Art Basel Miami Beach

Art Basel Miami Beach 2011 Brings Together Neon Lights, Vaginas, and Big Names

View more photos from Art Basel Miami Beach 2011 here.

"I haven't seen this much pussy all year," we told our colleague as we were exiting the Miami Beach Convention Center for Art Basel Miami Beach's Vernissage Wednesday night. There were enough uses of female genitalia to fill The Vagina Monologues.

As crass as our comment may come across, we did notice contemporary artists tend to gravitate toward the same things: bold typography, neon lights, electronic marquees, and bloated installations. Art Basel Miami Beach is often described as overwhelming, but it's certainly not boring.

Upon enter the convention center, we were greeted by a Warhol piece, "Colored Campbell's Soup Can" at the Richard Gray Gallery booth. The piece sort of gives the gist of what to expect -- big names in contemporary art being sold for obscene amounts of money. It's nice to pretend for a while that you belong amongst the monied crowd, but reality always creeps up and you'll find yourself asking yourself, "Is it really worth the purchase price?"

"I overheard her saying it was $4 million," says our colleague of a Mike Kelley installation. The work features multiple plush orbs, made up of discarded stuffed animals, suspended to allow viewers to walk around them. It reminds of some obstacle course you might have seen on American Gladiators. We dodge around fully expecting them to start swinging wildly, but they don't.

Most meandering around the convention center don't seem like they are interested in parting ways with $4 million. Many just seem happy to get a photo opp with works they'll likely not remember the names of tomorrow morning.

"I'm like I cat. I'm attracted to shiny things," we state as we find ourselves in front of piece made up of neon lights and foil paper. A man in a suit laughs and agrees with us.

"I just told my girlfriend the same thing."

Relief comes over us when we realize we perhaps aren't the only person there scratching our heads trying to figure out if we are looking at something important or tomorrow's trash.

However, contemporary art has a purpose, we realize that. Artists are suppose to document the world we live in and elicit a response. But what are portraits of Tony Montana and a D-cup Superman trying to tell us?

As we stand in front of a three parallel electronic marquees, we attempt to read the scrolling text. We make out the word "penis head" before we give up. We're dizzy, almost like vertigo set in.

Then again, the piece seems to describe Art Basel Miami Beach perfectly: dizzying.

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Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran