What happens when 17 artists, three gallerists, and hundreds of art groupies are all put on an island? It might sound like the making of Bravo's next reality show, but it's simply another day at Art Basel Miami Beach. (Sorry, Andy Cohen.) In this case, "The Island," a one-night only, site-specific exhibition presented by art collectives LAND and OHWOW, and held on Flagler Memorial Island was one of the most hotly anticipated events of the week. Organized by Shamin Momin, Al Moran and Aaron Bondaroff, the work included artists Terence Koh, Hanna Liden, Justin Lowe, Naomi Fisher and Scott Campbell among others who shipped sculptures, skeletons and even a band from New York to a remote island off the coast of Miami Beach.
Upon arrival at the Mondrian Hotel, guests were told "not to speak" and silently board a 40-person ferry off the dock of the hotel (the only method of transportation). Still, I could not help but hum the Gilligan's Island theme song while a band of gallerinas shipped off to this abandoned isle. As the song goes, "A millionaire, his wife, and a movie star..." We had our own Basel Version. An artist (Olympia Scarry), a semi movie star (China Chow), and plenty of millionaires--who traded the cravat and slacks for Comme des Garcons skorts. As an Adonis in short shorts passed around Café Bustelo refreshments, I began to ask, "What did I get myself into?"
Once we moored on land, the crowd of black-clad Swedes, Germans and New Yorkers hesitantly disembarked into the lush wilderness. Left to our own devices, I immediately felt like Conquistador the Explorer (at best) and a camp counselor (at worst). Spending a childhood in the suburbs and an adult life in the city, my urban lifestyle did not take kindly to Mother Nature--while trying to navigate the sand dunes and rocks, two prickly thorns attacked my foot, which then had to be extracted E.R.-style with the utmost care. As one guest quipped, "I think the joke's on us."
Surely the visual of Margiela-clad collectors trying the navigate through the wilderness while tapping on their iPhones must have dawned on the curators. One suspected they were watching the whole thing on video tape and having a good laugh. Another guest commented, "I think the art is just being here."
Indeed, the act of exploring and being completely detached from the modern world seemed intentional, if uncomfortable. As the distributed maps read, "There is no one to guide you. It is hidden upon paths, suspended in time." Full disclosure, the map also read, "There is no real return." I prayed that was not true.
Miami native Naomi Fisher, one of artists featured on The Island, was putting final touches on her piece "Myakka" when we caught up with her. At the moment, she was busy applying makeup on dancers from the New York music collective SKINT. Fisher, who runs the Wynwood gallery space Bas Fisher Invitational with husband and artist Jim Drain, was frazzled to say the least. "This week is so crazy," she cried. "Jim couldn't be here because he had to meet with some museum people. And I didn't even make it to his opening last night!" She paused and then added, "But we keep saying that our mantra this week is, 'Divide and conquer!'" Amen.
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