Report from Miami (part one)

December 3, 2008 at 1:14 pm (art, culture) (, )

It’s impossible, I think, to come to something like Art Basel Miami Beach and not compare one year to the past, even if some of those comparisons are a little unfair. And that’s exactly what everyone I’ve run into here is doing (some to almost an obsessive extent), probably even more than looking at art and drinking, which are the other things that ABMB offers in spades.

But to back up – every year, it seems like the fairs open a little earlier. This is in part due to a tacit acceptance by the satellite fair planners that there’s no way the Bridge Fair or the Aqua Fair or any of the others will compete with the main star over at the convention center. So the question remains: if they can’t open on the same day as the main fair, do they open before (which seems like jumping the gun) or do they open after (which runs the risk of getting to collectors once they’re all pretty partied out).

Most seem to be rolling their openings back earlier and earlier; NADA started their VIP opening at 4pm yesterday, and Aqua Winwood and Pulse followed at 5pm. I skipped NADA, but went to both Aqua and Pulse; I managed a peek out of the cab window at the Feldman/Pierogi space and at Bridge, but they didn’t seem open yet.

Last year’s Aqua Winwood opening seemed sparsely attended and felt weirdly clinical, sort of the antithesis to the funky version that the fair sets up in Miami Beach. This year, AW seemed better – more people, more energy, the booths looked better. I got lucky in that their liquor sponsor was my favorite brand ever(!!! – Campari!!) but, while it was all a definite improvement over last year, it still looked like the place could use a shot in the arm.

Over at Pulse, things were much more rocking – there was actual energy in the audience and I saw a few sales happen here and there. I also overheard a dealer grumbling that “by this time two years ago, the whole booth was sold out” – which is probably true, but also a little unreasonable to expect that you’re going to get that every single year forever. Oh – and I have to say this – the food was weird… first it was nonstop meat-things and then it was nonstop tiramisu, both options being served on plastic spoons that seemed incredibly wasteful and really stupid. But they had absinthe at the bar, so who’s complaining?

The work at both fairs looked more conservative than in years past. There was a heavy emphasis on painting and drawing, and an awful lot of abstraction – all of which is fine by me, but interesting to note that there was far fewer photography than I’ve seen before, a lot less video (like, a LOT less video – I’m used to being overwhelmed by video at these things, but not this year in the least), almost zilch in the way of new media, and very little in the way of work with the intent to shock. It was much more sedate than I’ve seen it before; more attention to craft, color, beauty, formal concerns, less about being brand-new. Not that I’m complaining about any of this.

This morning I took a walk on the beach and poked my nose into where they’re setting up for Art Positions, which opens tonight. It seemed a little behind schedule, to put it mildly – actually, they looked this morning more like what I would have thought it would have looked like a week ago. There’s the PS1 booth as usual, some sort of artist’s installation that looked very unfinished, and those damned containers, which a few dealers seem to have taken some liberties with this year and allowed their installations to spill out a bit.

Walking further on the beach, I came across a gigantic sand sculpture designed by Olaf Breuning:

Anyway. More soon.

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