You Should Have Been There: Dispatches From Miami Art Basel

You missed it. The biggest bash of the year and you weren’t even there. Good thing all of these people were. What the tongues are wagging about at the end of Miami Art Basel.

Mireya Acierto/Getty

“What I love most about the art week in Miami is the incredible contrast between the absolute professionalism of fair directors, gallerists, and artists by day and our absolute debauchery by night on boats, behind bushes and in sultry underground dens of iniquity,” says Shiva Lynn Burgos, an artist with work at Freight & Volume at Pulse. “Case in point Tuesday's White Cube kick-off party at Soho House and Le Baron at the Florida Room Delano last night.”

I was not at the White Cube bash nor at Le Baron. Mundane but pressing matters kept me away from Art Basel Miami this year, which was frustrating because pre-fair buzz had suggested that things were finally going into hyperdrive, that the branding events and celeb parties were going to euthanize – or Kardashianize - the art.

I decided to call a few friends and write about ABM anyway. So here we have it: The Tongues of Art Week. Or some of them.

* * *

“We’re in very turbo-charged times,” says the London-based Americam dealer, Kenny Schachter. “I’ve written a piece about the market: WHAT GOES UP MUST GO UP. And I can tell you with a firm conviction that things are going up further. I guess it’s a perfect storm. Badly performing economic macro conditions in so many different sectors. Gold is down. Stocks are up but it’s 500 up, 500 down, and people get queasy about it. So we’re in a kind of a perfect storm for the asset beast. It’s a hyper-inflationary market. Maxi cars and diamonds and art and super-trophy real estate.”

And it actually is a global art world now.

“Back in the 80s there was not one non-Western buyer of Western contemporary art in the world. Not one! Really. People have been paying lip-service to globalization and the blahblahblah. But now things really are interdependent. When you go through the aisles in Miami there’s a palpable sense of wealth and people enjoying themselves. And it’s become this kind of infotainment and it has attracted this whole celebrity contingent. There were people at the fair from di Caprio and Puff Daddy to Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google.

“I could easily be cynical about certain young artists who are escalating and selling between a few hundred thousand to five million for someone who is between 35 and 50. So there are pockets of irrationality. But in my estimation nothing really seems too off the charts. It’s non-leveraged transactions that are driving the market. It’s cash-driven. But it’s people.”

“It’s great this year. Everybody thinks so,” says Michele Oka Doner, an artist/designer, who lives in Miami and New York. “There’s rhythm, and polish. People understand how to move around better. The RSVP things are working. People recognize you and let you go in so the lines aren’t too bad. It’s busy, busy, busy. But it’s not the feeding frenzy that it was in the early years. I find it more refined. That’s a funny word to put to it but the food is better, the service is better. Miami has learned how to behave at a world-class affair and still stay half-dressed. You know without wearing a jacket.”

How has Doner done this year?

“I had a piece in Marlborough Gallery which sold the first day. It was a creature called the Pollinator.”

“I think it’s less touristy,” says Todd Merril, who deals both in fine art and what he describes as 20th-century antiques in Manhattan. “There are not so many people who don’t belong here. I’ve found the level of the people coming by to be much more serious. And there’s much less people. It’s not as crowded as it has been in the past couple of years.

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Merrill’s stand is at Art Miami. How did he do?

“We started selling immediately on opening night. A fabulous, fabulous skull by a Japanese artis, Katsuhyo Aoki. And have sold something every couple of hours all the way through.”

‘There’s a deluge oft things,” says the artist Trey Speegle. “ I think I’m prepared for it. And it just hits you llke a tidal wave. I had a driver and three assistants. I don’t know how much help you need to keep all this stuff straight. And how you can possibly attempt it all. I was also doing this event with Benetton. It was was early, Monday night, so I got it out of the way.I went to the party for the Marina Abramovich video that Visiuonaire gave. It was at the old Bacardi bulding. Well, that’s been taken over by the National Young Arts Society. So he screening was inside of that stained glass cube. And, of course, the earlier you go to an event the more important you are. I went from 6 to 9. But the VIPs went at eleven o’clock. Like de Caprio and Kanye trolling around. I’m surprised that more celebrities don’t come down. They’ve got a lot of money and he art isn’t that expensive. And it’s really a way to be seen and to separate yourself from the Hollywood crap in general.”

