INTERMISSION… and on to the second of half of Michael Farley’s ABMB Roundup
Part One here.
The next morning, I nursed my whale-hangover at the Sagamore Hotel’s annual brunch. It’s paltry attempts at glamour paled in comparison to the previous night’s ride.
Just kidding. It was pretty glamorous. And I ran into MICA alum Jacolby Satterwhite who had a video on display in the hotel lobby.
Mostly, though, I was excited to see my friend Sebastian Duncan-Portuondo’s commissioned mosaic “Timescapes” during the day. The piece is a collaboration with muralist Jeffrey Noble and plays with the idea of going up and down the hotel’s stairs as a proto-cinematic experience.
It’s also very Miami.
Whenever I’m here, I think of Rosalid Krauss’s seminal essay “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” which defined the birth of modernism (and its successors) as the divorce of art from architecture (which rejected ornamentation in the 20th century). Miami is a weird city. Here, in arguably the most modernist built environment in North America, notions of place are inexorably linked to art. South Beach’s Bauhaus and Art Deco streetscapes have a spatial logic that’s not that different from Northern or European cities, but contemporary mainland Miami is a puzzler to the uninitiated. A wall of luxury skyscrapers might abut acres of vacant lots. Rare charming pre-war walk-ups are constantly demolished to make way for parking garages to serve destinations that don’t yet exist. A collection of strip malls abutting a highway might be referred to as “an up-and-coming neighborhood” and no matter where I go in the seemingly endless expanse of innocently suburban-looking houses, my friends who live there warn me that it’s the ghetto. Often, it seems, the notion of “value” is considered by a site’s relation (in time or space) to the arts.
That wall of skyscrapers sharply abutting fields of rubble and one-story industrial buildings sprouted in anticipation of the new Perez Art Museum. Wynwood is a brand realized with a few cans of spray paint. In such a car-centric city, it seems like neighborhoods aren’t valued for charm, walkability, convenience, or transit access. What inspires interest in a space, even a hypothetical future desirability, is a dance performance, video screening, poetry reading, or pop-up-gallery. Of course, the presence of “the creative class” incentivizes real estate trends in every city—obviously in Baltimore. But here, in a city with so much space constantly being demolished and rebuilt, there’s an almost giddy obsession with the idea that even an ephemeral art happening can instill a sense of place.
I love Sebastian’s work because he marries defiantly classical modes of ornamentation with modern architecture and contemporary concerns. In our Little Haiti pop-up, he projected “stained glass windows” onto the space’s blank interior walls. Here, the Sagamore’s prized views of the ocean and sky seem to bleed into the stairwell, changing colors as one ascends like the view itself does over the course of the day.
Projects like these could easily go the predictable route and critique the property owners who commission them. Biting the hand that feeds you is so en vogue! Everybody could shit on the hand rug of the hand that feeds you in the place where you’re eating the hand’s food! But Sebastian takes advantage of the resources afforded by the evil private sector to provide his city with much-needed pockets of place-full-ness and beauty rather than snark. I’m starting to value that type of sincerity more and more.
… But I still couldn’t resist taking an #artselfie in the vain vein of DIS magazine’s blog project launched on the eve of Art Basel Miami Beach 2012.
And who am I kidding? I do kind of love the snark and the biting and the shitting where you eat and pretending to hate all the conspicuous consumption and spectacle but actually enjoying all the free stuff and how ridiculous and good the spectacle can get. I’m proud to have curated a show featuring artists involved in two of this year’s biggest Art Basel headlines! (Full disclosure: said scandalous artists were actually invited by my collaborator, Liz Ferrer) Julia Sinelnikova, who produced a gorgeous video installation for “The ‘Planet Hollywood’ of Newer Genres,” is the Oracle of Vector Gallery, the official art gallery of Satan. It’s pretty great. This year, they got a lot of attention for their collaborative installation at Select Fair, where Usher charged his cell phone out of a model’s vagina.
Kalan Sherrard and Maria Valenzuela also made a big impression with their performance/protest/arrest about/in/outside Art Basel proper, where Sherrard was arrested after police supposedly mistook the giant dildo he was pulling out of his pants for a weapon. Apparently, Liz and I only like artists who use genitalia in their practice.
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about that one. It started off great. The duo acquired Art Basel VIP passes and went to the Collector’s Lounge in the convention center. There, Maria began reading from the BMW Art Guide, a text from the Art Basel website. Obviously, the two of them sitting in the Collector’s Lounge, with Maria reading this text audibly to Kalan would attract attention. It would seem “wrong.” What would be brilliant about this scenario is that it would force the accidental audience to evaluate why the words coming out of her mouth seemed incongruous with her appearance and context. Also, reading an Art Basel promotional text aloud to your friend in the Art Basel VIP area of which you are a card-holder isn’t necessarily a readily recognizable offense that security or police would have a justifiable reason to intervene in. Had this been the extent of the performance, it probably would have been allowed to continue for longer, provoke more thought, and be witnessed first-hand by more of the wealthy people the two were trying to make a statement about.
But while Maria read the text, Kalan shouted “FUCK ART BASEL!” which totally unsurprisingly lead to them getting kicked out of the convention center. In all honesty, I feel like that’s such an empty gesture. It’s not saying anything new and it’s not saying it in an interesting way. Those three words totally changed the action from a witty performance to a predictable publicity stunt. Of course, the police were waiting for them outside the convention center, and of course, the police used excessive force to “subdue” them. And of course there were a million journalists, bloggers, and bystanders to immortalize the moment for the web. It all felt so scripted, yet directionless. But, knowing Kalan and his layers upon layers of intent and assumed characters, perhaps that’s the point. Likely, he conceptualized the stunt in the collector’s lounge as merely the means to attract attention. Nothing goes viral like a cute headshot. Once Kalan had an audience, he was able to disseminate his manifesto through more traditional means.
