Report From Art Basel
Texans find a place with the art-world elite in Miami's international fair
Earlier this month, I made my first trip to Art Basel, a major international art fair that's been held in Switzerland for 33 years and in Miami since 2002. Galleries from all over the world competed tooth and nail to get one of the pricey spaces at the Miami Convention Center, where the international accents and haute couture of the jet-set collectors swirled amidst the earthier speech and scruffy attire of the artists, and blue-chip works by art stars like Picasso and Basquiat shared space with art of the living young. The fair boasted literally hundreds of exhibits, a video lounge, an off-site sound lounge, and a lecture series offering intellectual grist and a chance to mingle with some major art-world figures. A few blocks away, organizers gave space to younger and more experimental galleries in shipping containers on the beach. Open house events by the Rubell Collection and the Margulies Collection provided an opportunity to see some art that's been collected over the years.
Texas connections were in evidence everywhere, notably Mackey Gallery of Houston. San Francisco-based Jack Hanley Gallery, run by the former UT instructor, was showing work by Keegan McHargue, who lived in Austin briefly. The NADA Art Fair, an off-site grouping of 61 emerging galleries, included the Dallas gallery Angstrom, run by David Quadrini, and Houston's Mixture Contemporary Art, run by Lisa Cooley and Daniel Fergus. Another art fair scopeMiami took up an entire hotel with 70 exhibitors, among them Houston artist Janaki Lennie, whose Women & Their Work show last year knocked our socks off.
On the street, I ran into Rafael Vargas-Suarez, who's gone on from Austin to a successful international career. He's currently showing with Karpio Gallery, which displayed a number of his pieces at the convention center under the name Vargas-Suarez Universal. Lamentably, every time I tried to find one, it had sold and the gallery hadn't yet replaced it. Now based in Brooklyn, Vargas-Suarez has continued his fascination with science, and he's painting again, he says.
Hana Hillerova, a fine artist as well as director of the Creative Research Laboratory, was on the scene, as was artist Andy Coolquitt, participating as part of the Dearraindrop collective, which put together the installation Riddle of the Sphinx, a huge room filled with layers of brightly colored graffiti- and psychedelia-oriented artwork, in Deitch Projectsí a space in the Design District. On the beach I ran into Roi James, celebrating his successful studio sale last month and finding inspiration in some of the pieces displayed in the shipping containers. And of course, I mustn't forget the lovely and talented Austin photographer Tina Weitz, who made a most agreeable traveling companion as she shot numerous Polaroids on site and soaked up the photography displays.
Arthouse had a party at the National Hotel celebrating the Texas Prize, in an effort to bring it and the artists it supports to greater national recognition. Attending was a who's-who of locals: Annette Carlozzi and Gabriel Perez-Barreiro of the Blanton, Dana Friis-Hansen and Eva Buttacavoli of AMOA, Regine Basha, Laurence Miller, Ann Elizabeth Wynn, Julie and John Thornton, Mary and Chris Ozburn, Johnna and Stephen Jones, and Don Mullins, and artists Mark Schlesinger, Rachel Cook, Scott Calhoun, Liz Ward, and Rob Ziebell, as well as several artists already mentioned. Whew! Got all that?
It was ludicrously impossible to attend all or even most of the events. At one point, overwhelmed with art, I developed an interest in the shoes of attendees: a wonder to behold, each pair odder than the last. I realized I was tired and decided it was time to go swimming in the ocean.
The cabbies were full of stories of Cuba and Haiti, of relatives and music and feasts and hunger and of catching fish in the ocean with their bare hands. One said 40,000 people were in town for the fair. I don't know; I'll leave that kind of information to Mr. Smarty Pants, but there sure were a lot. The next day we hitched a ride with some gracious art collectors in a Lexus, hearing an entirely different, more tennis-laden set of stories, and saving our money for a coconut mojito.
After another intense day of looking at literally thousands of works of art, we cleared the stars from our eyes with a magnificent dinner, the balmy weather and an ethereal blend of opera, salsa, and rap forming an indescribably beautiful environment around our cafe. With posh accents discussing their collections at one table and bales of receipts being entered into laptops at another, I contemplated the vision of art flying off the walls in a city that emphatically! has a pulse. This may have been my first Art Basel, but I don't think it will be my last.