The author on a Miami beach (all images by the author)

So the whole point of Miami Art Basel is the parties. Wait, no it’s not, it’s the ton-o-fairs available to man or beast. Before I even arrived I was totally confused. However, I concocted a plan. With some helpful tips through my favorite blogs, I made a customized schedule based on four fairs, one talk, three parties, one collection and some public art. If I was super organized, I could fill our two and a half days with the perfect balance of activities.

By the end of day two, I was babbling in baby talk. It was that overwhelming.

*   *   *

We began our adventure at the Seven party after our plane touched down Thursday night. Postmasters’s Magda Sawon greeted us by handing over some mojitos, and we saw some friends, chatted a while and offered them a lift back to their hotel. Soon after, we parked our car and settled in to an apartment (lent to us by my husband’s friend).

Then suddenly we found ourselves across the street at The Standard hotel looking for food, and accidentally intersected with the Interview Magazine party. Big mistake, as the kitchen was trying to close and a giant clusterfuck of very skinny women in extremely tall heels mobbed us. Begging the front desk to help us out with something to eat, we finally squeezed into a table.

As my sugar levels dropped and I became progressively more cranky, there was this slightly older guy sitting in the table next to us surrounded by about five women. He was dominating the conversation and was clearly some important artist. I kept thinking “you can’t make this shit up,” and he kept talking, mostly about himself, who he knows and “how you play the game.” The women (much, much younger than him) all sat doe-eyed listening like they cared. He got the bill and I was so relieved he was about ready to leave — and then someone else he knew joined them and it started all over again, with more drinks ordered and his big, loud mouth continuing to torture my ears.

Day 1

I hit that morning talk with museum directors of smaller institutions. It was packed wall-to-wall, standing room only. Definitely sparked a great conversation with my husband later, about how the future of museums should be free.

Felix argued that everyone says it, but no one ever takes the plunge, and yet the directors seemed to argue that unless they could lock in an endowment, it’s not possible. We posited it is possible, and if museums truly want to become public space, it should be suggested donation only. ‘Nuff said.

A detail of a work by Carlos Huffman at Art Basel Miami Beach.

After: ABMB, THE FAIR. I have to fess up here, the fair was strong. Sure there were predictable moments of the status quo, but I discovered compelling art from Latin America I’m not totally sure I would have otherwise seen. A visual story weaved in and out with some stunners; every major piece my husband and I gravitated towards turned out to be from Argentina or Brazil. Viva! I fully expected to see art stars dotted about the halls; some were decent, others were misses — but as a whole, in general, a positive encounter.

A view of the Haresh Lalvani installation at Design Miami.

Then we ventured over to Design Miami to check out the MOSS exhibit, which did not disappoint. We spent about an hour in the booth going through the work made by Haresh Lalvani, 1,000 unique steel fruit platters designed with geometrical lines and morphed slightly each time, until an entirely new shape emerged. They were mesmerizing.

Works at Seven, including a painting by Bo Bartlett of PPOW Gallery in the center.

In the early evening we hit SEVEN. Seven galleries collaborated to build one big show, and there was a lot of controversial and challenging work to see. This mix of artists created a vibrant spirit in a salon-style setting. Although I get totally overwhelmed with salon walls, the perimeter had plenty of white-space groupings of single artists. One theme ran through SEVEN for me: many of these emerging and mid-career artists should have longevity for years to come.

After so much art to absorb, we enjoyed an excellent dinner. Too much food and wine consumed, we thought to head over to the NADA party afterwards. Except we taxied our way over to the wrong place — all the way up to the fair and not down to the Shore Club, so all in all spent about $70 to go in the wrong direction. As we approached the party, a familiar voice on a cell phone was talking in front of me. It was Obnoxious Art Guy! I’ll never forget his voice until the day I die. I wanted to run away and scream.

Crazy artist made hippy tents inside the NADA party. (click to enlarge)

We got sandwiched in line at the front, and all the people were waiting to enter red ropes. Red ropes. Something I avoid ALWAYS. And here I was getting crushed by people behind me until we squeezed in. Now we were originally here to meet up with friends who weren’t there, and although I was able to get us all some vodka, I had to ask myself what the fuck I was doing there. We sipped our drinks and observed the crowd who was Younger Than Jesus, feeling utterly and completely “too old for this shit.”

Sometime, somehow we made it back home. And when I woke up it was like I had inhaled a pack of cigarettes and stayed out all night, none of which happened. Art and art parties happened.

