As Miami lies panting in a puddle of its own steaming art juices, we must take the time to single out the heroes that made Art Basel Miami 2012 safe for all to enjoy: the Art Cops.
Officers Matt Vis and Tony Campbell of the International Art Police (and also of New Orleans-based collaborative art duo, Generic Art Solutions) travel to art fairs and galleries around the world with ticket books in hand, ready to write up those violating their "rules of art."
Cultist rode along with the pair as they discussed 2012's worst criminals and the challenge of ticketing Banksy.
Last week marked the first time the Art Cops agreed to police a fair at the request of organizers. As an official PULSE project, they were duty-bound to venture out of their Jonathan Ferrera Gallery booth, into streets creeping with smartphone hunchbacks and sex-crazed perverts who'd had their brains scrambled on Peter Anton's roller coaster.
"Lots of tickets this year," Officer Vis told us during our ride-along. When reflecting on the worst of the violators, one name came immediately to mind:
"Damien Hirst. He has a ticket from about five years ago that he never paid. And his titles are too pretentious, so there's that, too.
"Cindy Sherman. We've been looking for her. The titles are unimaginative," Vis said. "Really, though, 'Untitled' was one of the biggest violations this year and was all over the place. What's worse is when it's 'Untitled' and then parenthetically '(blue dog)' or something. What?"
But their most elusive quarry is that great white, stenciled whale, Banksy. And with Stephan Kezsler's controversial display of site-removed Bansky wall pieces at CONTEXT, this seemed like the perfect time for the Art Cops to make a bust. The offending work? Banksy's Kissing Coppers, depicting two English constables smooching. The problem? No one knows who Banksy is.
"We ran into Nick Korniloff, the director of Art Miami," Vis said. "He likes us so asked him who we could give the ticket to. He directed us to Stephan Kezsler."
Most reactions the Art Cops get are positive but occasionally, they hear criticism that they do little more than get their pictures taken.
"There's that, to some degree," Officer Vis confessed. "But we provide a legitimate service. It started as performance art but now it's more than that."
And so the Art Cops found Kezsler amidst his Banksys. Officers Vis and Campbell had already filled out the ticket and handed it directly to Kezsler.
"We have an infraction for one of your Banksys, the Kissing Coppers," Vis said.
Kezsler clearly felt secure in his fortress of reclaimed walls.
"Wait, wait," he snapped at Vis and Campbell. "What is this bullshit?"
So Vis tried to explain what the Art Cops do but, Vis said, this only proceeded to make Kezsler more angry.
"So what's this ticket for?" Kezsler asked.
Officer Campbell leaned forward and snarled, "We're cops and we don't think it's funny."
Kezsler snapped back, "Well, you're not funny."
Noticing that Kezsler was shaking and beginning to sweat, Officer Vis tried to calm him, saying, "Well, this is just a job we have to do, enforcing the general rules of art."
"Stop wasting my time," Kezsler barked. And then, as the Art Cops were leaving, he called after them, "You know, you two are the cops who need to be kissing!"
At this point, Vis says he just wanted to get out of there alive. That barely accomplished, Vis and Campbell searched for Nick Korniloff, the man who'd sent them over to Kezsler in the first place.
"So how'd it go?" Korniloff asked.
"He didn't seem to get it at all," Campbell said.
"Oh, really? He can be a bit sensitive."
"Yeah," Vis said. "He was really pissed."
Korniloff agreed to make a call to smooth things over but when Kezsler didn't answer, Korniloff looked worried. It took the trio an interminable five minutes to return to Kezsler's booth, winding through the aisles of art lovers looking on as the very Art Cops charged with keeping them safe were now themselves in danger.
"We get to the booth and Kezsler stands up and comes right for us," Vis said. "He lifts his hand back and swings it, giving Kornloff a big handshake."
Kornlioff had called Kezsler while the Art Cops were on their way over and had told him to act like he was offended by the ticket. Kezsler had been sweating and shaking because he was worried that he wouldn't pull it off.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
He still got the ticket, though.
Art criminals of the world beware: the Art Cops are watching you. Except for when they're not, which is most of the time, when Vis and Campbell are making art as Generic Art Solutions. As with the Art Cops, they play every role in their Generic Art Solutions projects, which include video, sculpture and photography.