As Art Basel looms for the 10th year in Miami Beach, WLRN will air an hour-long documentary on its influence on the Miami art scene. Through the eyes of several local artists and art scene movers and shakers, Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists presents a brisk, hour-long overview of Miami's varied and down-to-earth art scene as colorful as the scene itself.
Andrew Hevia, a member of Knight grant-winning Borscht Corporation, directed the piece. Speaking over coffee at a Kendall coffee shop, near his home/workspace, Hevia recalls his final year at the New World School of the Arts and the hype Art Basel brought to Miami Beach when it debuted in December of 2002. "I was in high school. We took a field trip," he says, "and I remember the attitude was, 'This really a big deal. This is a really big fair. It's going to do a lot for us.'"
The impression he got, as a young visual artist, was that Miami's art scene was about to change in a big way. That informed the choice of local artists he included in this documentary, which he shot in and around Art Basel 2011. "We focus on a group of artists who were coming of age as Basel arrived because I just wanted to focus on that mindset, that attitude that Miami is a city of possibility."
Among the artists documented in Rising Tide: the TM Sisters talk about how they transform sibling love and rivalry into digital/performance art. Justin H. Long and Robert "Meatball" Lori grin through their plywood destroying 2x4 projectile art at Funner Projects. Paper artist Jen Stark shares her pride in coming from a long line of South Florida residents (though she has since moved to Los Angeles). Brookhart Jonquil, a mixed media artist obsessed with dual imagery, was actually seduced to move down from Chicago to be a part of Miami's art scene. Hevia says of Jonquil, "As an artist who came to Miami, found it incredibly welcoming and succeeded, while still showing elsewhere, he knows the kind of opportunity these artists have of going to Berlin, New York or LA. He would have gone somewhere else, but Miami is working out for him."
Finally, there's Venessa Monokian who works in stop motion animation and photography. She is an artist in residence at Art Center South Florida in Miami Beach, one of several important local venues featured in the documentary. Art Basel 2012 looms only three weeks away, and she is currently mixing video animation art with a sculpture of a metal bonsai tree. Tiny metal leaves flow off, pinned by their metal stems to a white wall flowing in an arc over the tree. They come to life, in an animated projected screen, before coming full circle back to the tree.
She says she still has work to do before Basel, an event, she agrees has been key in many ways to the vitality of the Miami art scene. She has seen Basel drive the students who take her photography courses at Florida International University and Barry University. She encourages them to see the work of many of the masters that appear at the nearby Miami Beach Convention Center, which hosts some of the most famous galleries from around the world. "The students' work has really become a lot more complex, and their drive to make it interesting is really being pushed because they see that's where the bar's set," she says, often pushing up her glasses as she speaks with an amiable eagerness. "I want the bar to be set really high, and Basel helps me do that ... Even if they don't get remotely close, they push themselves so much harder."
But, as Rising Tide illustrates, it's not all fun and games. In the documentary, longtime Miami gallery owner Brook Dorsch who also fosters Jonquil's work at his gallery, laments that the art scene lacks a proper, full-time art critic. Art historian Claire Breukel offers insightful commentary with sharp analysis. She bemoans the slapped-together satellite art fairs that pop up during Basel. Meanwhile, she praises fairs like Pulse and Nada who spend all year planning their fairs. She also notes Miami's quick growth has offered problems alongside a distinct "Wild West" freedom of honest-to-goodness creativity. "I needed someone to provide context," Hevia says of his inclusion of Breukel. "I've seen a lot of art documentaries and a lot of them don't give you the information of why this stuff is relevant. You have to come in with an MFA in art history to understand why this is interesting."
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Art Basel 2011 appears in much of it, as it remains the primary catalyst for Miami's relevance as an up-and-coming international art scene with many artists who have ventured far across its borders to places like London, Italy, Berlin, as well as New York. With Art Basel invading Miami, Hevia says, it creates a unique situation to see how the crème de la crème of the international art world affects the Miami-based artist. "What I really wanted to do is make a film that captured how we on the ground level sort of experience it," Hevia says. "There's plenty of magical stuff that goes on at the main Basel fair, but the truth is, as a Miami native who's interested in art and knows a lot of artists and with the artists I know, very rarely do we penetrate that curtain."
Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists premieres November 14 at 8 p.m. on WLRN channel 17
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.