Day 2

Works by Jason Brinkerhoff at the Nada fair. (click to enlarge)

NADA … what a disappointment. This is in part because my expectations were too high, but the fair just seemed trendy and, well, bad. There were many galleries I have known over the years that were bundled under the NADA umbrella, and while perhaps some of them showed passable art, the rest of the fair was a miss. If I see one more sculpture that looks like Playdoh mashed up into something which looks like a worm, I’m going to punch a wall. Standouts? Nye Brown, Invisible-Exports and White Columns. Nye Brown showed some killer Cali minimalist work, Invisible-Exports gave good effort and looked sharp while White Columns had visceral paintings, drawings and prints which balanced both craft and message. Exciting to look at; fun stuff. But seriously, this was the fair I was told not to miss, yet it was mostly a gigantic bummer. Get your shit together emerging art galleries.

The author’s husband, Felix, demonstrating his affinities with the art at Scope.

And then? Scope. Scope represented just about everything I can’t stand in an art fair; a packed visual mess with a shit-lotta hype. The exception to this was the Katharine Mulherin gallery and Sloan Fine Art. We rounded a corner and landed into the Asia Art fair, and it was, frankly, just as bad. The Ikea headache started to set on, and after so much crap, like fools, we signed up for the finale performance.

The Rubell Collection. Let’s make something clear: American Exuberance is aptly titled having the absence of a soul. Zero. In fact, the closest thing to it was Jennifer Rubell’s salsa sitting in the bookstore.

I remember visiting the Panza collention in Italy several years ago, and appreciating the discourse he had with the artists he collected. His personality (and wealth) were an integral part of how each piece was displayed. I felt lucky to even be there; it was an education. At the Rubell’s, I felt cursed. Walking from room to room was a totally vapid experience.

My eyes wide and head airy, we returned to our flat and cracked open the wine. What a shit day. As party #3 was about to start, I dragged Felix off the couch and over to the Mondrian Hotel where PS1 hosted a Kardashian look-alike contest. Kids were screaming to get behind the barriers, people loved the spectacle. I was exhausted by everything and found Felix outside, we set off for dinner and crawled home at 10:30pm and crashed.

Day 3

After a long brunch, we decided to fit in one more fair, Art Miami. We had heard good things, but after an hour of traffic driving over there, we spotted a huge line to get in. Neither of us had the stamina, so we sat in traffic for another hour before getting to Collins Park. A walk outside to see some public art should have lifted our spirits, but instead just put the nail in the Art Basel coffin. Nothing seemed to excite, just some meh sculptures sticking out of the grass, until I saw an SUV parked on the lawn. It wasn’t a sculpture of an SUV, it was an actual car called “my aunt’s car” by Darren Bader … you can’t make this stuff up.

After listlessly walking around a live art performance on the sand, I sat down on the beach and watched the wind surfers. Will I return to Art Basel next year? Probably not, I generally dislike art fairs anyway and ABMB has attracted a fashionista crowd that repulsed me.

Would I return if there was a bigger purpose connected to my work? Probably, but next time I’d know what to avoid. I’m glad I experienced this. But my time and energy can be certainly spent in more productive ways.

Michelle Vaughan is a painter who received her BFA at UCLA in 1994. She was born in 1971 in Anaheim, California, and has lived and worked in New York City since 1996. In addition to her studio work, she...

8 replies on “A Tale of a Miami Art Fair Virgin”

  1. You know how you can hang out with people for a while and then when they’ll say something insane like “slavery was a long time ago, black people should just get over it,” it becomes clear that they’ve never had a black friend or had a conversation with a person of color?  When people write “if museums truly want to become public space, it should be suggested donation only. ‘Nuff said.” it’s clear they have no clue about how museums work or acquire funding. That’s a pretty big statement I would love to know how Michelle Vaughan suggest this happen?

  2. @Hamlett We don’t need to pay to enter most parks or libraries. Museums directors argue that they constantly have to compete to retain an audience and strive for museums to be “public space”, yet by charging an entrance fee, museums keep a whole lotta people outside. I am passionate about many art museums, and my favorite ones are free. If The Tate can do it, so can MOMA. And with MOMA charging $25 these days, seems like they are going in the reverse direction.

    1. The tate has Her Majesty behind it. MoMA is a private non-profit corporation.
      Good luck with that.

      (not that MoMA couldn’t handle living off the fat of the land, but it’s not exactly a non-departmental public body {technical term} under the auspices of the English Empire)

  3. Great piece.  I’m afraid of Florida and afraid of Kardashian look alike contests. Love this article as it went beyond the art and described the experience.  I think I hear “art guy” yammering – he’s everywhere!

  4. Aw…sorry your experience wasnt as amazing as the fair is advertised to be (mine was similar). It was definitely much better in the earlier years, more underground satellite fairs with crazy performances and installations, almost everything was free, etc..
    But dont forget about us down in the south, lots of great things are happening here, they were just overshadowed that weekend by…well all that other shit. Hope to see you back here soon!

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