/ 18 December 2014

Art Basel: A lot of mojitos and a bit of art

Fairest: Sadie Coles HQ booth at Miami’s Art Basel
Fairest: Sadie Coles HQ booth at Miami’s Art Basel

In another time zone, at Art Basel in Miami Beach, more than 70?000 international visitors descended on South Florida and made it rain billions of dollars on hotels, restaurants and, oh yeah, some artwork too.

Over several days of VIP-only openings, asados (South American braais), open studios, performances, club events and free vodka, this year’s art week was not disappointing. While 300 international galleries showed up for the main fair at the convention centre and forked out upwards of $50?000 a booth, several satellite art fairs stretched from North Beach to South Beach, scattered in hotels, museums and tents in the Design District, Wynwood, Midtown, Calle Ocho and even Little Haiti.

It takes serious skill to navigate RSVPs for three simultaneous events, followed by four intimate invite-only dinners, all hosted on exclusive hotel rooftops, all at the same time, night after night, but that’s what the United States’ biggest Art Show is all about – showing up and showing off. Although it’s easy to dismiss as a bacchanal for the one percent, this occasion of drunken revelry comes with a staggering amount of sensory stimulation. Miami’s Art Basel is, hands down, the most glam, the most gaudy, messy and sexy of all the world’s art fairs and packs way more flavour.

Trickle-down economics were in full effect as pop-ups and food trucks made out like bandits and exposure to blue-chip buyers, curators and collectors from every part of the planet overnight made somebodies out of nobodies.

Here’s a blow-by-blow breakdown of some of its unscripted moments:

At a closing party on Sunday night, December 7, P Diddy served Drake a knuckle sandwich over a stolen beat.

On Saturday, Leonardo DiCaprio ensured no woman was left behind in the VIP area when he departed with 20 models. Across the bay, at a soiree, flocks of aggressive women tried to nail down Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who dodged them all night, eventually taking flight in a limo.

On Friday December 5, proving the larger community is not just all about arty parties and celebrities snapping up over-priced artwork, protesters gathered in the graffiti-heavy neighbourhood of Wynwood to demand justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the 17-year-old Miami graffiti artist Israel Hernandez, tazered to death by police last August. The demonstration closed down both sides of the 1-95 highway and, at 2am, 21-year-old graffiti artist Demz was chased and hit by an unmarked police car. He died in hospital this week.

Kim Kardashian did Andy Warhol proud by showing up at Paper magazine’s #breaktheinternet dinner for just 15 minutes. On Wednesday New York DJ and drag legend Lady Bunny wished she hadn’t gone to gallerist Jeffery Deitch and Tommy Hilfiger’s Art Basel opening night party starring wannabe bad girl Miley Cyrus, complete with a smiley face on her crotch.

But the real bad girl action happened at the end of the night when Real Housewives of Miami star and drag queen Elaine Lancaster and Lady Bunny’s evening ended after a minor car accident that the two drag sisters settled by reportedly “sucking harder than Miley and Deitch projects”.

Somewhere else, Swizz Beatz curated a show, Solange did some DJ sets, A$AP Rocky swigged whisky, Questlove instagrammed everything, and 2 Chainz cruised in his Bentley.

On Tuesday, at Wynwood’s Mana Miami warehouse, Outkast’s André 3000 staged an exhibit of 47 custom jumpsuits in a show called i feel ya, celebrating 20 years of Outkast’s music. Luckily, André went back to Atlanta soon afterwards. In his place i feel ya curator Laurie Ann Farrell invited me to the Stevenson Gallery dinner.

Usher got an early start by paying to recharge his phone in a performance artist’s vagina, leading to the fair’s most surreal Tweet: “so Usher just walked into my exhibition and charged his phone in my friend’s vag #nsfw”.

Eager audience
Art Miami viewers queued to snap selfies in front of a life-like bust of Generalissimo Franco wearing dark sunglasses. The Spanish dictator’s severed bald head appeared in an empty Coca-Cola fridge.

Japanese-American artist Ayaka-may performed a traditional mimikaki cleansing on passers-by, digging out their earwax with a hooked instrument while dressed as Raggedy Ann in a kimono.

For this, my 10th Art Basel Miami Beach, I conclude the artwork that really conveys Miami Beach is the Cuban cocktail the mojito, an Everglade of muddled mint, a splash of rum, the citron sharpness of lime and ice cubes reflecting stacked clouds and tranquil waterways to perfection. Order two. Look at one while you drink the other.