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Art Basel Miami: Art on Steroids

Eric Brooks, artist and co-owner of Art Spot Reno had the privilege of going to Art Basel Miami, the art rave with 267 galleries showing their work from Dec. 3 to 6 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. He’s taken the time to blog about his experience for all of us who could not attend. Enjoy and imagine a warm Atlantic Ocean breeze while thawing from our bitter-cold temperatures.

***

The body was tired but the mind was ready for more. At 7 a.m. we were sharing our photos and experiences as the bacon sizzled in the kitchen. Everyone’s hair was a frazzle and there was promise of rain for the rest of the week. Computers ticked away, coffee was made pot after pot, and conversation roared room to room about what would happen next.

The Miami Beach Convention Center is the main hub of Art Basel Miami Beach. With a capacity of 45,000 people, it was sure to be a day of journey and discovery. We fueled up, piled into the car and spent the next hour, giddy as kids waiting for Christmas day, crawling to our destination. It was 90 minutes before we jumped out of the car and walked the last half mile to the center. Two of our group had media passes, so they went right in. The rest of us had three hours to explore the surroundings before heading to the main event.

We knew Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton had some of their letters on display. It only took a few minutes to find one of his candelabras and a fire engine red painted LOVE in one of the ritzy hotels just off the beach. Jeff, who also lives in Reno, was there and we were able to go inside and see the rest of the pieces displayed. It was fancy. It was stunning. Throughout the hotel grounds were assemblage sculptures done by Kimpton, my first experience of her work outside of the letters. We were able to talk for a hot minute about the installation, it’s obstacles and rewards. This whole blog could be just about that, but we can come back to that later.

The weather was perfect – humid, but not overpowering. The energy of the event was a tangible thing. Like electricity, unseen but definitely alive. We wandered down to the Bass Museum of Art, which was closed for renovation, but the grounds held a special installation of sculptures. In less than 24 hours, and not attending an official Art Basel Miami Beach event, the trip was already worth it. The park was full of nearly 20 works surrounded by groups of students on tour, tourists snapping pictures, and what seemed to be a regular crowd of locals taking it all in.

We took a break for one of the best ice cold beers I’ve ever had, peopled watched for half an hour, and headed to the castle.

There were 1,000 general admission ticket holders waiting in line when we got there. It might seem daunting, but the atmosphere was much like waiting in line for a concert festival. Strangers were in easy conversation with each other as the line snaked towards the entrance. The woman in front of us was a collector from New York City on a limited budget. She spoke of the excitement to be in town and even though she probably wouldn’t be able to get what she wanted, was ecstatic to be part of what was happening. As we entered, the masses enveloped her and most of our group into different directions.

Immediately to our right was a collection of Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and more of their peers. The majority of art in the center isn’t priced. It is bad etiquette to inquire the prices unless you are really thinking about a purchase. I was curious all day long and kept my ears open. On several occasions I heard a variety of numbers, but nothing ever under 6 figures. Much like the overwhelming feeling of the murals at Wynwood the night before, the sheer jungle of booths is hard to describe. Maybe we can compare it to someone first walking into a casino. It is a flash and daze going through your mind at every turn and corner.  You are instantly lost in a sea of flesh. Nothing looks familiar, time stands still and the buzz is a constant that begins to numb the senses. You get turned around and walk swiftly avoiding people’s bodies more with instinct than with your eyes.

After a few hours, things adjust, the pulse slows and the eyes connect with a rapid yes/no to whether or not you should stay in this miniature gallery for more than sixty seconds. This is an international event, each both labeled like a prized pig with the gallery name and city/country they’re from.

It was a unique experience to look at the work and see where it was coming from, seeing if there were geographic trends. Overall, Berlin is Berlin. If it stopped you in your tracks and made your head turn slightly sideways, it was probably Berlin. In my estimation, if this was a game of RISK, New York was going to win the game. What I enjoyed most was the strong and powerful presence of galleries representing Mexico and South America.

I am by noooooooo means part of the art academia, which this room was full of. If some sick God wanted to turn our worldwide culture back to the stone age, that is where the bomb would drop.. At a certain point I started finding pieces that moved me, then stand near to the piece, waiting for someone to come start talking about what it all meant. I never waited long and was never disappointed. Pictures were seemingly encouraged and there was a camera phone in every hand.

At 8 p.m. the doors were closing, we all met back up and the torrential rains began. Torrential. The traffic seemed slow coming in, but going home,  it was the most exciting 5 mile-an-hour ride I’ve ever had. The adrenaline was pumping, again like we had just left a concert, raging. The music got turned up loud and we shouted back and forth about what art we loved and booed at the ones we didn’t .

