Basel This

What if you took the Swiss penchant for detail, seriousness, and thoroughness and mixed it up with Miami's spirited, self-indulgent underdevelopedness. The result would be Art Basel 2002 in Miami Beach. First in its class, Art Basel did indeed deliver a proliferation of art, sending waves crashing around the county for four days.

One much-publicized event of the fair was "Art Positions," which was unveiled on opening night on December 4 in Collins Park. A clever idea to put a bunch of galleries inside cargo containers and drop them right on the beach. In the parking lot behind, it was impossible to miss Robert Chambers's brightly lit minihelicopter, raised high off the ground with a performing pilot. The chopper, a Chambers fixation, clearly wasn't meant to fly and looked like a big toy.

At "Art Positions" the art was younger and less recognized than that shown at Art Basel's main hub in the Miami Beach Convention Center. Difficult to assess quality in and out of crowded boxes, so I settled for first impressions: Sergio Prego's kinetic video antics at Lombard Freid caught my attention, as did a Pae White piece at China Art Objects, a fish tank with tiny live crustaceans and crab toilets. Hiroyuki Matsukage's underwater video of people carrying carts at Mizuma Gallery was an ingenious feat. At Jack Hanley Gallery, the audience was taken by Simon Evans's list of naively written tasks and daily banalities buried under layers of Scotch tape -- he's known as a pie maker in San Francisco. FA Projects had plenty of polyethylene flower spills: on the walls, floor, and outside on the sand. After this aesthetic overload, I walked toward the beach to find Wendy Wischer's soothing installation of planetary trajectories between Mars and Venus, made with little marbles, lit on the boardwalk.

"Art Video Lounge" (the fair's video component) opened a unique exhibit in the rotunda of the public library at Collins Park. This was the most comprehensive video program I've seen in Miami, a curatorial achievement, with three programs featuring well-known artists and themes ranging from emerging "narrative" trends, the abstract, and digital animation to humor and performance art. Among these works I would recommend Hassan Khan's Six Questions to be Lebanese, Annee Olofsson's The Thrill is Gone, Deb Lacusta's foolishly entertaining Being Slapped, the cryptic Etymology of Red by Spencer Finch, and Deathmatic, quirky and obscure, by Marco Brambilia. The lounge was sparsely populated, which speaks to how obscure conceptual video remains to the general public; yet more artists are considering it a relevant medium, and it's hoped the audience will grow alongside them.

It would also have been a shame if you missed "Art Point," a building on Meridian that gave over two floors filled with top-notch work supplied by alternative galleries from the Midwest, Southwest, and western United States, curated by Janet Phelps.

On the Miami side, in downtown, "Intermediate Mechanisms" opened at The Centre Gallery at the MDCC Wolfson Campus with works by Felipe Dulzaides and Tony Labat, who both mixed original Cuban themes (from the island) with clever American cultural counterimages. This, as well as Carol Todaro's "Floating World," a lyrical show of vivid images and text put together as art books, were fine treats.

The kids from The House had "Meta" -- a nicely laid-out exhibit, showing topological wall musings by Bhakti Baxter, Daniel Arsham's maquette reading "want," small and meticulous graffiti works by Tao Rey, Tom Scicluna's fake door, and Martin Oppel's crisply rendered paintings.With all the fair's sensory overload, some good shows may have been overlooked, such as Robert Thiele's "New Work" at Barbara Gillman Gallery. Thiele produced powerful sculptures with complex and rewarding see-through textures. Daniel Azoulay Gallery opened David Levinthal's "From the Valley of the Dolls," an array of blown-up Polaroid images reminiscent of the 1950s, with Barbie as the central character.

On Thursday evening art literally took over the whole Design District, with way too many events to be listed here. Some highlights, however: "Inter/Sections," with works from the Caribbean-themed Diaspora Vibe Gallery; and Kevin Bruk Gallery's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," a very tight show of Bruk's canon -- mostly paintings.

