Maria Jose Arjona at Pulse Miami 2009
Pearl Albino had what she calls her “Art Fair Anxiety dream” midway through Art Basel Miami. “I dreamed we had a very large installation to sell at an art fair,” says Albino, a New Yorker, who works with Amsterdam’s Torch Gallery.
Torch was at the Art Basel satellite fair, Pulse. But that wasn’t the fair in her dream. “It wasn’t any particular art fair. It was a dream art fair. We uncrated the installation and there was a homeless man inside. He didn’t say anything. He was very placid. He was ready to do whatever we said.”
Dream Pearl had to choose whether to return the man to the streets or make him part of the art. She went with the second. “And in my dream I posted it on Facebook,” she says. Thus she both gave the homeless man a home and made the installation more interesting. “So it wasn’t pure. It was impure,” she says.
The Pure and the Impure were both emphatically on-site in Miami, with the Pure being the art on the walls or floor, while the Impure might include some of those surging around that art, to say nothing of the traffic pile-up of parties. And these were not run-of-the-mill promo parties but inventively planned, interestingly attended events – the Aby Rosen, Alberto Mugrabi, Peter Brant wowzer at W, the David LaChapelle/Daphne Guinness extravaganza at the Raleigh – that in any other major urb would have had people primping for weeks before and analyzing long after.
Every night would see three, four, five such, with dozens upon dozens of smaller, occasionally significant events so that it was easy to go into overload – as when I arrived at the Gansevoort for the opening party for Pulse, looked around and intuited that I was too late. “Right now it’s Danger DJ and the Overthrow Crew. Isn’t that awesome?” said a disco babe. “That’s real art! Stay and enjoy!” I thought I detected a note of irony here.
Pulse was one of the nineteen satellite fairs orbiting the main event. They included Art Miami, Scope, NADA, the Red Dot Art Fair, It Ain’t Fair, Ink, the Underground Art Fair and Pool, to say nothing of shows slung together in boutiques, frame shops and buildings like Phillipe Starck’s Viceroy on Brickell. Almost all were exercises in embarrassment. There was some okay art at Pool, for instance, but I and a couple of fellow travellers were the only outsiders when we went to the opening and there were VIP passes for Red Dot available for all on the front desk. At one space, according to the Miami Herald, the works were so dire that many had been turned to face the wall before the opening party.
That said, trawling the better piggybacks was worthwhile. The main event was where to go to see good art and some great art, but there were few surprises and you never felt you were wading a river of fresh information. That you got elsewhere, noticing, for instance, that the unfinished throwaway look, until recently a dominant visual lingo, wasn’t much to be seen. The work at Scope was heavily into craft. Stainless steel seemed ubiquitous, whether as gloops like fully melted Dali watches by Danny Lee at the Hong Kong gallery, Grotto; Liao Yibai’s The Ring and a Fake Bag at New York’s Mike Weiss Gallery or Lirio Salvador’s three stainless steel guitars made from store-bought tools that were on the stand of a Manila gallery, The Drawing Room.
“There was a period in the 90s when people pushed a button and said look what I made!” said the Manhattan gallerist Christopher Henry. “There’s a reaction against that. I don’t want to show work that my collectors think they can make themselves.” He was showing work by William Anthony. “They are almost too sophisticated for this fair,” he said.
Something more interesting – and along the same lines – was going on at the Viceroy, Pulse and NADA, which is the New Art Dealers Alliance. Performance would be the umbrella term. Danny Baskin, a New Orleans artist, was at Pulse. He was making a firework piece by applying a flame to each of a heap of rockets, dropping them one by one into the aperture on a box, and covering it with his hand. Smoke would puff out but nothing could be heard. “I’m taking away the use of them. I’m exploding them. But I’m exploding them inside a sound-proof, see-proof box,” he said.
Maria Jose Arjona, a Colombian artist, was also at Pulse. A young woman who looked at once delicate and strong, a ballerina look, she stood on nine wine glasses, not particularly strong ones either, for six hours. Within each glass was a live fish in water. “The whole idea is to have perfect balance. And to preserve life,” she said. And not cut her feet to ribbons.
She also stood on a block of ice in which nails were dangerously embedded. And did writing pieces. “You write your name for an hour without stopping. Or you write YES,” she said.
Arjona is one of 35 performers who will be working with Marina Abramovic during her retrospective at MOMA in March. “I’m going to re-enact some of her pieces,” she said. She is both aware and wary of the rising interest in performance art. “There’s a very fine line. All of a sudden it’s being theatre, it’s being rock. But it is not entertainment,” she says.
The curator Nathalie Kovacs was putting together Dance Loves Art, a group performance on a stretch of beach behind the Mondrian, the Shore Club and the Delano. “The levels of shit you have to go through to do a public artwork,” she said. “I’m hoping to have 5,000 people on the beach. The dance community here is the coolest ever.” In the end, about four hundred participants gathered on the beach to create a peace sign.
But these were performance pieces in the ordinary usage of the term. At the Viceroy, Ethan Cohen, the Manhattan gallerist, was showing Ushio Shinohara’s Double Action Boxing Painting (orange). A Japanese artist, now in his late 70s and living in New York, Shinohara had begun by emulating Jackson Pollock and Action Painting.
In 1960 he made Boxing Painting, punching a long panel of paper, his fists swaddled with his turn-up T-shirt drenched with black Sumi ink, until exhausted. This and subsequent work caused him to be derided by American critics as a Jackson-wanna-be but now, forty-five years later, he, and Yves Klein, for his female paintbrush pieces, are being positioned as progenitors of the increasing number of artists today who make work in the course of performances, like John Bock and Jonathan Meese.
Cohen pointed at work by another artist in his space, Jon Kessler, and said, “These are performative works on paper.”
Would he have described the work in just those terms a few years ago?
“No!” he said. “It’s new … it’s new … it’s new.”