MIAMI IS WHERE THE ART WORLD goes each December to seal its bubble—the one that makes art the center of the universe and keeps real life at bay.
But three weeks after the election of Donald Trump, the mood was different. Oh, there were plenty of the usual parties with many of the usual faces in the usual product-promoted places, but it wasn’t the same.
Actually, there was one new place—the Faena Forum. Otherwise, the weather was balmy and art was everywhere. So were Trump-Pence banners. And then there were the people who came to make or spend money and have a good time in the playground swamp of Miami Beach, its resorts, clubs, and restaurants. Just not quite as many as usual.
The Faena Forum is a nonprofit arena for film, performance, and symposia on the “wrong” side of Collins Avenue, opposite the beachfront Faena Hotel Miami. The Forum’s architect is Shohei Shigematsu, designer of the Metropolitan Museum’s “Manus x Machina” earlier this year and a partner with Rem Koolhaas at OMA. (The firm is responsible for three of the five buildings in the four-block billion-dollar Faena District development, not including an aesthetically opposed commercial condo by Foster + Partners.)
The five-story Forum, a fenestrated white cylinder connected to an equally fenestrated white cube, opened on Monday, November 28, following the previous day’s parade of bands and artist-made floats organized by curator Claire Tancons and led by musician Arto Lindsay. He was the first person I saw there on Tuesday morning, when my plane landed too late for a press conference with Argentine impresario Alan Faena and Ukarainian-born American financier Len Blavatnik, a major collector. Faena had the vision; Blavatnik bankrolled it.
Lindsay was setting up for his DJ turn that night, after a dance concert choreographed by Pam Tanowitz in a set by Shigematsu. The architect gave me a tour of the complex, starting in the lobby-cum-amphitheater of pink Italian marble. The third-story performance and party space accommodates a thousand people under a spiral dome and has a sprung-wood floor. Seating around the circular stage is in tall, irregular white pods. The building’s windows, which come in three hundred different shapes, are its structural support, leaving the interior free of columns.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? So why did it feel like a cruise ship circling a shark? Too “done,” maybe. Yet the unpainted concrete walls of a stairwell were beautiful. “The irony of architecture is that you can never make it better than the construction,” Shigematsu conceded. Likewise, his airy pyramid of a parking garage was gorgeous.
On the beach side of Collins, both Faena and Koolhaas were lunching at separate tables in the garden café of the Faena Hotel, with interiors by the never-leave-well-enough-alone film director Baz Luhrmann. Damien Hirst’s twenty-four-karat gilded skeleton of a wooly mammoth (a loan from Blavatnik) looked positively Trumpian here.
There were two other firsts, both in museums, and both exhilarating. At the Moore Building, the ICA Miami’s temporary address in the Design District, the country’s first retrospective for German artist Thomas Bayrle opened that evening. At the same time, the Pérez Art Museum Miami was toasting the Argentine octogenarian Julio Le Parc’s first North American retrospective.
Bayrle’s “One Day on Success Street” began with a pretzel-like, abstracted Madonna of black steel pipe that was soldered between the crisscrossing rafters of the ICA’s three-story atrium. Just as stunning was the show’s finale—a pair of working windshield wipers conducting the music broadcast from a portable radio.
“Thomas’s work is all about deviation and aberration,” Alex Gartenfeld said of the show, which also includes cardboard sculptures evoking roadways and cathedrals, and illusionistic grids of highways and high-rises embedded with more Madonnas. “It’s a good thing for an old man,” Bayrle said of the presentation, which he called “old-style,” because he works in his studio with “just me, alone.”
It must have taken a platoon to install, and to make, Le Parc’s “Form into Action.” Estrellita Brodsky and Tobias Ostrander—the show’s curator and coordinator, respectively—walked museum patrons through the exhibition’s spectacularly kinetic light sculptures, including a vibrating labyrinth as disorienting as a fun house, and a “game room” of interactive works for visitors to test their motor skills and peripheral vision. As Brodsky said, the show has “an element of danger and an element of playfulness.” Bases covered.
Collector Jorge Pérez, who had just announced a $10 million gift to his namesake museum, arrived just in time for dinner. That was my cue to return to the Moore Building for a taste of “Desire,” a group show of work by fifty artists detailing the throes of unbound sex and its fetishes. It was this year’s collaborative presentation by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch.
