Report from Art Basel Miami Week
By NOAH BECKER, DEC. 2014
I just flew into NYC after an action packed week in Miami. As opposed to attending all the VIP parties it was mostly an art-viewing based trip this time. We had Art Basel VIP entry for the early collectors preview and collectors lounge so it was not without its fun and star watching. Lots of celebrities were there and most of the reports I heard from New York and elsewhere were about Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian "Break The Internet" party and other stories about Usher charging his phone in a vagina. If TMZ is your source for artworld news then this week was for you. Well thankfully there was a lot more going on than Kardashian and that entire ball of sensationalist hype. That being said there’s room for all kinds of weirdo art people and there’s nothing wrong with celebrity action in the artworld – especially in a place as strange as Miami. It's something like Las Vegas (where I lived for three years) in it's all out American cheese. The Eric Garner protests were blocking traffic in Miami and if I had been in New York I would have for sure joined the protests but we had a job to do. The weather in Miami that week was a up and down as the quality of work around the fairs. But let's not talk about the weather...
Upon our arrival, our main activity (aside from looking at tons of art) was launching the new Whitehot Magazine Art Basel Week print magazine. My co-publisher Gregory de la Haba and our sister publication Quiet Lunch took the journey from New York to Miami with me. Quiet Lunch is run by Akeem Duncan and Abim Afolabi who are doing a remarkable job of bringing Quiet Lunch Magazine to the world stage. Our team of Quiet Lunch and Whitehot Magazine successfully launched thousands of print issues all over Miami during the week. It seemed like the impossible but we did it and it was a huge hit.
In the art fair zone, Scope Art Fair was quite good this year; a dramatic three-dimensional piece by Swoon graced the entrance as you walked in. Standout booths were Joseph Gross Gallery with work by Joseph Wolf Grazi and others. The appearance of an exceptional Richard Prince joke painting and some Jean-Michel Basquiat drawings at Scope were a blue chip surprise moment. Scope looks great on the beach. I missed last year so these things are the things I’m catching up with as I go.
Untitled is near Scope or is it the other way around? The pioneering act of placing a fair on the actual beach goes to Untitled or maybe it’s a stroke of madness? Upon entering the Unitiled Art Fair I noticed a display of Maurizio Cattelan’s “Toilet Paper” magazine. In these books the mean spirited Cattalan has various gross out moments depicted in Technicolor. I’m not a huge fan of artists that make work where the joke is on the viewer but I can understand the relevance of that way of making work. Cattelan is very funny so thankfully his weirdo images are also very funny. My last trip to Miami was the first year for Untitled and it had a controversial debut. This time I was struck by how much bigger Untitled was than in previous years, like maybe four times bigger. A few of the dealers at Untitled were worried about the lighting being too bright to which I reminded them that it’s better to have it bright than dark with sudden power outages. Highlights at Untitled were Arts + Leisure’s booth, Asya Geisberg and Toronto’s MKG127 gallery.
As mentioned earlier, we had VIP passes to Art Basel and attended the main fair during the early collectors VIP preview. I was on the look out for celebrities (AKA "star fucking") and saw P Diddy with entourage walking down the middle aisle. I would have talked to Diddy but he was a lot taller than I expected and didn’t look too friendly. Later I learned that he punched out Drake at a bar. I'm not interested in getting in the middle of that beef so I'll shut up about it now. Continuing on we found ourselves spotting Leonardo di Caprio at the convention center. I had a nice conversation with Leo while his security glared at me. Stand out booths at the convention center were James Cohan Gallery, 303 Gallery and Gagosian Gallery where I had a few quality chats with Larry Gagosian and complimented him on his Picasso show on 21st st in Chelsea NYC. Also Todd Levin had pointed out in his Facebook roundup Frank Stella was indeed a prominent artist this year appearing all over the main fair and a few other locations around Miami. It's nice to see the real deal in all it's glory festooned on the walls and attempting to criticize it based on any real writers tendencies or critical tendencies is not possible. It's not really a show in that sense it's a sales environment and a grand one.
