Art Basel 2010

by Madeleine Peck Wagner
This was the second year I headed down to Miami for Art Basel and all the surrounding fairs. In fact, this year, I made the executive decision to skip Basel itself. Though I went last year, and seeing all that blue chip art was amazing, this year it seemed more important to see what is happing on a more intimate scale…so to speak.
But perhaps even more than the art, it’s the entire attitude of Miami that is so energizing and exciting. It’s like there’s a subsonic vibration in the air. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this year the weather itself was perfect. Staying around a moderate/cool 70 degrees for most of the weekend, we (I traveled down with Daisy and Chris Chavers, owners of Oscar and Lula, and art collectors and artist respectively), trekked around Wynwood and the Design District, seeing everything from an Anthony Lister pop-up gallery where Jacksonville artists Chris Rosenberg and Janna Lagged were holding it down, to the Margulies Collection, where we saw the iconic, and completely creepy, L’Hospice (Superhero Nursing Home).
We also visited Rubell, and though this year’s show wasn’t as overwhelmingly steeped in recent art historical triumphs, it did illuminate the compulsion that collecting at that level must be. The primary show featured works from Jason Rubell’s personal collection. As the son of Mera and Don Rubell, Jason began collecting at thirteen, and then in 1991, curated his collection in a thesis show presented at his college, Duke University. This year’s display was a recap of that show, entitled Time Capsule, and though it featured major names in contemporary art (Haring, Clemente, and Fischle to name a few), the works certainly reflect what might be termed a “youthful,” aesthetic. That is to say lots of humor, many nods to comics and a little shock. Upstairs though in the show How Soon Now, there was lots more shock: film loops of puppets enacting x-rated versions of fairy-tales. We couldn’t look away.
Everywhere we went, and almost everyone we talked to, seemed caught up in a pervasive, celebratory energy fueling everything from taco trucks to fine dining establishments. Whether folks were teetering around in Louboutin wedges, or zipping around town on their fixies, the overwhelming attitude was one of “yes.” As in yes, go ahead and display giant pink snails all over town; yes, build an illuminated rope sculpture along a block of the oceanfront with hammock-chairs for visitors; yes, build the Rainbow City, a forty-piece environmental installation designed to offer spectators “the opportunity to connect physically and psychologically with an energetic yet ephemeral setting.” As an exercise in aesthetic absurdity and temporary installation, Rainbow was kind of glorious. People we wandering around laughing. It was art, but play too (a good metaphor for Basel itself).
Perhaps most surprisingly, we saw a mural of Bernie Perez (Oiler) a graffiti artist and tattooer who took his own life in 2009. But in the painting–possibly by Atlanta-based Daks– Bernie’s head is on a technicolor background, he’s smiling like a loon; looking like the ready-for-anything Oiler everyone remembers.
The thing about Basel, is that it’s really about seeing. Go with open eyes; things will unfold from there…