At the Buena Vista Building were Herb and Kitty Katzenjammer showing the "Katzenjammer Kollection of Kontemporary Art," an irreverent act by David Rohn, who is now nurturing his truer talents. Close by was "Going Out On a Limb," curated by Nina Arias. Part performance, part joke, this was literally a leg-and-feet hangout, built by provocateurs Jason Ferguson, Christian Curiel, and Brandon Opalka (known as FeCuOp). The owners of the performers' trunks were hidden above the fake ceiling, and the audience tickled feet and stuck stuff between toes.

Victor Varela produced "Fourth Wall II," a remarkable performance with Bárbara Barrientos that showed off Varela's refined direction and Barrientos's well-executed body control. It included guttural effects, singing, and a final stroll as puppet doll, when she sweetly mingled with the crowd. Next door was Nina Ferre's "Enrun," a conceptually intriguing sound-and-projection installation, in collaboration with Vicenta Casan and Josephina Posch. Its image of a naked floating woman seen from the building's entrance was a cool touch for the night.

One outstanding installation off Biscayne Boulevard in Overtown was George Sanchez's The Blessing, a slightly smaller replica of an icon of Modern architecture: Le Corbusier's famous Ville Savoye. Against the backdrop of poverty and homelessness, Sanchez's lit Styrofoam structure underneath I-395 was provocative and redeeming.

Another important show just outside the Design District was at Transeat, a mini-museumlike presentation in a warehouse of sculptures and objects by Antoni Miralda, Cesar Trasobares, and Luis Vidal. In his art Miralda treats food as shibboleth for all of life; Trasobares is conceptually demanding but also funny; and Vidal, a master didacticist, shows how abnormality typifies ordinary daily life.

Back on the Beach, the leading component of Art Basel was of course inside the convention center. Here more than 150 galleries from more than twenty countries exhibited close to 1000 artists. For such amazing variety of work, all I could do was to come up with a not-so-serious record of Art Basel's best, using as criteria imagination, consistency, and panache. Here are my unofficial awards:

Haas and Fuchs Gallery gets Best Red-Urinal Installation for Sarah Lucas's piece. Lucas, who likes to use toilet fixtures, doesn't provide drainage. Her urinals convey a slight Duchampian quality, only much less proletarian. Best Hans Richter Installation goes to the Marian Goodman Gallery, for the admirable Thomas Struth photo portrait of painter Gerhard Richter -- in severe pose -- with his family, along with some of the German painter's works. And the Hauser and Wirth Gallery wins a special mention for artist Paul McCarthy's piece with the longest snot-drainer in art history: a hose over twenty feet, coiled on the floor.

In any art fair, you expect big paintings. This year David Hockney gets the Biggest Grand Canyon category award, from the Richard Gray Gallery. Since when has urbanite and pop star Hockney become compelled by such Emersonian grandeur?

After seeing the movie Frida, we can better relate to Frida Kahlo enthusiasts, such as Japanese artist Yasumara Morimura. Her obsession with the Mexican artist is revealed in different works shown at Art Basel. She deserves the Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo prize, for her work of the same title at Luhring Augustine Gallery.

And there were smaller treasures, such as Betsabeé Romero's car tires with Mayan motifs, at Galería Ramis Barquet. From Mexico, Galería Nina Menocal is awarded the Biggest Rum and Video Sculpture for Sandra Ramos's Machine for Drowning Sorrows. You could actually get a shot of rum while looking at a sea in centrifugal motion, inside a huge metal drum.

Wim Delvoye deserves a Best Tattooed Pig for his expert work on an embalmedlike porker, at Sperone Westwater Gallery. Of course in Miami we couldn't do without a Biggest Balsero Painting category. This year it goes to Martin Gallery for Luis Azaceta's canvas, depicting himself as the rafter.

People couldn't stop assessing the impact of the fair -- even before it ended. Granted it was a first time, but primarily the questioning reflected our own insecurities. I say: Let's judge the works' relevance and the community's involvement, and not obsess on the dollars profited. Art Basel 2002 will be remembered for a long time, just as last year's Non Basel was. "Will the Swiss come back?" I asked in jest to a well-known gallery owner. He nodded no contest, and pointed to the bright sun in the blue subtropical sky.

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Alfredo Triff

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