But then where is the art? Is performance just viable as means to get people to read an artist statement? Beyond that, is “FUCK ART BASEL!” really the appropriate sentiment? The BMW text Maria was reading could actually provoke some dialogue about the nature of the cultural product as commodity. I’d like to think there’s nothing inherently evil about a big room full of art. And Basel, moreso than other commercial art fairs in Miami, is relatively socially conscientious — they provide a plethora of educational programming, the annual Art Public installations, room for specifically non-object-based content, and usually have a higher percentage of politically-engaged artwork on display than any of the big tent fairs. Okay, I am now just definitely trying to play Devil’s advocate and not feel guilty about the fact that I don’t hate Art Basel even though I’m supposed to.
Why not ‘Fuck Pulse’? Don’t get me wrong, few people are as caustically anti-capitalist as I am, but I am also really glad that Art Basel exists. I wouldn’t have met many of my best friends if it didn’t. I wouldn’t be going on road trips to Miami and meeting drag queens on the way and inviting them to perform in weird office buildings in Little Haiti if there was no Art Basel. If there was no Art Basel, a lot of my friends in Miami would probably have shitty jobs selling sweatshop-produced garments for minimum wage in a shitty chain store instead of getting to work in the arts. And I also wouldn’t have seen a lot of really truly amazing artwork every year if there was no Art Basel. I would totally “FUCK ART BASEL!” — I would fuck Art Basel because I am in lust with it.
Do I think we need to have a conversation about the relationship between money and the arts? Absolutely. But it’s a lot more complicated than three words. And I also don’t think it’s the only conversation to have. It’s funny—while so much of the artwork outside of Art Basel is about Art Basel or the act of consumption, so much of the artwork inside Art Basel is about actual political issues, human experiences, or the act of production. I’d actually probably be more okay with someone dominating so much of the press coverage of a major cultural event for shouting “FUCK ART BASEL!” if I hadn’t just experienced an entire weekend of people shouting it in various artistic media.
After the weekend, I took a break from cleaning up the Zones space and popped over to Space Mountain to congratulate Kalan and Maria on getting out of jail. The few days after Basel are always so strange—half of the people are totally drained from surviving on four hours of sleep every night and champagne for every meal while working their asses off. The other half are manically giddy at their successes or misadventures. The small crowd of our friends sitting around the gallery floor was a mix of the two. Kalan and James decided to host a Free School in the gallery and were soliciting ideas for classes from the giddy half of the group: How to make anything from trash! How to decolonize your privilege! How to be a better teacher! Practical anarchy! Impractical anarchy!
Suddenly, one of the Poncili Creacion members blurted out, “I want to teach a workshop about how to shit in your own hand!”
Everyone fell silent and stared at him while he slowly tried to explain why this was a good idea. Except Liz and me. We made eye contact and couldn’t stop laughing. Everything had come full circle.
Exhausted, I could only think about how much I wanted to go lay on the beach. But I had only packed boots. “Could I have your jail flip-flops if you don’t want them? I swore that I would never wear flip-flops, but I would probably wear jail flip flops.” Kalan laughed and generously gave me his jail flip-flops, because even though he hates Art Basel, he’s a really good guy. In a weird way, I guess I now have the ultimate object-index of a newer genres artwork. Planet Hollywood forever.
A few days later, on the bus, I still couldn’t stop thinking about how every artist who isn’t showing in an art fair claims to hate art fairs. Too commercial! Apolitical! Elitist! I was on my way to a Ferguson Solidarity protest in downtown Miami. When I got there, I didn’t see anyone there that I recognized from the DIY satellite shows who had condemned the commercial fairs on the beach. That’s fine. Not everyone has to be involved in every cause. It’s only worth mentioning because of the people who DID attend. My friend Thompson, who was in charge of operations at Scope and his sister Melina, who also works for the big, evil, apolitical, snobby art fair. When another protester overheard me asking them how they were getting back to Miami Beach, she offered us a ride. She was temporarily living in South Beach too because she worked for Art Basel.
I guess the moral of this story is: institutional critique is easy. Everybody (myself included) does it from time to time. But maybe, while a hundred thousand artists are all in town at the same time surrounded by beautiful weather and free booze, we could have a conversation that isn’t about pretending to hate the fact that a hundred thousand artists just came together for beautiful weather and free booze.
Let’s all agree that money is bad, but maybe it’s more productive for those on the fringe of the art world to care about issues other than what’s going on at the center of the art world? In the grand scheme of genocide, climate change, modern-day slavery, ebola, racism, war, AIDS, and deportation….. maybe some liquor companies giving people free drinks while some rich guys buy paintings isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe it’s just kind of fun. You know what’s probably the worst thing in the world? Shitting in your own hand.
To go back and read the first half of this piece, click here.
Author Michael Farley was born at John’s Hokpins Hospital, attended MICA for a BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculptural Studies, and recently received an MFA in Imaging Media and Digital Arts from UMBC. He has a complicated relationship with institutional critique. Although he went to digital art school, he has no website, but did switch to electronic cigarettes.