Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Art of Basel Promotion

Recently, Pope Francis discussed, “the idolatry of money” as well as “trickle-down economics.” He wrote that this philosophy, “expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power." Immediately, kind, thoughtful souls like Rush Limbaugh responded sympathetically, bravely and lovingly accusing the Pope of Marxism.

This is an art column, not about political one, or should I say manifesto. I do not wish to get in the middle of a dispute between Francis and a talking mule, but considering the recent Art Basel revelries, the issue merits mention.

This year, Art Basel careened wildly from full blown artistic event to full blown artistic opportunism. Whether this is due to Pope Francis’ previously mentioned worship of the almighty Benjamin and those forces in the art sphere hoping for some trickle down or simply old fashioned human ingenuity, I will leave this for you to decide. However, there are some signs that perhaps his holiness spent the first weekend of December thinking about conspicuous Miami clubbing and shows opening while attaching himself to the events that were being spread like salt on snow in a northern winter.

Even a lowly brother like me got invited to about a hundred events this year, many of them marginally related to the pursuit of quality in the Arts. People I have never heard of and who yielded few results in a Google search invited me to exhibits I have never heard of where the proceeds were earmarked to a cause I have never heard of benefiting a project I have never heard of all underwritten by a vodka that I had heard of – Grey Goose. Then – a magazine that I had never heard of invited me to a play I had had never heard of written by an author I had never heard of starring four ex-NBA players long since forgotten that few have ever heard of being held at the Colony Theater on the Beach. Another offered admission to the most esteemed Italian furniture designers I have never heard of building strong relationships with suppliers that I have never heard of who show them in showrooms I have never heard of hosted by two guys with cool Italian names that I had never heard of. Forgive my piling on to the hyperbole, but never in the history of humankind has the word legendary been so shamelessly used, abused, and misused. I could go on to the pop-up this and its partnership with the development group that and its beneficiary this or that. Pope Francis – I’m feeling you!

Despite my consternation, and make no mistake - as a proud elitist, sharing this event with hungry and desperate, philistine promoters pains me - a select core of Art Basel remains unbroken. Pulse retains all of its legitimate style in the city’s most tasteful venue – the Ice Palace. Art Miami and CONTEXT get it right. Miami Project’s Max Fishco and Jeffrey Wainhause keep it spacious and do not overwhelm.  Scope, despite its collaboration with VH1 and gasp – Red Bull, continues to showcase fine work. NADA deserves credit for being an incubator for new art and its non-profit status.

All of which takes us back to Pope Francis and Rush. If Mr. Limbaugh were to come to Miami, he would find a city thriving and profiting off the original paint fumes emanating from the Convention Center on the Beach. He would extol the virtues of all the money generating opportunities which have sprouted in the last few years. He might even partake of a few free hors d’oeuvres, hang out in a cheap cigar lounge, and enjoy Boy George spinning his favorites. He would praise the snake oil sales folks peddling tees, smile at all the hustling entrepreneurs, and beam at the Derek Zoolander wannabes needing to be seen and passing out cards. He might even prepare an exhibit and preview it during Basel 2014: Francis and Jesus: Marxists.

The Pope would see the same things differently; rents rising, suffering artists having to move, Wal-Mart expanding into Midtown paying low part time wages, and venture capitalists swarming over Art Basel like vultures.










Saturday, November 23, 2013

Art Basel Changes

Sometime before or after 2005, my friend and local artist Teo Castellanos, told me about some big, strange tent with some art that had been set up in Wynwood in Roberto Clemente Park. So we went. The neighborhood felt a bit dodgy to an outsider, but after having parked and prayed, we checked the festivities out. If memory serves me, there was a shuttle running down NW 2nd Avenue  and a pop-up something or other on Miami Avenue somewhere. That was about it for what was to massively explode over the course of the next decade. Here were the humble beginnings as witnessed by the common local art buff. Things change.

These days, to write about Art Basel, as it morphs, contorts, mutates, and changes becomes harder. Some repeat the joke: no one goes anymore; it’s too crowded.
What is what has become more elusive; on the other hand, information about what is what and where it is, is bounteous. For the window shopper, Art Basel has never been more accessible. Yet for the critic, the fact that copious amounts of art are at your fingertips, may be more daunting than comforting. The sheer volume commodifies the Arts, turning rare, exceptional pieces into something more common, and laymen can barely tell the difference between them. It all becomes a bit like shopping for cereal, just not at any common Publix. We get deceived because it is art, yet option paralysis remains. We know that we are amongst creative impulses, but it overwhelms.

It seems that Miami Beach will be home for 8 events in 2013; Miami itself will host nine. In addition, there will be hundreds -- this is no exaggeration -- of peripheral activities. Art Centers, exhibits, galleries, walls, film, video, concerts, shows, meals, etc. No one will be able to navigate it all effectively. Like the banks, Art Basel is now too big too fail. Forgive me for what I’m about to suggest, but Art Basel is now a different, good massive thing. There’s money to be made out there y’all.

Big change #1 concerns the opening of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, aka PAMM (oy veh), aka South Florida’s premier waterfront event space, according to its own publicity materials. Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, they of the splendid 1111 Lincoln Road Parking Garage, it is located fancily in what has now been officially called downtown Miami’s Museum Park. All jokes aside, the grand opening will occur during Art Basel week with free admission and Chinese artist/sculptor/curator/photographer/critic/provocateur Ai Weiwei.

Big change #2 involves the move by Scope from Midtown to the soft white sands off of tacky Ocean Drive. Instead of a break at Sakaya Kitchen or Angelina’s Coffee & Juice, lucky tourists can now enjoy an exorbitantly priced mango mojito during a trashy respite at the Clevelander. This is how time moves on; Scope, perennially one of the finest satellite events, moves upscale like the Bal Harbor shops move to the Design District, simultaneously improving and destroying something, a hole in one and crater sized divot.

Big change #3 and Disappointment #1 is the Basel’s version of Where’s Waldo? Art Asia, after five years and a cult following, seems to have disappeared, left at Scope’s altar in favor of VH1. Goodbye zen; hello Miley. The internet, arguably the world’s most reliably unreliable source of all knowledge, seems to have been unable to shed any light on what has happened, but unless you have tickets booked to Hong Kong, Art Asia seems to have gone the belly up, Bridge On the River Kwai, sayonara route -- blown up and part of the artistic remains of the past.

Once upon a time in Miami -- 2002 to be precise, Art Basel began. Just for kicks research some of the primary resources from back then and read about its modest genesis. Walter Robinson, editor of the first online magazine artnet, wrote this: “ Miami is always good for Latin American material.” Contrast that naïveté with this: the economic stimulus from Art Basel to Miami is expected to be more than $500 million. Big change #4!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Art Basel 101

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines. What you are about to see may disturb you. And now for something completely different, your moment of zen is about to begin. Let’s get this party started quickly. It takes two to make a thing go right. Art Basel is upon us, and here are some straight up tips for those of you joining the throngs and in need of some confidence.

Info 101: Art Basel is to an art show like Ridley Scott’s Alien is to an octopus. The mothership itself is the Miami Beach Convention Center, where 250 or so galleries entertain 50,000 visitors. The rest of the tentacles spread far and wide: there are about twenty satellite fairs, and a thousand, for lack of a better word, parasites. These include parties, meals, concerts, readings, and getties -- many of which simply feed of the host.

Clothing Tips: Black is the new black. If you want to be noticed at Art Basel, good luck. Everybody from all over the world will be wearing their coolest things; only the most secure of us will ignore the fashion sirens. During this week, we are all artists. Accessorize wisely and think, “I don’t always visit galleries, but when I do, I prefer to dress sharply.” Boots -- mandatory. Square shades! Raybans. Lock all your sports gear up at home unless it is something like a vintage Muhammad Ali tee. Chill on the high heels. Tattoos and porkpies are 2010. This is not the car show or boat show.

Swag Tips: Act like you’ve been there. Big camera, not small. Sport the Afghani Taliban/relief pitcher/House of David beard. Men - button up your shirt if you are not wearing a tee underneath. No faded denim, and god forbid -- no holes. Ethnicity is worshipped. European types -- think Scandinavia, thick rimmed glasses and if it’s cool -- wear a scarf. Gold chains no. Gold teeth okay.  Deep facial plastic surgery? Since you may be the frequent buyers, of course, you are not only welcome, but to some degree, running the show. This is not the car show, boat show, or Super Bowl, though a bit like courtside at a Heat game these days.

Parking tip: Take a bike or pray.

Miami Rookie Destination Tips: Like American Werewolf in Miami -- Stick to the main road: Art Miami and its neighbors; the Design District; Wynwood Walls.
Miami Cognoscenti Destination Tips: Pulse, Context, Perez Art Museum Miami, and of course, venerable Art Miami.

Beach Novice Tips: Follow the leaders.

Beach Doyen Tips: 
Design Miami brings legit, heavyweight cache. 
NADA and Scope always keep it real. 1111 Lincoln Road, colette, and Alchemist.

Jury is Still Out Events: Brazil ArtFair, Tapas in the Moore Building

Food Tips for the Wealthy Stylish: Not necessary.

Food Tips for the Working Stylish: La Sandwicherie, Club Deuce, Panther, Salsa Fiesta, Buena Vista Deli, La Latina, Lagniappe, and a nondescript Peruvian, Jamaican, Haitian, or Cuban place with a coffee window as far from Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road, or Midtown as possible. Calle Ocho still mostly manages to keep it real.

Closing Thoughts: If you plan on going away for the week, rent your place with AirBnB. Hotels are full and prices astronomical. Otherwise, plan ahead, join hands, and get on the love train.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Books & Books

Even if you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover, how about a bookstore?

Quiet as it is not kept, the book, long revered and worshipped by intellects of all shapes and sizes, is said to be on its last legs. Our old, beloved US1 Borders has been demolished, to be replaced any day now by Trader Joe’s. As excited as I am to soon be reading the labels on the bottles of Three Buck Chuck, Borders had more educational potential (though I hope the former manager of that Borders will work at Trader Joe’s because he was so outstanding.) However, when it comes to the death of the bookstore, try telling this to Books & Books.

Cavernous Barnes & Noble still commands the corner of Red and SW 72nd St, along with the AMC 24, propping up a Sunset Place that often seems forlorn. They also have West Kendall locked up, along with a Miracle Mile location which hangs tough despite staggering to stay afloat. As Michael Jackson sang, “Do You Remember the Time” when we loved hanging out at these places? Bookstores with coffee shops seemed as ubiquitous then as coffee shops without bookstores are now. Other pummeled sad sacks, daily newspapers, ironically wrote epitaphs for the book alongside their own obituaries. Amazon, with nearly a quarter of all book sales, seemed to be like Mike Tyson, with referees performing a 10 count on Borders, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Crown Books, all long gone since being knocked flat. It would seem that the book business is just down for the count -- finished -- defeated -- vanquished -- conquered -- kaput

However, like a sleeping giant, a lion hiding in the bushes, Casey at the Bat, or David going up against Goliath, the treasured independent bookstore in Miami is a monster called Books & Books, and we are supremely blessed to have it in our midst.

Aside from the business itself, all of Mitchell Kaplan’s locations ooze class, percolate with vitality, and provide everyone with an atmosphere that is hard to top by any definition. Books & Books have local stores in Coral Gables, Lincoln Road, and Bal Harbour, a kiosk at refurbished MIA, at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art on Las Olas, one in Grand Cayman, and one in Westhampton Beach. Things are always throbbing there -- events, parties, reading groups, signings, etc. Local favorites like Edwidge Danticat hang out there. I heard Jamaica Kincaid say, “I loathe the Queen,” there. Cee Lo Green is coming to Coral Gables. Salman Rushdie is coming to Miami Dade College; Mitch also hosts the Miami International Book Fair which he co-founded. Basically, If one can write, Books & Books will present them.

If it were only the long lists of splendid authors, Books & Books would command respect. Most locations sport fashion-forward cafes, and the flagship Gables spot a Mediterranean style courtyard where a bar is centered, bands play, and good vibes reign. It is said that the book is in trouble; maybe, but the bookstore is in fine shape.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

MIA: You Look Marvelous Part 1

In the old Saturday Night Live routine, Billy Crystal would say, “It’s not how you feel; it’s how you look.” Somehow this popped into my unbalanced mind as I wandered to, about, and through Miami International Airport earlier this summer on my way to a variety of clandestine destinations I would rather not disclose unless you are a Facebook friend of mine or intend to read this article till the end. In any case, I bring good news today, and it concerns the reformation of what was once the frighteningly ugly eyesore located smack dab in the middle of Dade County which once upon a time was the first introduction to our city and some massive terror involved with renting a car for tourists.

As the Dalai Lama says, “ Things change,” and some proof can be found these days at the airport. There is ongoing evidence of this as one sees construction by 826 and 836, but none as profound as the brilliantly named -- this is sarcasm lest we forget -- Miami Intermodal Center, the 2 billion dollar ground transportation hub with the 10 cent name. Come on man! Where is a solid Jorge M. Perez naming controversy when you need it? How about the Ozzie Guillen Center, he a managerial symbol of quickly coming then going?

I rode the Metrorail to the Intermodal Center(MIC) in the Miami Central Station (MCS) which houses the Rental Car Center (RCC). While the naming might be amateurish; the buildings are not. The Metrorail itself  was as shoddy as ever, but mostly clean, and mostly on time. These days there are intervals of 15 minutes at most even on the weekends, and the ride to the airport on the Orange Line from Dadeland South is as quick as a car -- in rush hour quicker. At around $2, it is a bargain if you don’t need a cab to take you to the stations. As we are unfortunately accustomed to, a few stations had broken escalators and others broken elevators, but at Dadeland, we were lucky. The airport station is another story, the crown jewel so to speak,a veritable love story.

I read some history at Critical Miami, followed the politics at TransitMiami, and flashed my EasyCard for the ride. Despite the colorful announcements -- “This train are going to the airport,” -- obviously language lessons for those delivering information on public transportation is a casualty of the sequestration -- getting off the Metrorail at the airport was revelatory. Riders who begin on the busway might feel like they have encountered Dr. Brown’s flux capacitor in Back to the Future as they enter a 1970’s bus, transfer to a 1990’s train, and disembark in 2020 glory. It’s that good -- and that beautiful.

A short ride later, one is in the airport taking off shoes and throwing away water bottles before entering similarly modernized terminals with clean lines, cool design, and abundant places to sit and relax in a number of the terminals. Contrast this with the airport experience in 1995. for those who still prefer Ft. Lauderdale, I say, “Have you lost your mind?”

Some of my mirth was mitigated by subsequently  visiting Changi Airport in Singapore with its sleeping lounges, sliding boards, butterfly garden, shopping mall, and free foot massage machines. Some was also mitigated by the magnificence of the structure and service in Incheon in Seoul and the food court/observation deck in Tokyo Narita. However, it is clear that those who now visit Miami are greeted by an experience we can be proud of and one that visitors will not cringe at, like they do at JFK, LaGuardia, or LAX. In fact, it is one we should be proud of.

Art in Miami has changed over the years, and nowhere more than at the airport. So today, it’s not how you feel; it’s how you look, and MIA -- you look marvelous.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Miami: Best and Worst in Sports: Let's Go Heat Report Card

Getting towards June, the slow season begins to reveal its soggy spectacle. The barometer swings like a pendulum, skies snap, crackle, and pop, and the mercury rises till it blasts out of thermometers. Dogs lie listlessly, lawnistas get that pep in their step, and the resplendent poinciana preside throught the zone 11 region. By the middle of May -- what’s left? Well, hopefully -- the Heat are nearing another crown, the Marlins have two or three seats filled, the Dolphins are getting ready to tantalize its fickle fan base, and the Canes are hoping that everything ends up golden.

The Heat are Miami’s best, classiest, and most fashionable. Aside from the gruesome linoleum rose, Versace thing somebody talked him into wearing after the Heat put a 37 point whupping on the Bulls and those skimpy Capris, Dwyane Wade continues to dazzle everyone with both Euro steps and ensembles. His brother LeBron brings the edgy eyewear and sartorial system to an All-Star altitude on par with his game -- strictly big, big time. Chris Bosh rocked a lavender Cardigan like an 8 foot rim, and Chris Andersen’s, mini-Birdman imitators inspire -- I don’t know what to call what parents are doing to kids dressed like him. Even Coach Erik Spoelstra in his basic blacks and grays does a service to our collective, South Florida self-image. If you consider all of this and then factor in those old Floridian throwback jerseys and Pat Riley’s haircut circa 1985, what you have here now is a perfect storm of tropical excellence. Grade: A++
The Marlins, unfortunately, continue to punish us with their futility on the field and in the white elephant to which we all foolishly contributed. Far be it for me to cast aspersions on the young men chewing tobacco and spitting on the grass in that gigantic Smurf-like coliseum which rose in the ashes of the Orange Bowl, but one can spare the stadium designers no such slack. Forget the cost, the aesthetic was simply the grandest swing and a miss of all time. Given the beauty of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, also known as the ballpark which forever changed the look of baseball, San Francisco’s waterfront AT&T Park, and all the other glorious, retro creations throughout the fruited plains, ours resembles some crass blue fruit cocktail imagined by a third-grader in love with Chuck E Cheese. It’s also the coldest place in Miami next to the beer aisle in Winn Dixie. Owner Jeffrey Loria miraculously managed to get everything wrong, and when he attends a game in person as he almost never does, the cavernous stadium is so empty that there is no one there to even boo him. Grade: F-