But there is Art Basel crap too, of course.

“I was at the SoHo House for a dinner,’ Speegle says. “And that was the first night after my party. Damien was there holding court for a good two hours. On the one side was Cindy Crawford. You don’t get that everywhere. But there was a horrible scene outside on the steps. It was like tihe old club days. They were treating everybody like they were from New Jersey. The guy says you can‘t put your foot on these steps. Take it off! And don’t even talk to me! And it’s a private event you’ve been invited to.. It’s not like you’re gatecrashing or something. It’s like the old adage. Life is high school with more money.”

Most of those in Art Miami Present have fond or otherwise memories of Art Miami Past. “I was at a satellite art fair, now defunct, during Art Basel Miami a few year ago,” says the New York based artist, Gregory de la Haba. “My piece Equus Maximus, three horses as divine beasts, poised in impossible throes of writhing lust, had caused a bit of excitement with the media and a few distinguished art world folk.

“One in particular, the famous Trash Queen of Berlin, kept returning fair after art fair day to admire and gawk. On the last day she asked in a strong No Nonsense Bavarian manner: So! Have you ever done it with a horse?

“I was floored. I said No! I haven’t. It never even crossed my mind! She found this upsetting. The Trash Queen was utterly disappointed. She said ‘Well, would you like to? Something for further art-work consideration down the line. Yes? I was looking at her cross-eyed by now. Dumbfounded. Lost for words. She’s not serious?

“Yah! It might improve the work more. Well, no, maybe. You should try it at least once. Why not?” she shrieked. And walked away through the big white tent in Wynwood.”

Then there are some neophytes. Like Louisa Guinness, who deals artist-made jewels in a space on London’s Conduit Street.

“This is my first Miami,’ she says Louisa Guinness. “And I did Basel-Basel for the first time in June as well. So it’s a whole new world for me, High Net Worth people walking around these fairs.”

Her stand is at Design Miami and I mentioned that some of the yadda-yadda had suggested that celebrity and branding events were going to muffle the art and design. “I think it is as bit like that,” she said. “It is incredible. There are so many people here for the scene.

“But underneath it all there are some seriously important collectors. Really serious people who are actually doing some really serious buying as well. So there’s a lot of fluff on the top. But you can sift through all that. And it’s definitely worth being here. Walking down the street is like walking in Hongkong in the middle of the day. It’s really crowded at midnight. Lots of young people, really glamorous, having a great time, and none of them probably going to the art fairs at all. It’s a great atmosphere because everything’s going well in the world at the moment. Well, not everywhere. But in America. “

One of those glam creatures is Pebbles who manages Sway, a lively music bar on Manhattan’s West Houston.

“Last night I was with a girlfriend of mine who’s a DF,” she told me. “We were sitting outside this bar that’s been there forever, named the Liquor Lounge. Suddenly every single person we saw on the street was either a friend of hers or friend of mine, And there was a gaggle of people. And one of them was a guy wearing these small Janis Joplinesque sunglasses and an old Les Miserables sweatshirt.

“We were talking about the party that she was going to DJ the after party for. She said I don’t know very much about it. Supposedly there was this Hood By Air opera.

“We were all like what? Hood By Air is a clothing line based out of New York. That is insane! So I said to this guy who is wearing this outfit you’ll fit right in! You’re wearing the Les Miz sweatshirt.

“And he was like fuck you!"

“I said whaaat? Why?"

“He said you just told me I’m wearing the lamest sweatshirt."

“I said Les Miz sweatshirt. Not lamest. And he has like oh! We all had a good laugh. The after party was really fun. It was at the Shore Club.”

And will Pebbles be going to the art fairs?

“Mostly what I am doing now is walking around Wynwood. Most of the people I know are involved with street art. I might actually do a painting myself, which will be quite exciting. A couple of my girlfriends want to put up a whole Ladywall. So I don’t know if we’re going to go to any of the fairs necessarily.”