High Brow – Low Brow at Art Basel Miami Beach

December 13, 2010

One of my favorite artists, Robert Rauchenberg (American 1925-2008) wrote: “I think a painting is more like the real world if it’s made out of the real world.”

I’m a collage artist. I think a collage is like the real world. Everything can go into it. An installation is a collage. So was the event called Art Basel Miami Beach (December 2-5, 2010).

In an article titled “Art Basel-The Week Miami Becomes the Center of the Art World,” Alesh Houdek (staff writer for the Atlantic, in Miami, FL) commented:

“Painting and photography, and even more recent media such as video art, have been largely relegated to the satellite fairs. Instead, most of the work in Art Basel consists of collages, assemblages, and other work that juxtaposes handmade and found objects for aesthetic and conceptual effect.

There are over 250 galleries with booths in Art Basel proper, almost all showing a wildly disparate grouping of pieces…the effect is a torrent of seemingly random imagery and objects, except that each item is presumably made by someone with impeccable credentials and an absolute commitment to their work.

The average price of works sold at the main fair is said to be in the six digits.”

I was there. I gifted myself a trip to Florida to see Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB). It was a VISUAL COLLAGE for me, overflowing with gallery installation and high-brow museum quality art, including many actual collages, assemblage, sculpture,  large format mounted photography that looked like virtual collage – and even paintings.

Everything was wildly expensive. Most of the people who purchase art at ABMB are VIPs who arrived early, and left a day  before I arrived on Friday, Dec. 3rd.

Photo credit for the banner image above: the Atlantic, Alesh Houdek.

Here are the facts: thousands of collectors, dealers, curators and artists descend upon Florida for Art Basel Miami Beach the first week in December to see and buy art. It’s the most important art show in the United States. It’s the sister event to the Art Basel show in Switzerland, considered the most prestigious art show worldwide. The Miami show includes top international galleries, plus special exhibitions, parties and crossover events, including music, film and design.

On Friday I met two new friends – Harry and Cyndi – at the Miami Convention Center. We had been in touch by email and by phone to talk about their art collection. They came to Miami to buy a painting. I was their guide for the day. It was a lot of fun to be with them and fascinating for me to be with new collectors. We looked at art that appealed to them, and art that interested me.

The image below, shown at ABMB, is by British artist Damien Hirst. it’s titled “Butterflies. I took the photo. Hirst’s work is hot. He had several works at the show and was represented by more than one mega gallery. My photo shows another person taking a photo of “Butterflies.” It’s a collage with real dead butterflies glued to the diamond-shaped support. It’s a collage but much, much more. Hirst’s work captures our fascination with death. The butterflies were exquisite and also macabre. There was a lot of interest in the work. I didn’t check the price.

Everywhere you walked at the Convention Center you saw a Modern Master.

I saw paintings by Pablo Picasso (Spanish expatriate, 1881-1973). Picasso was considered the greatest art genius of the 20th century.

I saw many mobiles and stabiles by Alexander Calder (American 1898-1976) whose kinetic sculpture gave form to an entirely new type of art. His market must be hot, because there were Calder’s everywhere, hanging as mobiles, and planted on tables and pedestals as stabiles. Calder will have two shows in 2011. Read more at the Calder Foundation.

The photo nearby (at ABMB) was a gallery installation of works by 3 modern masters: a diptypch – 2 geometric paintings side by side by Frank Stella, a hanging, primary color mobile by Alexander Calder, and a blue wall construction by Donald Judd – all major museum quality works. I was so happy to see them – especially happy to see the Donald Judd painted blue! I took the photo.

Frank Stella (American b. 1936) is recognized for his paintings, prints and wall hung works. He was one of a group of artists who revolutionized painting in protest against Abstract Expressionist art of the 1950s and 1960s.  Hear Stella’s comment on his work in a youtube video, which includes images like the geometric painting seen nearby.

