December 7th, 2007 5:33 pm | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

A Letter from Art Basel Miami Beach


You may as well call Miami “Portland South” this week, as dozens upon dozens of Stumptown artists, gallery owners, curators, collectors, and other sundry denizens have descended on South Beach for the annual Art Basel Miami Beach art fair. The event kicked off on Wednesday night (Dec. 5) with a preview of the mega-fair, followed by a blowout performance by Iggy Pop on the beach and after-party behind the Raleigh Hotel. Hosted by New York City gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, the shindig on the sand was the place to be on trendy Collins Avenue. Justin Oswald (p:ear supporter and former Gallery 500 director) and curator Marjorie Myers, along with painters Eugenia Pardue and Vanessa Calvert [see photo of Oswald, Pardue, and Calvert], cavorted with the nearly nude and blue-painted members of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black [see photo of Oswald with blue woman]. Lead singer Kembra Pfaler rocked the house on a stage appointed with 5-foot-wide candy-colored volcanos spewing a fog of dry ice.

ABOVE: Justin Oswald and Voluptuous Horror; BELOW: Oswald, Pardue & Calvert

Art Basel Miami Beach: Portland Art meets Miami Vice
Next morning (Thursday, Dec. 6), Art Basel officially kicked off for the hoi polloi. As always, the fair was an embarassment of aesthetic riches. Highlights included a take-no-prisoners 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat at New York City's Acquavella Gallery; an exuberant Sam Francis at Paris' Galerie Hopkins-Custot; and a ginormous Helen Frankenthaler for a cool $1.5 million at Knoedler (NYC), along with an uncharacteristically minimalist Hans Hofmann for a mere $300,000. A yellow, red, and black Keith Haring showed typically gonzo imagery: a six-breasted woman with a computer screen for a head, riding a penis-shaped airplane.

Photography was well-represented: Gregory Crewdson's bedroom scene and elaborately staged tableaux were hits, as were Yasumasa Morimura's inkjet prints of a knocked-up Mona Lisa, although Ed Templeton's naked teenagers came across as second-rate Larry Clark. Petah Coyne contributed the fair's most outlandish sculpture: a hanging, hollowed-out wax monstrosity festooned with white flowers, looking for all the world like a strung-up vagina-shaped wedding cake. Valeska Soares' Vaga Lume was the most engaging installation, beckoning fair-goers into its dangling metal chains beneath a panoply of blinding lights.

Among the satellite art fairs, one called Red Dot attracted the most Portland galleries. Rod Pulliam and Mary Ann Deffenbaugh of Pulliam Deffenbaugh [see photo] showcased works including vivid paintings on paper by Oregon Biennial veteran G. Lewis Clevenger. Down the hall, Jeffrey and Kristina Butters of Butters Gallery offered paintings by New York's David Geiser, Portland's Carolyn Cole, and Santa Fe painter Michael Kessler [see photo]. Butters, Pulliam, and Deffenbaugh all reported strong sales, although word on the street indicated that overall sales seemed down from last year. Works by Tom Cramer and Jun Kaneko brightened up the Laura Russo room at Red Dot [see photo], although Russo herself opted to stay in Portland and let her staff handle the fair.

ABOVE: Pulliam & Deffenbaugh. BELOW: Geisler, Cole & Kessler; Laura Russo room at Red Dot

Artists Sean Healy and Joe Thurston, both of whom show at Elizabeth Leach, arrived Thursday night, exhausted from the redeye from PDX, but rallied for cocktails with Ashland artist (and Biennial prize-winner) Matthew Picton [see photo] at the Hotel Victor, known for its aquarium of eerily illuminated jellyfish [see photo]. The trio attended the Scope Fair premiere party, held at the techno-thumping Opium Garden nightclub, where photographer Marne Lucas and multi-media artist Bruce Conkle joined them under Chinese lanterns and a massive disco ball [see photo at top of post].

ABOVE: Healy, Thurston & Picton; BELOW: The Hotel Victor's glowing jellyfish


Meantime, at the ultra-exclusive Casa Casuarina (formerly the Versace Mansion) [see photo], a gaggle of Portland folk were spotted at an opening for New York-based painter Allegra Spaulding [see photo], where Cosmopolitans set you back $32 apiece and Lisa De Kooning (daughter of late Abstract Expressionist Willem) held court with a Cirque du Soleil-like jester [see photo]. “Damien loves Allegra's work,” De Kooning said with offhand familiarity—“Damien” being Damien Hirst, arguably the world's most famous living artist. Outside on Ocean Drive, former Alysia Duckler Gallery director Kelly Kerwick and Wendy Katz of Harsch Investments [see photo] unwound after a day of assisting Arlene Schnitzer, Jordan Schnitzer, and other members of the prominent, art-amassing family make their rounds through the maze of high-end galleries and art dealers.

The pandemonium and see-and-be-scene atmosphere of Art Basel is both its allure and Achilles heel. How many velvet ropes can you jockey for position behind, how many VIP badges can you flash, how many miles of palm tree-lined boulevards can you traverse in search of artistic ecstasy before your feet begin to hurt and your brain to melt? And to think: Today (Friday) is only Day Two of the fair's four-day run. Stay tuned for more dispatches, including reports from the South Beach outposts of Elizabeth Leach Gallery and Small A Projects. RICHARD SPEER

ABOVE: Casa Casuarina. BELOW: Allegra Spaulding; Lisa De Kooning & jester; Kerwick & Katz unwinding
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