Artist Allen Vandever Plans to Destroy Art Basel (Or Rescue It)

During Art Basel, Miamians take great pride in the art flying in from all parts of the world. It's a chance for us to show up everyone who thinks we're just a place for the Kardashians and Jersey Shore to capitalize on our nightlife and say, "Hey, we're cultured too." So we'll walk around sipping our fancy drinks and wear our stupid scarfs, even while we still have the low 70 degrees on our side. We'll take in the art, pouring our eyes over the many exquisite works on display.

But if you're one of the select few approached by Chicago-based artist Allen Vandever and his team of street canvasers, you might actually get the chance to do more than just look at the art. You'll have the chance to rescue it -- or destroy it.

Vandever will present random Basel goers with an art piece, letting him or her decide its fate right then and there. The person is faced with the daunting task of either rescuing it, by pledging a minimum donation of $10 and keeping it, or personally demolishing it.

"I prefer if they rescue it. A big part of it is myself letting go of my possessions...Everything from high school sketchbooks to collage photographs to collage paintings, drawings and prints and everything until now," Vandever said of the pieces up for destruction, all original works of his own.

Almost 300 collage pieces are made entirely from recycled art and personal belongings. Vandever makes a dozen at a time over a three to four hour period, 20 minutes to a half hour for each, and then coats them with epoxy resin and pigments them. It's an enormous body of work, time, and effort up for complete and total annihilation at the whim of someone who just happens to walk by.

Rescue or Destroy began almost two years ago when Vandever and his assistant, Mike Reynolds, were discussing the value of art -- who decides it and its place in the world. The first installment was made up of Vandever's and a group of his interns' work. This time, the art at stake is all his. Aside from the performance-based Art Basel walk ups, Vandever will take part in the Verge Art Fair as a gallery curator and exhibitor for Team Art! and the stakes are higher than usual.

"There will be a list of 20 things and I'll randomly choose people to rescue or destroy, kind of like truth or dare. Sometimes I'll have them do something easy like buy me a drink, or I'll have them sing 'I'm a Little Tea Pot.' I'll ask them things that force them out of their comfort zone," Vandever said.

In most cases, participants would rather rescue the pieces with a donation than act out Vandever's requests for a chance at destruction.

The gallery space will feature Rescue or Destroy challenges where participants will use anything from an axe to a hammer to their bare hands. Vandever's paintings will be hung throughout the Verge lobby and the event will also include works by artists Jason Davis, Elisa Sandoval, Sofia Morena, and Katrina Petrauskas at the Team Art! Gallery.

"I've done most of the destruction myself, this will be the first time other people will be destroying it. I've only destroyed 6 of the 40 pieces I've put up for it," Vandever said.

Just remember: When you're walking through the streets of Wynwood during Basel, if someone approaches you with a hammer or an axe, you don't necessarily have to run.

Rescue or Destroy will take place Thursday, December 6 through Sunday, December 9 at Verge Art Miami Beach at the Essex House and Clevelander Hotel, 1001 Collins Avenue and 1020 Ocean Drive at 10 Street, across from the Wolfsonian.

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