Somehow those who love art find a way even in Miami of pursuing their passion. Visiting a gallery, wandering through a museum, keeping up with Tokion and Whitewall all of these rituals occur regularly and naturally. But then comes the formal, fetishized annual mess that is Art Basel. A month away from the fair's fifth descent, there is a distinct lack of "Can you feel the magic?"-ness in the wind.
A few prescient curators, exhibitors, and artists-cum-dealers, intuiting art-appreciation fatigue, are trying various approaches at keeping the Zeitgeist and thus sales high; they are calculating how to attract the keen-eyed arbiters of art history, who in turn draw the moneyed collectors.
Alexis Hubshman is the 30-year-old artist who created and now owns Scope, the globetrotting art fair with brazen outposts at New York City's Armory Show and London Zoo. He has made a name for the event by grafting his high-culture/high-society interface onto Basel for the past three years. In 2004 and 2005, Scope took over the Townhouse, John Morr's shabby-chic boutique hotel on Collins Avenue and Twentieth Street in Miami Beach. The white-paneled lobby was the place to be; heavy hitters such as Julian Schnabel and Mark Kostabi were spotted mingling with the hard-core art barnacles this past winter. In fact 2005's Scope iteration eclipsed both in popularity and gravitas the original Basel parasite, NADA (the New York-based, extremely exclusive New Art Dealers Alliance).
This year Hubshman has an even more grandiose scheme: He will open a 40,000-square-foot exhibition space in Roberto Clemente Park in the midst of the Wynwood-Design District gallery gladiators. That's just a few blocks from the warehouses containing the Margulies and Rubell collections.
"Basically we're right on Art Basel's doorstep," Hubshman says with unrestrained glee during a meeting this past Thursday, for old times' sake, in the Townhouse's lobby. He was wearing a black shirt with white pinstripes, black pants, and black shoes with tropical-hue striped socks peeking out, and nursing a single Corona Light; it's a studied public image he presents as sort of a uniform à la Guys in Suits. Nonetheless Hubshman possesses genuine warmth and charm, and his ideas for recharging Basel ... well, even The Bitch has to say ... they just might work.
As a large dragonfly darted about, its bottle-blue wings so nimble it seemed like a hologram, Hubshman showed his renderings for the space. They immediately confront visitors with a forest of fake greenery. "These plastic blades of grass will be six feet high, which will give people entering a childlike perspective ... or maybe people will hide in them and lie down and go to sleep," Hubshman muses, even as he frets about city permits. "I was warned the exhibition tent might not fit in the park. I'm a failed architect; I attended the school in Glasgow [the Mackintosh School of Architecture], but I still like to make little drawings and calculations and fancy that I can make other people visualize these installations and see that they will fit."
Hubshman's revamped Scope Miami will feature the requisite stuff to capture maximum public appeal a "Castle to the Clouds" interactive playground for children and a slightly off-kilter refreshments area: "The Queen Bee is going to be like a Vietnamese snake shack, the kind of ad hoc bar that formed from shells of bombs and parts of buildings. It's a dark energy. With the war and everything, there's no way to deny what's going on in the world; it's meant to make people a little uncomfortable even as they're having a drink."
And Hubshman's local collaborative partners include Anthony Spinello, the well-respected wunderkind who, after a few years of curating Red Dot, recently opened an eponymous gallery on construction-weary North Miami Avenue. There's also Krelwear's Karelle Levy, whose elastic-based, form-fitting costumes will adorn dancing, acrobatic performance artists.
Scope's pièce de résistance will likely be Between Life and Death, an installation from the Sanchez Brothers by way of Toronto's Christopher Cutts Gallery. Between's canvas is an actual wrecked Greyhound bus featuring holographic projections of people inside the vehicle that describe their experiences with mortality during and after an accident.
But Hubshman makes clear in the same clean, iconoclastic manner in which he proudly displays his Gateway laptop (rather than the Mac favored by most visual creatives) that Scope's purpose is to make money for its artists and staff.
"I have seven mouths to feed now; they're on the payroll, but they are much more than employees," Hubshman says. "It's a very dedicated group of mostly very young people no one is over 25 years old. And they are all, as I call them, PHDs: poor, hungry, and desperate. And they're working about 90 hours a week each to get ready for Basel. So my concern, yes definitely, is providing for them. And getting them lunch. I always buy them lunch ... and we always sit at a round table, like the Knights of the Round Table."
Hubshman avers that the drive for material security is no less admirable than artistic ambition: "I didn't come from money. I'm an only child.... Things were difficult. I took my father off the street; he was a heroin addict. I just bought my first home, in Yonkers, and it is very modest. So $300,000 ... in New York, comparatively, maybe that's not much, but for us it was everything. You have some cash in hand for a bit and then it's gone."
Hubshman's unsentimental attitude toward the business of art extends to plans to make the Scope environment particularly cushy, even amusing, for heavy wallets.
"We want to knock down the jaded collector monumentality, where the mentality is of dealers wearily pushing metaphorical shopping carts from show to show," Hubshman says. "So we'll be setting up, as its own installation, the 'pay window' where dealers cash out. The design is based on those off-track betting parlors that are so popular in New York. There are going to be trophies and ribbons all around the 'cashiers,' who will be seated on tall pedestals, so the dealers have to 'pay up.'"
After admiring some paintings by Kehinde Wiley in a magazine, the hound decided it was time to take in another type of art patron attraction, this one way south, at Miami Art Central's "Art That Moves the Spirit" reception in South Miami, on Red Road adjacent to the University of Miami.
(MAC is also taking an unusual approach to Basel this year. In addition to being geographically well out of the fray, it plans to continue running the present exhibit, "Video: An Art, A History 1965-2005," through the December 10 conclusion of the fair week.)
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"Art That Moves the Spirit" was MAC founder Ella Fontanals-Cisneros's way of nodding to corporate sponsor Porsche. Indeed the firm's CEO, Peter Schwarzenbauer, was on hand to accept the toast on MAC's sportscar-decked roof, with extremely potent ten-ounce cocktails, sushi, and way too much foie gras. Yet this wasn't the frightening mingling of booze and priceless works that often happens at such events; the partying was confined to the outdoors, and the exhibit on loan from the Centre Pompidou was appropriately hushed and darkened.
The Bitch was transfixed by Pierre Huyghe's video installation, The Third Memory, which juxtaposes scenes from Sidney Lumet's 1973 film Dog Day Afternoon one of the most notable heist flicks of all time with a reenactment of the robbery conducted by John S. Wojtowicz, the actual sex-change-seeking bank robber immortalized by Al Pacino in the movie.
The Bitch asked Renata Alana, a blond physician's assistant in an updo and a black ball gown who was viewing Third Memory at the same time, how she interpreted the piece. "I think the bank robber remembers better the movie about his actions than he does his actions themselves," Alana offered.
Paul Scott, a Porsche rep who was also on hand, observed, "I think they should serve at least red wine in the gallery."