There's nothing like a jaunt to Miami to revivify sun-starved Stumptowners. Happily, the third annual Art Basel Miami Beach (Dec. 2-5) afforded a cadre of Portland's art trendsetters the opportunity to do just that.
With temperatures in the 80s, an A-list conglamoration of 175 art galleries from around the world descended on the Miami Beach Convention Center, offering a dizzying array of art. Works by Hofmann, Dubuffet, Basquiat, Rosenquist and Haring hung alongside more recent stunners: Peter Zimmerman's colorfully layered lacquer, Peter Halley's journey into the brain of a computer circuit, and perhaps the fair's iconic piece--a sculptural self-portrait by the amazing Liza Lou. Nude, contorted in an anatomy-defying yoga pose, her feet wrapped around her head and her tongue sticking out as if to say, "Look what I can do," Lou's sculpture was covered in silver beads, with a single, strategically placed rhinestone as her clitoris. The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art devoured the piece for a cool quarter-million. "Within a year, it'll be worth a million five," predicted a passerby.
Among the throngs of chic-to-cheekers at the fair were Portland Art Museum bigwigs John and Lucy Buchanan and Bruce Guenther, along with gallery doyenne Elizabeth Leach, each assessing the offerings.
Former Disjecta curator Paul Middendorf brought the latest incarnation of his ongoing Manifest Artistry project to Miami. This time, he paired up with New York artist Mary Mattingly to build a 10-by-10-foot life raft, stuffed with works by artists such as Portlanders Chandra Bocci, Sam Gould, Bruce Conkle, David Eckard, Dina Noto and others. "We built it as a Cuban lifeboat," the sunburned Middendorf told me at a Design District street party, "because we saw ties between Cubans fleeing Castro and a lot of the artists in this country who'd like to flee Bush." Middendorf said this, quite convincingly, while wearing a red, white and blue Speedo.
The lifeboat caught the attention of New York dealer Ethan Cohen, who invited the Manifest team to re-install the boat atop his art-filled Winnebago. Middendorf and Mattingly obliged, and the raft sailed again at a Bacardi-fueled affair called "Park Your Art."
Meanwhile, Portland painter Eugenia Pardue made the rounds, checking out other artists' work and networking with the aid of a colorful brochure of her own. Portland multimedia artist Troy Briggs brought along his portfolio of recent drawings, which present stump-legged women in an oddly affecting attempt to deconstruct the essence of femininity. Gallery 500 impresario Justin Oswald scoped out nearby Scope (the hotel-fair big brother of Portland's recent AFFAIR @ Jupiter Hotel) and NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) for acquisitions, including a subdued yet colorful painting by Seattle artist Jaq Chartier. Also making an appearance at NADA was the art of Pulliam Deffenbaugh wonder boy Tim Bavington. And a new Portland player, collector-curator Marjorie Weston Myers, held court with her friend, art maven Marcia May, and with photog phenoms Carlos and Jason Sanchez, whom she sweet-talked into a March show at Oswald's gallery.
Several among the group found their way to the warehouse holding the beyond-impressive Marguilies Collection, where Tony Oursler's weirdly seductive projections sent the freak factor into overdrive. Giles Barbier's wax-figure gallery took the cake, though. With a dingy nursing home for doting superheroes as its conceit, the installation cast a sagging Catwoman in old-lady slippers, Wonder Woman with varicose veins, and the Incredible Hulk, his hair in a green comb-over, parked in a wheelchair, watching Christian TV. Sad.
As the sun sank over South Beach, the nights unfurled with dozens of parties. Poolside at the Delano, Oswald ordered a magnum of Veuve Clicquot for his Miami posse. Pardue belted out Blondie's "The Tide Is High" at a dive karaoke bar at 3:30 am, while Briggs promenaded along neon-lit Ocean Drive. Middendorf wound up in a hot tub in the Design District and missed his 5 am return flight to Portland.
A gaggle of uninhibited Northwesterners skinny-dipped in the pool of the Marseilles Hotel, finally collapsing in their rooms at 7 am and, we are told, sleeping through their scheduled appointment with art collector Jason Rubell. The next night, over on the Ritz-Carlton's stretch of strand, the revelers converged on harem tents, where, to the shimmerings of woozy techno, topless bartenders body-painted as mermaids offered drinks.
Inevitably, the weekend came to an end, and the travelers returned to their mossy hometown--perhaps bringing with them enough residual Miami caliente to raise Portland's temperature a few desperately needed degrees.
For more on Miami's international art show and related events, visit www.artbasel.com