It was full throttle at Art Basel this year in Miami. There were Lambos, Red Bull, Cuban expresso, Davidoff cigars, champagne, and Waikiki weather to keep me up. This was sponge time and real world intelligence gathering. A place where creativity is a commodity and commerce is king. Art world luminaries, collectors, magnates, dealers, and moochers walked the halls of the world's most prestigious international art fair in its latest 2014 edition. Unrepresented artists posting free social media publicity were on the hunt, running around like jackrabbits dreaming of one day being curated into a Basel booth. There was a feel in Los Angeles (where I'm based) that this was the place to be no matter what.
Collectors on the floor seemed cheery and aglow. They were high on caffeine, mellow on champagne. Their Vertu world phones had full bars. The vernissage private preview was perfect snatch and grab hours for the collectors and dealers, away from the common public that were embargoed later in the day. One dealer referred to the common public as "debris" or essential time wasters that distract them from potential buyers and art advisors. Dealers had curt smiles. Men in suits. Women like CEO's of Fortune 500 companies.
Booths had private rooms to schmooze or close on VIPs. Gallery Lieutenants and 2IC's (second-in-command) coddled ipads to scroll through additional inventory not present. The Zwirner booth was teaming with workers. Average joe in pot belly and sandals could be Jimmy Buffet. At the vernissage everyone counted.
I witnessed a prominent collector walk by a Los Angeles gallery booth, point at a large shiny sculpture, point at it, then pointed at the dealer, as if that's mine. Done. Sold. Paypal. These were the best of times. Wall Street has record highs. Congress has been taken over by Republicans. Future markets are weighing in. Gas prices are low.
This was Christmas in Miami.
I walked along an art advisor who took clients to three pre-determined booths and showed them pre-determined art with pre-selected dealer. Done. Sold. Let's go to the collector's lounge for champagne.
Art fairs, especially of this caliber, are extreme pressure cookers to sale. It is simple as that. Most unrepresented artists go to the fairs to network with dealers. However, it is uncouth and terribly rude to pitch yourself to a dealer during prime time. The art fairs are huge investments and gambles for dealers. They rely on sales to pay for the next fairs or to cover massive overhead of shipping, traveling and booth costs. (I mention this as advise for artists who are hustling, but there is a time and place. Its called after hour parties.)
A few sources told me the fair seemed upbeat and lively. There was a feel of brighter, happier post recession art adorning the hall, unlike previous recession years were the art was more dreary, bleak, ominous, and political. There were protestors on Sunday. Bystanders just laughed thinking they were performance artists. Christmas trees were hotel lobby reminders that is was the time of giving, but more like uber-rich staycations to buy art or look sophisticated, a class of people most likely lobbying for Uber Yacht service.
This was my rookie year in South Beach. I expected more Scarface and Michael Bay, but what I got was Uber and wall-to-wall construction projects up and down Collins Avenue. I met billionaires and they're moocher collector friends. There were poodles on blinged out leashes and magnificent art, the type of art that commands insane money, or acquired for hallowed museum collections. Many of my art world friends, collaborators, and shakers from Los Angeles descended so I didn't feel quite alone, but during these days I mostly wanted to be left alone during my reconnaissance, hence pictures of me on social media wearing headphones.
My few days there I went crazy on my camera. I shot 3000 images. Deleted 1000. Deleted 500 more. Then made a slideshow of my favorite 408 images. I also made a short film, fast, furious, deliberate.
Big highlights for me were to meet and photograph panel discussions featuring heralded Marina Abramovic and Julian Schnabel. Overall it was fun. It was eye-opening. This was great art. Magnificent art. The finest delicacies atop the food chain. If you're in for a feast this is the place to be.
Check out my photo set and short video on Basel below.
This article is part of an ongoing photojournalism survey of art exhibition openings titled EMS N(art)rative. Through my lens I document a photographic essay or visual "N(art)rative" that captures the happenings, personalities, collectors, gallerists, artists, and the art itself; all elements that form the richly varied and textured fabric of the SoCal art world. This reconnaissance offers a unique view for serious art world players to obtain news and information on the current pulse of what's in the now, yet capturing timeless indelible images for posterity and legacy. Here is EMS N(art)rative Fourteen.