Society of Spectacle: Miami, part 1

Well, I’m back from Miami, visiting its (by last count) 452 art fairs. Over three days I attended about 10 of
them, which by the end felt like maybe 8 too many. A few observations:

First, Miami
is gross. I had up to last week been somewhat proud of having never set foot in
Florida. I’ve
now still only seen some very discreet parts, and I’m sure there are some other,
downright lovable places. I’m told Captiva is nice. I stayed in Miami Beach, in a
pleasant hotel in the heart of the Art Deco district.

the_miami_skyline.jpg

I ate some good food , I
went to the beach, even saw some good art, and still couldn’t wait to get out. Miami Beach is like going on a landlocked cruise, only with puddles of urine everywhere. It’s
a humid, filthy, overcrowded, tacky place, and I do not anticipate a return
anytime soon. At least I can hope not.

But I was there with a mission: namely, to see some art, and boy did I ever. It’s
estimated I was joined by about 30,000 other folks doing the same – many of them from Texas (we ran into familiar folks everywhere.) I was told
that this turnout still doesn’t hold a candle to the big boat show in February, when 10
times that many crowd the beaches and hotels and crap Italian bistros that populate
every block. It’s good to have art kept in perspective to what really matters
to Americans.

Speaking of hotels, a slew of them had fairs themselves,
with the rooms transformed into mini galleries. Dallas’ own Road Agent was in Aqua, looking a
little crowded but good overall and appearing to do better than many of their
neighbors. The buzz is that while the big fairs (Basel and Art Miami) did better than ever
(with billionaires sprinting to booths at the preview to be the first to buy;
seriously), the economic downturn was already being felt in the smaller
fairs. How could it not be, with such a glut of stuff, most of it necessarily
terrible. Art is hard, people! Aqua was the best of the hotel fairs, with the Bridge being the worst I saw;
worst of the weekend, hands down. Bad enough to keep me from seeing anything else.
The coffin’s last nail.

I was generally impressed with the “mid-level” fairs in the Wynwood district – NADA,
Scope, Pulse, and Aqua Wynwood (the new, non-hotel branch across town.) I saw
things I liked in each, many things I didn’t. At NADA, I ran into an old
school chum, who owns a gallery with a booth I was
(happily) admiring when he recognized me – New York’s
ATM.gokita.jpg Japanese painter Tomoo Gokita was a stand out. Shades of Picabia, Leger,
Magritte, and 80's neo expressionism – all tendencies that were to be seen
elsewhere, too.

Tendencies – what else can you look for when you’re
digesting thousands of art works by the hour? It’s easy to just knee-jerk into
some reactionary disdain – like Matthew Collings’ rants of late in Modern Painters,
which have become standard, rote, “things were better in the Renaissance”
diatribes. I admire him, and agree with much of what he says, but I’m wary of
ever giving wholly in to some notion that things were ever better, purer,
nicer, or cooler. I assume things sucked equally at every age, just for
different reasons.

For now, skulls are still in abundance, as are deer, flowers, trash, birds, and fey works on paper. With some more deer. And some more skulls. But the vast areas of tasteful negative space punctuated with pastel doodles are being supplanted by some bolder gestures and more central compositions. I only saw a few mushrooms. I saw at least 10,000 pieces incorporating, or entirely built of, fluorescent light bulbs. That Flavin retrospective made the rounds apparently. And there were lots and lots of glossy large photographs of wistful, model-y young women in trouble, splayed on leafy forest floors or fleeing hidden menaces.

Chinese artists were everywhere of course. They like to
paint really big heads I notice. I’ve come back thinking, well, maybe I’ll just
paint me some big heads. Everyone likes a big, attractively painted head –
me too. They are all working out the Social Realism training, and people still
mostly like to recognize stuff in their art, ooh and ahh over the technique. “Ooooh,
look, that’s so well painted!”ki_yoonko_0_sml.jpg Abstraction is still pretty challenging. Hence,
I often stepped in booths full of minimalism for a breather, because they were invariably
empty. Sold out, no doubt, but empty. These are not events for deep
contemplation of the Void – at least that Void. More like the void of style, or
technique, or an existential void in the midst of the maelstrom of art
consumerism.

In upcoming posts I’ll share some of the better and worse
things I witnessed, as my brain sifts through the wreckage, and I sort through
my senseless notes. I’m writing a piece for SPOT on photography at the fairs, which
was an interesting lens through which to view things (photo is dominant), so I’ll pass some of those
observations along too.

 

 

also by Titus OBrien

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