Wednesday, December 19, 2007

art can still captivate...says Economist writer Jessica Gallucci

Art Basel Miami diary

Dec 19th 2007
Even amidst the throngs, art can still captivate

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday


AFTER my evening stroll through a deserted Art Basel, I drove to the Raleigh hotel, where Deitch Projects put on an evening of outdoor performances. A fully-rigged stage had been erected in the sandy beachfront area, flanked by palm trees and tiki torches. A VIP audience was seated at linen-covered tables. I hovered near the entrance, hoping to glimpse a friend who was to perform with The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, a legendary New York-based glam-punk band led by Kembra Pfahler, a performance artist.

When I arrived the stage was empty, and a scratchy, pulsing techno beat was playing over the speakers. The sound quality was horrendous. I was standing near the production tent, so I questioned the man at the controls. He replied that it was purposeful: the music was being played at full volume through the headphone jack of a stereo system. But why, if it sounds so terrible? He shrugged: “Because it's Art Basel.”
by Glowlab Swoon-worthy

Thankfully, a lovely band called CocoRosie soon took the stage, and filled the air with harp music and clear, haunting vocals. Then a group of women, painted head-to-toe in brilliant shades of blue, red, yellow and pink tottered onstage in thigh-high boots and enormous black wigs. These were the Girls of Karen Black. Over the next half-hour, they stomped and shimmied through an elaborately choreographed set during which Ms Pfahler was mauled by an enormous wooden shark, drowned in a cardboard sea and ensnared in an oversized animal trap—all without putting down the microphone. I thought I recognised my friend, in yellow, at stage left, but I couldn't be certain.

Today, somewhat bleary-eyed, I'm visiting the Fountain Art Fair: probably the scrappiest of all the alternative art-fairs in Miami this week. Named after Marcel Duchamp's famous ready-made work of the same title, Fountain is unjuried and unsponsored—just a band of smallish galleries from Brooklyn displaying their wares together. They have set up shop in a decrepit warehouse around the corner from the Rubell Collection, a destination gallery with limousines parked outside. When I visit, a county fire inspector is touring the space, eyeing the ceilings.

In the front room, a motorised bike whirs in place, powering a contraption that spins a rubber chicken in circles, thwacking a human cranium at each rotation. The skull, bobbing laterally, its jaw flapping in time with the squeak of the gears, seems to be laughing. The piece is “The Death Slapper”, by an artist named Jinx.

Around the corner, I'm drawn to Anna Druzcz's composite landscape photographs, which are so luminous that I wonder aloud whether they are mounted on light-boxes. They aren't, according to Marisa Sage, owner of Like The Spice Gallery; the auras come from a new process of digital processing using a LightJet printer. Regular chromatographic prints can't render golds and silvers in quite the same way, she explains.

At Front Room Gallery's space, I admire Philip Simmons’s bright pop-art pieces in glazed foam and aluminium, each with an enticing new-toy shine. Ray Sell’s titillating “Wanna Banana” is the standout at Capla Kesting Fine Art.

And then I stumble upon what to me is the most covetable of all the works of art I've seen so far. “Miss Rockaway Armada” (pictured) is small, at 15.5x19.5”, and monochrome, white ink on white vellum, so I nearly walked right past it. Words can't do it justice: it's a delicate screenprint of bony mermaids surrounded by serpents and dead fish. The artist, Swoon, is something of a cult hero to fans of street art in New York. She made her name plastering fine renderings of local characters—homeless women, buskers, street vendors—onto abandoned buildings in New York using a paste made from wheat.

“Miss Rockaway Armada” is a reference to a group project, backed by 30 artists and performers, with a mission to float on a homemade raft down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans, stopping along the way to perform and give workshops. (“We are NOT hippies”, their website insists.) Swoon’s print is number 85, of an edition of 85, and its price is $500.

Deitch Projects, the host of last night's extravaganza at the Raleigh, are also exhibiting Swoon at their centrally-located booth in the Art Basel convention centre. There, her large lithograph on mylar, titled “The Girl From Ranoon Provence”, sold for $18,000. It will be replaced by a new one, “The Construction Worker”, tomorrow.

Here at Fountain, Swoon’s work is carried by Christina Ray of Glowlab, a private gallery that specialises in experimental urban art in the spirit of Guy Debord and the Situationists of the 1950s. “Swoon is engaged in finding places that are in need of attention”, Ms Ray said to me in an interview this summer, “If you come upon one of her pieces, your perception of that space will change”.

And, as I continue my tour of the crumbling warehouse, I realise just how right she is.

No comments: