The art world is a jungle, yes, but a growth of plants which are sensitive to every breeze.
The days at Art Basel Miami Beach this year were same old, same old, a toiling through traffic to access the world’s largest cat’s cradle of art fairs, but not so the nights.
Art Basel nights became famous for swell events, subsidized by retail heavy hitters, made fabulous by boldface names, and which find ways to remind fun-seekers that they are actually at an art fair—like the Miley Cyrus 2014 event at the Raleigh Hotel which was presented by the dealer/impresario Jeffrey Deitch, with an assist from Tommy Hilfiger, and at which the singer showed her “psycho-psychedelic craft sculptures.”
She told a reporter that, “This year has challenged me and that’s why I started doing art,” and performed in a Warholesque silver wig with Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips.
There were a few similar treats on the menu this year, such as Duran Duran performing at the Faena Hotel, and also such monumental offerings as Damien Hirst’s Gone But Not Forgotten, the gilded skeleton of a woolly mammoth in a vitrine at the same locale.
But these are times when strategic information sharing and a focus of some sort seem more important than mega-branding, and this shift in sensibility was much in evidence at Art Basel. “There was a bit of a correction. It’s less insane,” said Omar Hernandez, who runs a private dining-club in Manhattan, and who has been doing annual pop-ups at Art Basel Miami. “It was more intimate… dinners in homes…”
The sharper focus was clear at Hernandez’s pop-up this year, a dinner to welcome Art in America’s new editor, Will Smith, at Employees Only, the Miami branch of an under-the-radar club chain, which he co-hosted with Granville Smith, an old Studio 54 hand, who runs the place.
This dinner was not a casually thrown together affair.
I was seated next to the activist artist, Edgar Heap of Birds, with an excellent view of such fellow diners as Laura Eastwood, Alex Assouline of the art publishing house, Lady Liliana Cavendish, Billy Gilroy of Lucky Strike, model agency owner Marilyn Gauthier, the Formula 1 racer Jeff Gordon, and Art in America’s publisher Victoria Hopper, widow of Dennis Hopper, one of the rare actors in his generation to be interested in pictures other than those on-screen.
“I’m fascinated by impermanence. This is a curatorial and collaborative experience in times of impermanence,” Hernandez told me intensely. “A time when nothing last longer than the swipe on your phone. And the art world is suffering from this in the worst way.”
There were other dos all over Miami. One was at Manolis Projects, a new enterprise occupying a sizable purist space at the edge of Little Haiti.
It celebrated a show of the abstractions of Steven Manolis, a successful businessman morphed into a remarkable painter, along with a group show which includes Alex Vignolis, whose photographs of the sleekly baroque pages of opened books reference a leitmotif in this year’s Art Basel, an apprehensive look at the cultural affects of creeping tech and the internet (Disclosure: I have some cartoons up at Manolis).
There was a riotous do for Todd Monaghan’s hang of paintings at the SLS Hotel, and a dark delirious after-party for NADA at the Glade Hotel opposite, but as a party/party there was nothing to touch the raw ambitiousness of Carsten Holler’s nightclub/living artwork, the Double Club, which raged for three days in the Ice Palace, a 1920s film studio.
The Belgian Holler makes social art, but it isn’t art that just sits there, hoping for attention, it’s art that the public wades into eagerly of its own accord.
So it was with the five large slides he installed in the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern in 2006. And so it was with his first version of the Double Club he installed two years later in a venerable Victorian warehouse behind a North London subway, which was where and when I first interviewed him.
That had a disco floor and both a restaurant and a bar area, mingling Congolese and Soviet Futurist themes, while managing to reference the fact that reindeer in the Russian Arctic sometimes grazed on hallucinogenic plants before peeing in the snow, and some see here the origins of the Santa Claus legend.
For Holler, the notion that club-goers can be human artworks, the Club Kid model, doesn’t approach what he is trying to do.
“I like the idea that people from different cultural backgrounds are coming together in a space where they can have an approach to what is there but from their own side,” he says.
“They don’t need to go through me, I’m not important, they don’t have to understand the artist in order to approach the work. If you’re a child you just want to go down the slide. If you’re a party person, you just want to go to a good party. And so on. Where all these different people would mix and some people had no idea there was any art connection.”
The London Double Club had been high jinks but fairly low key. That was then though. The London doubleness of the club had been a Congo/Soviet USSR divide. In Miami it was between a black-and-white section and an illuminated section, which was to include reggae.
But by the time I got there on the third and last day the bold-face club names—Wyclef Jean, Ricky Martin, Rita Ora—had been and gone, but the mayhem remained. The first segment, the black, white and grey, with a disco, pulsating, except for a giant disco ball, wholly immobile on the floor, with light sabers slicing down a monochrome grey crowd.
By the time I fought my way through to the brilliant section it had become a no-go zone and a toneless voice was informing us that it had closed down by the fire marshals.
Holler was philosophical about the difference between Miami and London.
“It has changed because the power of social media hasn’t been there before,” he said. “In London we announced the club but not too much. It was a story, a rumor. But this time we announced the event through social media. And it works. We opened at 10:30 and we arrived 15 minutes before and the queues were already around the block.”
Mostly he embraces these changes, as they bring an the immense growth of his potential audience.
“It becomes interesting for me when it’s not like before the ’60s when only a few specialists were interested. Now there are many different groups… people who have children… people who have no idea about art, and people who know a lot about art, can be at the same time in the same place, and experience the same art or exhibition in very different ways.
“My shows, are conscious of the fact that there will be many people coming. People are part of what you see. That is why I like to do social experiments, like here. The people who are there, who are sliding down the slides, who are in the club, are my main focus of interest. But I am not expecting some kind if an emotional state. I like to see the experience that they have.”