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