There was very little trace of what people call "flipper art" in Miami most notably at the main fair. NADA had a few things that reminded me of that style of work, mostly at the Journal Gallery. I don't recall seeing any Lucien Smith paintings or any Oscar Murillo paintings in the fairs. This kind of work is more associated with "Zombie Formalism" - a term coined by Zombie Journalism king Walter Robinson and maybe not so hot and collectible at this point in history. Perhaps the plentiful amount of bad press generated by Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith and Walter Robinson surrounding these artists and their market hype has finally effected their market? It depends on if one judges these things by what is or is not on the walls in Miami but still kind of weird. I was at the wonderful debut of Oscar Murillo at Rubell a few years ago, he was so full of promise. Well that's a conversation I am not an expert on, the people who own the works will discover what happens to these artists long term I suppose. Perhaps in a few years from now this situation will change? It's also possible that I did not look close enough during the collectors preview at Art Basel and missed these works by Murillo and company? Please correct me if you recall seeing even one work by Oscar Murillo or Lucien Smith in Miami at the main Art Basel fair?
Select Art Fair which had quite a bit of build up for its opening had some interesting works too. Swoon’s Braddock Tiles booth boasted works by Michael Anderson and others. Ricky Powell who contributed a photo print of Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1986 was a standout in that booth. Swoon’s Braddock Tiles project is a fundraising effort. Also at Select a video by Rashaad Newsome featuring the floating hands of famous rappers bouncing along to music. Newsome’s piece and Rachel Mason’s installation were for sure a highlight of Select. We featured Mr. Newsome on the cover of our Miami print magazine.
Aqua Miami had a great series of booths by Coagula Curatorial under the direction of Mat Gleason, Aqua is always a constant party during the entire week.
NADA is still at the Deauville Beach resort, a venue I was not too sure about when NADA first moved up there from the Ice Palace film studios location. Well, I'm happy to report that the Deauville and NADA have really grown together and now I couldn’t think of a more perfect place for NADA to exist. Most of what I do when I go art fairs is look at the overall quality of the work in the booths. It’s nice to see a balanced aesthetic throughout a fair and NADA has that in spades. Standout booths at NADA where The Hole gallery, Rod Bianco, The Lodge Gallery and The Journal Gallery, some of the best art in Miami was at NADA. BFHQ flag on the beach in front of NADA but I didn’t find out what that was all about.
This year I focused on the work in the fairs and how as an artist I could learn from what was on display. I don't carry around a little notepad as I have an exceptional memory for things. I’m not a collector and I’m not a really an art critic so it was important to keep my mind focused on why I was there and on the article forming in my head. Most nights I skipped being at all the right parties. I don't drink very much and people going crazy has always been disturbing to me. I’m not a fan of rock concerts or public gatherings so this made getting somewhat normal sleep. I have a lot of fun - don't worry about that.
As I was getting way too much sleep, reports came in far and wide about the Miami art fair week and complaints about Miley Cyrus abounded. My perspective is that Miley Cyrus could be an artist but also remember she is a way for people to make a living by working with her. Her work reminds me more of Agathe Snow than it does Mike Kelley. I also hate writing or thinking about art in terms of who it reminds me of or what other artist it reminds me of. So that golden goose perhaps left the artworld with a golden egg or something? It’s really difficult to criticize her at this point in her career, it's impossible, or is it? I will say that Miley represents an aspect of America that is disgusting to me, that "Achey Breaky Heart" aeshetic. She's trying too hard to shake the Hannah Montana image and it shows - so I really don’t have much interest in her artistic future. Miley's Instagram is quite hilarious and possibly her best work. In addition her music is not good even in terms of pop music. As a musician I don’t find anything to grasp onto in Miley’s music and as an artist her art is kind of cute but more or less juvenilia on the whole. If Jeffrey Deitch wants to compare her to Mike Kelley I'm ok with that, I never thought much of Mike Kelley. Deitch has a great book out about all the genius shows and the history of Deitch Projects. There's nothing Miley could do that would improve on the genius of what Deitch has already accomplished.
Here's my Miley/Radiohead story. Miley was a huge Radiohead fan at one point and requested to meet Radiohead. The band rejected her offer to meet and apparently also rejected many other offers from celebrities and musicians. For example there was rumor that Jay-Z was rejected by Radiohead after requesting a collaboration. After her rejection Miley was talking shit about Radiohead on Good Morning America and saying they were jerks for dissing her and not wanting to meet with her.
In response Radiohead issued a statement: “Miley has to work on her sense of entitlement.” WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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