This is no ordinary reaction to art. This is art on steroids. This is the transformative power that art has had in the past and continues to provide. The phrase art revolution is thrown around a lot these days, in particular to the economic re-development that can come with it. Never more have I believed this to be true. This visceral reaction can transport a viewer into another realm. It can create want, desire, fear, repulsion and it will make people travel around the world to find out what they feel.

We got home, our gracious host met us in the living room — soaking wet, head lamp still turned on, with a plate of BBQ steaks. He was laughing, the first words out of his mouth, “What was the best thing you saw today.”

 

Eric Brooks, Curator

Eric Brooks, Curator

Eric Brook’s late night stroll in Miami

Eric Brooks, artist and co-owner of Art Spot Reno had the privilege of going to Art Basel Miami, the art rave with 267 galleries showing their work from Dec. 3 to 6 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. He’s taken the time to blog about his experience for all of us who could not attend. Enjoy and imagine a warm Atlantic Ocean breeze while thawing from our bitter-cold temperatures.

***

I had never met Alex Steneck. We talked on the phone twice, each time for less than a minute; and there had been one short email about us talking more soon. It didn’t happen. Nonetheless, I got a taxi to the airport at 5 a.m. and headed to Miami.

Alex had been in contact with the Potentialist Workshop for the past two years about the interactive art group performing during the Art Basel festival. When Executive Director Pan Pantoja was unable to go on a scouting trip, I happily stepped into his big shoes. We crossed into Miami-Dade County a little after 7 p.m. Traffic came to a standstill on the five-lane freeway two miles from the event epicenter. Alex told me a little bit about the city. The population of Miami – Dade County is nearly 3 million people, with 70% being Hispanic. It is unlike any other city in America, and this city loves its art.

We wound through downtown, up side streets, avoiding the police barricades directing traffic in what seemed like a methodical maze of slowness. Down alleys we maneuvered, swerving through the bend and pull of energy and madness. “The event doesn’t really begin until tomorrow. This is preview night for the movie stars, billionaires and some of the world’s biggest collectors,” Steneck said.

Alex has been living in Miami long enough to have seen the Art Basel event develop into one of the largest art fairs in the world. Art Basel was founded in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland, where art quietly was bought and sold. In 2002, Basel launched a satellite fair in Miami. This year’s estimated attendance is 70,000 people. Nearly 300 galleries will set up in the Miami Beach Convention Center, along with 16 satellites throughout the city. Galleries also pop up on almost every street. And then there are the murals. Let’s talk about the murals.

It took 45 minutes to negotiate one mile to Alex’ house. Swarms of pretty people stopped to see the myriad of murals on every surface imaginable, 20- feet ladders dotting the landscape, as crews were in full effect, building the next layer of public art.

I dumped my backpack and hit the street, took the first left, and the first alley left again. A 40×70 foot wall had two ladders with artists floating above the gravel lot. Two more were sitting with cigarettes, exhausted with a look of accomplishment shining out of eyes lit by spotlights powered by a generator 50-feet away.

They were from St. Petersburg, Fla., James Oleson, Sebastian Coolidge, Elijah Barrett and Zulu Painter. They were just finishing their second mural of the day. I asked if they were commissioned to do this large mural, and Oleson replied, “We came up a couple days ago and started contacting businesses to try and wrangle some walls. We don’t get paid, but we want to be part of the movement that’s going on. We have two more planned for the week, one we did last year was just painted over.”  I asked how they felt about the temporary nature of murals, especially in a neighborhood with such a high rate of turnover. “It’s personal preference, it’s part of the world. I don’t like it but what are you going to do.  Keep painting and make it so good no one will want to touch it” Coolidge said.

They went on to talk about the enthusiastic mural scene in St. Petersburg and how the city has embraced the culture of street art. None of the major crews paints without permission. “It’s not worth the risk of losing the art. We spend a lot of time planning and executing our pieces. We want them to stay around as long as possible” Oleson said.

In the next few blocks, I easily recognized two more of their pieces. It was 10:47 p.m., and before 11 p.m.,  I had walked past four more murals going up. The event hasn’t officially started, but in reality, it was well on its way.

I walked the streets until two in the morning. At a certain point, the overwhelming feeling had passed. I was no longer surprised at the sheer number, and began slowing down to talk with the artists and find out where they were from and why they were here. The youngest was from Orlando, a 17-year-old who was more interested in my beard than talking about his lettering. His friends were sitting around enjoying the tropical night. Then I turned a corner and found the Wynwood Walls. The late Tony Goldman had a goal to create a center where people would come experience some of the greatest street artists in the world. It would also serve as a source of economic redevelopment.

It is nearing three a.m. The house is full of visitors from around the country, crashing on floors and couches. I forced a few hours sleep. Tomorrow is just the beginning

Eric Brooks, Curator

Eric Brooks, Curator