"Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign from 1981 is the perfect symbol for Art Week," writes art critic Jim Daichendt, who is recovering from an Art Basel hangover.
Paint This Desert invites Jim Daichendt to recover from an Art Basel binge by sharing a few thoughts and photos. He's the author of "Shepard Fairey Inc." and "Stay Up Los Angeles Street Art." His new book, "In Absence of Myth," a biography on street artist Kenny Scharf, was released today. Daichendt is the also Dean of the Arts and Humanities and Professor of Art at Point Loma Nazarene University
by Jim Daichendt
Art Basel and Miami Art Week have become a behemoth so it’s impossible to capture the variety of art experiences held over the course of the first week of December. It’s an awe-inspiring collection of fairs, performances, and parties that can be both fun and frustrating. The range of events run from the bluest of the blue chip to the ultimate pretenders holed up in satellite fairs that sometimes feel like a desperate used car lot. All hosted in a city well known for making butt implants a thing – a mixed review is not only necessary but also healthy for all us.
Perhaps it’s being numb to hype, or disgust with celebrity glitz, or simply my age, but Art Week celebrity and all that it entails fuels me with hostility. I love the visual arts and I appreciate what artists do for this world but the superficiality of art week is blinding. Artists do incredibly important work that challenges us to be better people and to think critically about the circumstances around us. But when I am confronted with Paris Hilton hosting her annual Art Basel party or the sleuth of celebrities using art for “selfies,” I am more than horrified by what gallerists must endure to operate in this context. Yet if you can slow down and look past these distractions, there is great work to be discovered.
The main fair of Art Basel Miami Beach is the ultimate peer review for galleries. Hosting over 260 booths, they recorded 77,000 visitors and supposedly strong sales. Featuring the cream of the crop, it rivals all other art fairs with its impressive content. From modern masters to contemporary artists that range from emerging to established, it could take days to engage each space in-depth. Since Paint This Desert is a conversation point for in art in the west, several pieces were applicable to our concerns.
Visitors to Art Basel engage Thomas Struth’s Mountain, 2013
A monumental photograph by Thomas Struth entitled “Mountain” (2013) at Berggruen Gallery was one of these impressive pieces. It’s based upon a series that straddles the differences between the real and imagined. The subject is Disneyland in Anaheim, CA but the faux sea and mountain reference the altered and illusory landscapes we’ve created in the west.
Peter Cain’s compacted painting “Prelude” (2013) at Matthew Marks Gallery was another highlight at the main fair. His dynamic rendition of the economic car exudes symbols of speed and compactness that confuse and twist associations of the automobile that typically mark our roads. The late artist cropped the image so that it creates an entirely new form that requires the viewer to slow down and study the surreal slices. Add to these qualities a high level of craftsmanship and technique and you get an experience that is firing on all cylinders.
It was impossible to not view much of the art through a social or political lens. Several pieces like Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Blum & Poe hit you over the head with their messages. While older works like Ed Ruscha’s “The Uncertain Trail” (1986) at Edward Tyler Nahem held a quiet brilliance in these new and uncertain times.
Meanwhile on the beach, the SCOPE Art Show continues to provide a venue for accessible art that ranges from fresh to the aesthetically challenged. Celebrating their 11th fair in Miami, they pride themselves on introducing new galleries to the market.
The crowd is young and hip at SCOPE but I wish I could say more about the work itself. There were far too many blinged-out Warhol soups cans and emoticon sculptures to see the gems hidden in the rough. The entry level into some of these lower end works is so low that you may need to dig it up. The good news is that these artists are getting exposure and it’s my hope they will continue to develop.
In-between, the sister fairs of Art Miami and CONTEXT Art Miami both had strong representation in the level of work and attendance. Art Miami featured international contemporary and modern art, while CONTEXT Art Miami presented mainly emerging and mid-career artists. One can sense the ambition in the atmosphere while walking the aisles.
Jan Corey of Corey Helford Gallery was very positive about her experience: “We brought a different side of Contemporary art to the fair - street, pop surreal, primarily younger artists with a pop iconic and strong environmentally-conscious world view and we feel that the acceptance of that scene and the value of the work is growing at a good healthy pace for our artists.” While Howard Shaprio of Lawrence Fine Art seemed a bit frustrated: “There is no question that the market is oversaturated with fairs. There is not enough quality art for all these shows. At the same time, too many attendees simply come to walk around and drink wine. So I think the quality of attendees have declined as well.”
Kenny Scharf mural within the Wynwood Walls park. Photo: Phillip Pessar
The bright spot of the fairs is the proximity of so much great work. One can visit galleries from around the world and add hundreds of new artists to one’s vocabulary in a few hours. And it’s good to remember that art galleries don’t bring their C artists across the globe to fairs, so you get a good glimpse of the international scene.
Not the ideal place to appreciate work but it’s an amazing spectacle that is a performance unlike any other. The Miami Beach façade is not real life and the Instagram accounts and blog posts depicting amazing event after event, are far from reality. Don’t forget this is a city that is obsessed with Romero Britto public art (20 + by my count), an artist that is more appropriate for a child’s play set than an in-depth conversation.
So when you see lines of high-end sports cars parked in the VIP spots outside the fair, we are not talking about a city with next level aesthetics. Instead the art world has agreed to make Miami something special for a short time and it’s a whirlwind to take it all in.
A commentary on art vs. vandalism in Wynwood by Toxicómano, a group of Colombian street artists based in Bogota.
Above: "Blue Angel: Between Heaven and Earth" at The Neon Museum's Ne10studio.