Though the show grew successively more interesting on higher floors, as curated by Diana Widmaier-Picasso, “Desire” pointed up the problems of thematic shows by coupling works that otherwise don’t belong in the same room—unlike the claque of well- and high-heeled, Saint Laurent–clad guests, who tend to stick together. It also proved that, like social butterflies, not all art is timeless.
I heard that the dinner for three hundred, sponsored by Saint Laurent and W magazine, was as hot and sweaty as the show, but by then I was hopscotching around Northwest Miami.
The Rubell family was holding its annual VIP preview of the last shows to grace their collection’s longtime home in Wynwood. In the rare non-Trump news that day came word of the family’s move next year to the Allapattah District, an undeveloped industrial neighborhood where Annabelle Selldorf will convert a warehouse that is the full length of a city block.
A model of the new space was on view in the library, where the progressively chapeaued Mera Rubell was displaying paper cutouts of the best-known in her family’s collection of some seven thousand works. Give these people room!
It was very crowded here, especially with Brazilians. The Getty was previewing its next, Latin American–focused Pacific Standard Time extravaganza with Brazilian art video. The other ground-floor show, “New Shamans,” presented six worthy Brazilian artists—three from São Paulo’s Mendes Wood Gallery. “I’m very happy,” said the gallery’s Felipe Dmab. He was dressed in a stripy, skirted outfit that, in another life, could have been designed by Eli Sudbrack, who actually contributed a swirling wall painting as colorful as Carnival in Rio.
Martha Stewart did a drive-by before heading to the “Desire” dinner. “How was I supposed to know who she was?” Don Rubell asked his daughter, Jennifer Rubell. What could she say but, “Oh, Dad!”
Upstairs was a show of new acquisitions, artists who first-responder collectors typically favor—Anne Imhof, Max Hooper Schneider, Karl Holmqvist, Hito Steyerl, Bunny Rogers, and Samuel Levi Jones, and more, and more. The show’s title is “High Anxiety”—pretty current, considering the moment’s tenor.
With the clock ticking, I headed out to Garcia’s Seafood Market and Grille on the Miami River, where dealers Shaun Caley Regen, Thomas Dane, and Eva Presenhuber combined forces for an oyster, shrimp, and lobster-claw buffet attended by artists and curators from Los Angeles, New York, and London who were refining the art of schmooze.
At the Cypress Tavern, Gavin Brown was hosting a boisterous and heartwarming sit-down for Bayrle and Gartenfeld, where talk of the latest Trump outrages, and what galleries could do to counter them, accompanied the steak frites. If I rushed, I could cover the yawning distance to the White Cube party at Soho House on the beach, where Anselm Kiefer would be dancing to music performed live by Chaka Khan. Forgive me, I was having too good a time to leave. Besides, I thought I should rest up for the next morning’s VIP previews for Design Miami and Miami Basel.
That was not the case.
I made it to Design Miami’s tent behind the convention center within minutes of its opening. Hardly anyone was there. Was I too early? I’m never early. What was going on? Some dealers weren’t there yet. Fair director Rodman Primack was still on his way. (Traffic in Miami is awful.)
With no one to distract me, I had time to enjoy the semifigural Gaetano Pesce cabinets at Salon 94’s booth and the museum of jewelry designed by Man Ray, Calder, and Fontana at Louisa Guinness before sailing through the door to Miami Basel. The line was so short that the security gates seemed overstaffed.
This was not like any Basel fair I’ve attended in the past fifteen years. It was quiet. Very quiet. Had the Zika virus scared people away? Were the Trump supporters among the American collectors (too many to count) keeping a low profile? Where were the museum groups? Society photographer Patrick McMullan stood helplessly near the entrance, waiting. “Uber isn’t even surging,” said art publicist Adam Abdalla. “And that’s telling.”
Okay, Barbra Streisand did come by with James Brolin, but not many saw them—either because their visit was brief or because there wasn’t anyone around to notice. There was Steve Cohen, picking up his first Franz West from Presenhuber. There was Steve Tisch and family making tracks, their business concluded, and Michael and Susan Hort. And there was the adviser Alex Marshall, though without his star client, the First Daughter–elect. Many artists wish @dear_ivanka would be a more proactive guard against Trump’s extremism. “She’s doing what she can,” Marshall assured me, and quickly walked on.
Maybe the fair had deliberately restricted the VIP preview to actual VIPs. “That was sort of the idea,” allowed Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. And indeed, it had rewards.
Swiss dealer Krystyna Gmurzynska had time to give me some background on her impressive Russian avant-garde presentation, curated by Norman Rosenthal and designed by Claude Picasso. Several of the rarer works on paper had been in her family for years. Even Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist hadn’t seen them before.