Before they get cooking in the official preseason, the Dolphins host what they call interactive football experiences for boys and cheer camps for girls in June with tasteful giveaways like Under Armour jerseys and pom poms both certain to find their way to thrift shops, yard sales, and landfills within a few short months. Here in South Dade, the good news is that the Dolphins are in North Dade. Grade: C

Last but not least, the University of Miami will offer young prospects the opportunity to get maximum exposure at the same venue as the Canes. As he enters his third season as the leader of the U’s football fortunes, Coach Al Golden spotless rep and striped rep ties will be the rudder for the formerly colorful but oft punished gridiron heroes at the Al Golden Football Camp. While all of us wish the Canes the best of luck, you can be sure that our fans, the worst in the ACC, will be two losses away from jettisoning Coach Al without a golden parachute. Grade: I

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Lincolns or Two Roads Diverged on Miami Beach

Far from the knockoff Downtown Abbeys located off the banks of Ludlum Road in our beloved Pinecrest lie the maddening crowds on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. All of us, at one time or another feel compelled to make the journey to the beach, and especially if we have relatives in tow, inevitably, we exercise an obligation to pop in on the pedestrian mall between and parallel to 16th and 17th Streets. 

There was a time when Lincoln Road was in its heydey with Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Burdine’s. Then there was a time when Lincoln Road was in decline, a strip only Scarface could love. Then, it began to rebound in the late 90’s. Now ... it’s hard to tell what’s going on there. Dylan’s Candy Bar, H &M, and Taschen have outposts. So do GNC, Bikini Village, and Payless. Draw your own conclusions.

There is, I suppose, looking at the bright side, something for everyone there. Old timers still ride their cruisers with parrots or Speedos on. Locals roller skate by. Folks that resemble the cruise boat crowd that frequent Bayside are in evidence. You hear Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Chinese, and Hebrew routinely. Tomato-faced English loiter on Lincoln, walking like Frankensteins to keep the sunburn from chafing too painfully. Shirts unbuttoned to the pupik broadcast hairy chests and gold rope chains as if Donna Summer and the Bee Gees are still in concert. The Rolex still lives on Lincoln Road. LAst but not least, every failed plastic surgery victim seems to teeter totter by sooner or later, everything stretched and protruding. Forgive me, but it is not as uplifting for us as it is for you. 

New World Symphony has relocated to new digs. Ghirardelli is gone. So is almost all the sophistication which Carl Fisher envisioned when he created Lincoln Road as Miami Beach’s version of Beverly Hils’ Rodeo Drive. In its place is a gallimaufry of people, places, and things. A hodgepodge. A confused mess. Don’t get me completely wrong. It’s still enjoyable at times, especially if you hail from Wilmington North Carolina, Huntsville Alabama, Youngstown Ohio, or Topeka Kansas. Around the perimeter of Lincoln Road, you see these folks in hundreds of red rented Mustang convertibles circling the area, radios blaring, teenagers occasionally standing and screaming. Forgive them -- they know not what they do. It’s worse when they are walking, but better when they sit in the bad restaurants seducing them nearer Washington Avenue. There is some quality remaining on the eastern reaches of Lincoln, but not much. Paul Bakery, straight out of Paris, still has a good product. Rosinella received praise, most ending a decade ago. Nearly all are despised by any local clientele.

On the western side of Lincoln Road, Alton Road side of Lincoln Road, there is hope. The designer parking garage is a marvel; Juvia drains only the best of credit cards from its gorgeous penthouse. (Check out its website, and I guarantee it will give Gone in 60 Seconds new meaning thanks to an insufferable soundtrack.) Alchemist on floor five in the garage will stop you in your tracks, but you will need the fattest stacks to buy anything there. Picasso prices! The Nespresso store below is like Crayola for adults. Nearby Banana Republic is housed in a gorgeous old bank.  Base USA succeeds. Books & Books always dignifies itself. The Frieze, a few steps off Lincoln on Michigan is sublime. Juicy Couture, Victoria’s Secret, Mac, and Kiehl’s trump the cosmetic appeal than those Perfumania and CVS, both closer to Washington and Collins. At its worst near Collins, Lincoln Road is the new Ocean Drive.

All said, the further west you go, Lincoln Road becomes the road less traveled, and if you stay at that end, it will make all the difference.