The painted wall constructions by Donald Judd (American 1928-1994) revolutionized modern sculpture – he declined to call his work sculpture. There’s a lot of information on his philosophy at the Judd Foundation which is located in Marfa, TX. His concept is minimalism. Materiality was central to his work.

By about 2:30 pm, Harry and Cyndi and I departed Art Basel, ate a very late lunch at a hotel restaurant on nearby Collins Avenue, walked to INK, a wonderful small satellite location for works on paper (one of my favorites), and headed by taxi to midtown Miami to see paintings at Art Miami, a 100,000 square foot pavilion with 100 international art galleries that is a main anchor fair.

Art Miami seemed as huge as Art Basel at the Convention Center. We walked and talked and looked for the next 4 hours. Weary, and feet aching, we went our separate ways, prepared to do the art marathon the following day.

The next day, we met again at Art Miami. I was there to get the name of the artist – Heiner Meyer – who did the standing nickel-plated bronze Mickey Mouse titled “GroBe Mickey” (seen nearby). I took the photo on Friday, but didn’t have the artist’s name or title of the work. It’s an edition of 3, sized 55x28x28 inches, and priced at US $81,200. Where is Disney? I always tell my collage students: Don’t even attempt to do Mickey. Remember copyright infringement! This Mickey has his arms upraised in triumpth. He’s also very friendly. But he is definitely Mickey Mouse.

I also returned to Art Miami because I wanted to look again at a photo silkscreen on mirror  by Robert Rauchenberg (American 1925-2008). Rauschenberg proved that art can be anything and everything. What makes Rauchenberg so universally popular, and so important in contemporary art, is that he designed his works to incorporate the viewer as an active participant in the work.

I didn’t take a picture of the Rauchenberg, because the photo would have included me. I was looking at a mirror with silkscreened images.

Did you see the show of “Combines” by Rauchenberg at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, NY in 2006? The Combines and paintings include throwaways he found on the streets in NYC near his studio, plus newspaper clippings, fabric, clothing, bedding (a mattress!), his own ties and the cuffs from his own shirts.

If you don’t own the “Combines” exhibition catalog, you can get it from the bookstore at the Metropolitan Museum.

And now – What about the stuff called Low Brow at Art Basel Miami Beach? There was lots of it (not at the Convention Center or at Art Miami), but I didn’t see too much. And what I did see, I didn’t like at all.

None of the trashy, funky, alternative art was done by anyone as hugely talented as Robert Rauchenberg who transformed junk into high art because he had vision.

See images and a good summary of the funky arty scene written at Hyperallergic, a forum “for serious, playful and radical thinking about art in the world today.” The image nearby is titled UP WITH MURAL, a project of the SCOPE Foundation (photo credit: Hyperallergic).

Next year in Miami, I plan to visit Pulse, SEVEN, Nada (New Art Dealer’s Association) and more. This year I saw the Red Dot fair. It was terrible. I went there because it’s across the street from Art Miami. I didn’t bother to walk into Scope, another pavilion near Art Miami. At the entry, the work looked as trashy and disorganized as Red Dot. Too bad. I don’t really want to be so down on the art.

I’ve emailed Harry since I’m home. My  friends bought a print and found the painting they want to own. I know the gallery that represents the artist. I introduced them to the gallery owner at the show.

Please comment below. I’d love to hear your opinions about the high brow-low brow art world divide and about the artists and works mentioned here. Does it interest you?

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2 Responses to “High Brow – Low Brow at Art Basel Miami Beach”

  1. Elaine Forrest Says:

    Nancy, I enjoyed your blog on Art Basil Miami. It was a fair and honest description of what’s going on in the art world. Almost like being there myself!! Thanks, Elaine

    • nikkal Says:

      Elaine, Thanks. I’m glad you felt like you were there. Here’s a link to Joanne Mattera’s blogs about ABMB: http://joannemattera.blogspot.com/ to see many,many images at the Convention Center and the satellite fairs. She said she took and edited 500 pictures! It will give you a lot to look at. Enjoy.


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