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.