Street

Does Authentic Social Critique Have a Place in Miami Fair Week?

by Kyle Chayka on December 8, 2012

Jonathan Horowitz’s “Free Store” (all photos by author for Hyperallergic)

MIAMI — Sometimes, the art world likes to slum it — hit up a yet-to-be-gentrified artist-studio neighborhood and forget about the world of the white cube. Miami, with its glitz, art-deco hotels, and penchant for plastic surgery, is quite a bit less gritty than New York City, but on Thursday night, artist Jonathan Horowitz brought a little bit of kitschy, lowbrow culture into a hotel party more notable for its glossy veneer and shiny clientele than any measure of local reality.

Jonathan Horowitz’s “Free Store”

Horowitz, who is better known for his socially critical video works, presented “Free Store,” which the announcement portrayed as an “interactive installation” where guests (equipped with specially screenprinted totebags) would exchange objects they brought for the donated items already in the store, including contributions from artists such artists as Rob Pruitt, Maurizio Cattelan, and Marilyn Minter. The store was to “puncture a hole through the rarefied art world ether of commodity display and sale,” the announcement noted.

It would be a challenge to accomplish that goal in any exhibition setting, let alone in the center of one of the crucibles of the global art market. By the time I arrived at Horowitz’s store, a diminutive display under a tent in the corner of a hotel backyard dominated by cushioned lounges, a luminous pool, potted plants, and champagne-sipping guests leaning on marble bars, the selection didn’t exactly match up to the ambition of the press release.

Objects at Jonathan Horowitz’s “Free Store”

What was haphazardly arrayed on the tables and shelves of the “Free Store” was not high-fashion treasures or sketches by famous artists, but the usual range of tchotchkes that might be found at any local junk shop or thrift store: hand-held weights, old dresses, some secondhand lamps (those may have been the highlight), and a neck pillow printed with characters from Pixar’s movie Cars. The objects left over at the end of the store were to be donated to a local thrift joint.

The combination of high-fashion party (the event was sponsored in part by online retailers Mr. Porter and Net-a-Porter as well as glossy fashion magazine Visionaire) and low-end junk shop reminded me of the social geography of Basel week and Miami itself. Glitz abuts poverty as desirable space fills to bursting.

Objects at Jonathan Horowitz’s “Free Store”

Parts of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, only blocks off the Rubell Collection‘s palatial gallery building, are full of low-slung, rundown suburban houses, Cuban lunch counters, and junk shops full of the kind of cultural artifacts that Horowitz’s store winked at rather than embodied. The city has a drastic duality that I’m sure is only heightened when the art world comes to invade once a year, a split between urban poor and beach-side wealth. Art collectors stride by recycling scavengers.

It might be too much to ask that Horowitz’s pop-up offer some kind of political critique in the midst of a celebratory party. The party, as these things usually are, was fun, and there is no end to even more exclusive events around Art Basel Miami Beach. But art’s job, in any case or context, is to offer an opportunity to think twice about what’s around you and reconsider how you see the world. For its lack of even feigned authenticity, the store failed that goal. The greater problem might be that the social, commercial extravaganza of Miami Basel as a whole also fails. It is fun, though.

Jonathan Horowitz’s Free Store took place in Miami on December 6.

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