Thursday, December 13, 2012

Notes from [an] underground [art scene advocate / Miami Art Week virgin]

A drop of forty degrees. It hurts, man. It hurts. (In other words, I’m back from Miami, home in Chicago.)

Things I did a lot of this past week:

  • Took photos. You can check them all out on Flickr or / and Facebook. (You can also watch the slideshow at the end of the post.)

  • Tweeted. Tweets ranged from art-related to things like this.

Now, what was my take on Miami Art Week?

Inside Wynwood Walls.

Being me, the first thing I did in Miami was visit the gritty Wynwood neighborhood, ‘most every surface swathed in street art, dripping with pigment and passion. Away from the beach resorts and omnipresent pools, away from the Hummer limos pulling up to art deco hotels and nightclubs with flashing marquees, Wynwood is a wonderland of aerosol ecstasy, where you could walk down a side street and smell fresh spray paint, breathe it all in, let the dizzying barrage of color saturate your soul. I couldn’t help but think of the squatter communities off Moganshan Road in Shanghai or in Berlin, ostensibly bleak cityscapes where you could lose yourself and find yourself and find God in graffiti. This is how you make my heart go aflutter.

Of course, the main attraction was Art Basel Miami Beach. Sure, you had your Hirsts and your customized BMWs on display in the collectors’ lounge and your fairgoers in Louboutins and on-trend sheer dresses and there were $20-a-glass champagne carts rolling down the aisles. But there was good stuff too.

My favorite booths included Salon 94, featuring Jon Kessler’s kinetic sculptures, one of which controlled an iPad that took photos of the viewer (technology! topicality!); and mother’s tankstation, featuring Atsushi Kaga’s dark-humored cast of characters. The latter booth sold out during the daytime preview, so the artist himself, along with his mother, created more art on the spot. Among these creations were tote bags that were only 50 bucks each—mind-blowing at a fair where works of art can and did sell for millions.

Atsushi Kaga and his mom at mother's tankstation
at Art Basel Miami Beach 2012.

There was so much more to see other than Basel, however, with over a dozen parallel fairs, such as NADA Miami Beach (I’ll just say this: the entire time at Basel, I saw gallerists picking at nothing but salads and fruit platters; at NADA, within my first few minutes in one of the fair’s halls, I made eye contact with a girl devouring a pizza) and UNTITLED. Art Fair, which I thoroughly enjoyed (right on the beach, the fair was perfectly located, the sandy path from Ocean Drive to its entrance, I imagined, almost inherently a stiletto deterrent), but most of all…

PULSE Miami was, hands down, my favorite fair. For me, there are two factors by which to judge an art fair (or anything, really): how fun it is and how good it is. PULSE was great fun and it had high quality art—a combination that is unfortunately rare.
(Painfully boring events with passable art are to be expected. The opposite is equally common but harder to identify because of certain… distractions: Let’s be real—we’ve all been to at least one event where it’s fun and hip and yeah there’s a gaggle of kids milling about secretly wanting to get snapped by a street style blogger and when that doesn’t happen they all Instagram each other and then exchange Tumblr URLs but when you get around to actually looking at the walls you realize the place is infested with that distinct hipster brand of half-assed juvenile Bad Art and you’re not sure whether it’s ironically bad like that ugly grandpa sweater that ironically mustachioed dude over there is sporting or if it’s just plain bad.)

From Jessica Drenk’s exquisitely crafted sculptures made out of such materials as cut books, carved pencils, and coffee filters at Adah Rose Gallery to Casey Neistat’s Watch Some Movies interactive installation where visitors could lounge on couches in a living room setting and, well, watch some movies, or help themselves to bowls of tampons and condoms, cans of cheap beer in a mock-locked fridge, and a grilled cheese sandwich-making station (operated by the artist himself)… PULSE delivered.

The art met the caliber set by Basel (in many ways I thought it was much better, even), but, more importantly, it was refreshing.

I also noticed (or perhaps just naturally always hone in on) many works that put an emphasis on people, on communities, like:

a participatory public art project that combined urban farming with housing and assistance for the homeless; a multimedia installation representing the residents of a neighborhood affected by gentrification; and Brooklyn-by-way-of-London artist Shantell Martin’s Continuous Line mural, into which she incorporated visitors’ names (you all know I’m all about blurring the line between artist and audience) and onto which she hung two signs of polished stainless steel, one asking “who are you,” which tapped into the viewer’s sense of self and identity, the other asking “you are who,” which, Shantell explained, alluded to art fairs’ preoccupation with being a somebody.

Shantell Martin next to my name in her "Continuous Line" mural
at PULSE Miami 2012.

For those who might feel discouraged by or think that the art world consists only of the superficial and posturing and celebrity-worshipping and big-name-and-big-money-driven commercial greed… don’t.

Even at the top, there is room for alternatives.

There is room to be subversive.

After all, this is art.


  1. Thanks Jenny. I appreciate the chance to view Miami Art Week through your eyes. What work left the biggest impression?

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Janis.

      It's hard to pick just one! I loved every work I mentioned here. In fact, I loved every work I included in my photo album / took a photo of--and there are quite a few!

      I think, however, what left the greatest impression was the concept of the Art Fair itself; I might be interested in organizing one myself someday!

  2. lovely post & photos, would have loved to be there

  3. Hell yeah Mother's Tankstation! Finally someone mentions Mother's Tankstation. I never see them get any credit anywhere even though they rule in concept and other areas. MT is leading edge even though they don't get the press. Your report on Miami is better than any article in any newspaper anywhere.

    1. Yeah, I didn't see MT get coverage anywhere else either, which is a damn shame. And oh man, what a huge compliment. Thanks a million, Shon!


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