc Martens, Engelman was dressed confrontationally, in a matching apricot twinset with tone-tuned peach-color shoes and a strand of pearls. "I'd like to show you some photos of my work that aren't here," offered Engleman, a New York City-based nonobjective painter. She showed some old-fashioned Walgreens prints of what appeared to be a multihue Rorschach test.
"It's my impression of graffiti," Engelman explained. "I like graffiti because it's about time. One artist comes along and puts up some work, and then more artists come behind and paint over it. It's kind of a metaphor."
Back to the Beach
Andrew Castelli has one of those open faces that invite a smile and when you just look at him for a second more than normal, he always acknowledges with a nod. And a lot of people are familiar with Castelli's visage, because he has become quite the fellow about town in his four years in the area. (He could be originally from Belpre, Ohio, the strange little factory town where Steven Soderbergh filmed Bubble.)
After managing the opening of 24-hour eatery and bar Cafeteria on Lincoln Road three years ago, Castelli was lured across the bridge to book acts for the Pawn Shop Lounge. He survived several promotion management team bloodbaths at the up-and-down nightclub and then left. Castelli returned to Cafeteria this past week and typically had nothing bad to say about anyone. Or almost nothing.
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"Well I think the time had just kind of come at Pawn Shop," Castelli, age 30, sighed while overseeing the blending of a mixed berry mojito. "It's a great place, and they're going to have some great acts again this year for Winter Music Conference. But ... I mean, I was presented with the suggestion that I should take a pay cut, and that's not something I'd consider at this point in my career. That's something you do when you're 22 years old."
Cafeteria has always been one of The Bitch's favorite places to get iced tea and macaroni and cheese. But the multilevel bistro has had its share of woes, including a recent spate of civil complaints by restaurant suppliers and a bankruptcy court hearing scheduled for this week. On-again, off-again nights on its rooftop are currently on again, under the name Air, courtesy of Michael Capponi.
"I think we're putting some of those issues behind us," Castelli said, referring to the financial beefs. "I'm glad to be back for the season, and I'm looking forward. But first I have to learn everyone's name on the waitstaff."