With no one else about, Andrew Fabricant showed me around the Miro, Picabia, Jim Dine, and other works in the elegant Richard Gray booth. I was glad to get lost in the warren of rooms built by Neugerriemschneider, to study the endlessly fascinating repercussions of Jill Magid’s Luis Barragán obsession at Labor’s booth, and to be grossed out by sploshing, the slimy sexual fetish action in photographs by Linder at Blum & Poe. And, lured by the aroma of freshly cooked pasta, I hung out for nearly an hour in the wildly festooned, noodle-overwhelmed Beyeler Foundation booth, where Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari had created a walk-in one-bedroom apartment version of Toilet Paper, their riotous look-sex-and-death-in-the-face biannual picture magazine. That was the most fun I’ve ever had at a fair.
From there, I found the Gagosian booth packed, but the gallery’s owner was pacing, with no one to talk to. Yet he was smiling. “It’s slow but good,” went the common refrain.
One after another, dealers such as Almine Rech, Carole Greene, José Kuri, Lisa Spellman, Toby Webster, and Esther Schipper agreed there were fewer people, but that those on the floor were serious types who came to buy, not browse. “I’m almost sold out,” said Rech, echoing many others. It wasn’t yet lunchtime. When did that happen? Art fairs are transparent places, but these must have been the most discreet sales on record.
In fact, this Miami Basel was all about transactions, not relationships. If you were faced with someone whose political affiliations were anathema to yours, you didn’t encourage extended conversations—about art or politics, or anything. Trumpty Dumpty supporters were loathe to call attention to their politics or engage in any verbal scuffles with dealers, who were just as anxious to avoid confrontation. “They just didn’t say anything,” one dealer told me. “They came, they bought, and they went.”
It’s unlikely that an art fair could become a springboard to higher moral ground. But people were asking: What can we do?
Some dealers—Blum & Poe, Gavin Brown, Mary Boone, Susanne Vielmetter, Michele Maccarone—featured pointedly political art by Sam Durant, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jonathan Horowitz, Barbara Kruger, Rodney McMillian, all but Tiravanija’s made well before the election. For most others, it was business as usual. By cocktail hour, the aisles were filled. The dealers were sitting down.
Night fell. In the botanical garden outside the convention center, John Baldessari was christening his BMW art car. In Collins Park, in front of the Bass Museum (closed for renovation), Nicholas Baume ended his popular run as Art Public curator—Philipp Kaiser takes over next year—with “Ground Control,” letting Lady Bunny and her Major Tom dancers loose in her Intergalactic Disco, and by unveiling Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain. Rondinone’s soaring forty-one-foot totem of Day-Glo-painted boulders is the tallest (and heaviest) of the works debuted last spring near Las Vegas by the Art Production Fund and the Nevada Museum of Art. The Bass commissioned this one—pretty scary for a place so vulnerable to hurricane winds and the floods of climate change. Why so high?
“I wanted it to be taller than the trees,” Rondinone said at dinner, a strangely alienating, corporate affair at Mr. Chow sponsored by the Russian-owned Phillips auction house with the Bass and (again) W magazine. The artist and his dealers (Gladstone, Schipper, Presenhuber, Sadie Coles) were ghettoed at a single table with John Giorno and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Almost everyone else got acquainted with strangers.
I thought about dropping into the Greene Naftali/Chantal Crousel dinner or another closer by, or one of the tawdry hotel parties, and wondered if there was still time for Joe’s Stone Crab, where Chuck Close, Shepard Fairey, and Sarah Arison were among the diners invited by the DC advocacy group Americans for the Arts. I was hoping they were cooking up some tactic to counter Republican defunding. Alas! Too many options too late.
The next morning began with the spirited opening of the NADA fair at the Deauville Hotel. Here was the polar opposite of the sober Miami Basel preview. Every booth was crowded—okay, they’re pretty small—and there was excitement in the air. People were buying. (Okay, prices for work by young artists are not stratospheric.)
Before catching a plane home, I stopped in on the brunch that the Public Art Fund was giving at Casa Tua for the artists PAF director Baume included in Collins Park. Rondinone was just leaving. “I feel like a voodoo doll,” he said—pricked by the demands an art-fair week can make on a person, not just an artist.
In a few days, all of this will be history lost—at least until January 20, when we might have reason to remember how it was inside the bubble before it burst.
— Linda Yablonsky