A Gourmand's Guide To Art Basel
Eating & drinking my way through Miami's art scene
I love Art Basel Miami Beach. It’s a big art fair where hundreds of galleries buy space in a convention center to showcase mostly contemporary collections, and I often describe it to those unfamiliar with it by saying it’s like walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having all the artworks be for sale. But Art Basel, which took place last Wednesday-Sunday, is also shorthand for a big-ass party that’s the most luxurious event of its kind in the U.S.
The events are spread out through Miami, and dozens of brands use the presence of the world’s major art collectors as an excuse to showcase their products, and to get all artsy in the process. Bands and DJs are flown in, extensive catering is procured, the Champagne flows. I’ve attended Art Basel for like seven out of the last eight years (ABMB celebrated its 10th anniversary last week), and people always ask me after how it was. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a rhetorical question: Art Basel’s always an amazing, mind-blowing collision of art, culture, commerce, schmoozing, drinking, eating and dreaming (mainly of being able to afford the art), and it couldn't be anything else.
I went down on short notice this year and didn’t make it down til Friday, which meant I missed a lot of serious parties, and which limited my time to the point that I missed can’t-miss stuff like Jennifer Rubell’s yogurt-inspired art breakfasts; all of the ancillary fairs like Scope, Pulse and NADA (which tend to feature more up-and-coming artists at more affordable prices than the big Art Basel fair); and several noteworthy parties. But I came, I ate, I drank and I saw some great art. Here’s my weekend in a nutshell.
Fresh off the plane, I had to stop by Locust Projects in Miami’s Design District. I’m a board member of the not for profit art space, and I had a painting I needed to pick up there, which meant that the first art I’d see would be Ruben Ochoa’s site-specific installation, “Cores and Cutouts.” The artist had cut out parts of the cement floor at Locust Projects and extended the squares skyward on beams, to mesmerizing effect. After nearly falling into one of the holes that the sculpture created, I left and visited the studio space of FriendsWithYou, the playful art collective that just keeps pumping out more incredible work. Then, I took note of the luxury brands that were using the fair as a showcase for art projects, including Cartier, Dior, and fortunately for me, Veuve Clicquot.
The Champagne maker had commandeered one of the Design District’s spaces and parking lots for its Clicq’d Up Lounge and Champagne Bar, featuring a food truck wrapped in the familiar gold from the Veuve label (not to mention the presence of several young ladies who were a sight for my jetlagged eyes). This was no ordinary food truck: Somebody at the brand had the good sense to enlist chef Jeremiah Bullfrog of gastroPod food trucks to create the menu. Soon, I was eating an insanely delicious curry pork taco while sipping on a glass of Veuve Clicquot, with the sun shining down on me. Clearly, this Basel was off to a good start.
After checking in to my hotel I headed to The Raleigh for poolside mojitos — and to find out that my friend had just given away our Art Basel VIP pass to James Murphy (he of LCD Soundsystem fame). Luckily, the rum made me forget quickly. Then, it was off to Soho Beach House to catch a DJ set by Neon Indian. It was a confusing situation, but after chatting up friends from the clothing brand Black Apple and my man Tido from Bushwick gallery Eastern District, we left the House before Neon Indian spun (at least I think).
Then it was back to the Design District for a quick drink and pop-in to one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Michael’s Genuine, and a party by clothing brand Pringle of Scotland, hosted by a very tall and stunning-looking Tilda Swinton. We threw spirits-mixing caution to the wind and sucked down cocktails featuring Kanon organic vodka — and I have to say, the vodka actually did seem organic. At least, the drinks tasted clean. Then it was party-hopping time, and after flirting with the idea of going to another Veuve Clicquot event, for the naming of the 2011 Design Miami Designer of the Year (to über-cool architect David Adjaye), which featured a surprise performance by the Scissor Sisters, we went to the adjoining Wynwood Arts District for another blowout.
A big lot had been transformed into an all-encompassing Absolut ad as envisioned by Mr. Brainwash (the guy from the Banksy documentary). I personally find Mr. Brainwash to be contemptible, a scourge on the promising world of street art, and I’m surprised that a brand with such an esteemed history in working with artists would have commissioned him, but whatever. The party featured a live performance by Twin Shadow, and free vodka! It was a blast. Plus, who did we run into but Neon Indian, whose manager offered us a ride back to South Beach. So we got our Neon Indian DJ set after all, only inside an SUV driving through Miami; he may have been the only DJ who didn’t play Jay-Z and Kanye’s ubiquitous “N----’s in Paris” over the course of the weekend. My night effectively ended there: others partied at the Shore Club and Le Baron and all over town people, were, um, goin’ gorillas. I didn’t care what that meant; I needed sleep.
After a poolside breakfast, we headed for the convention center for the actual Art Basel Miami Beach (with new VIP card procured and in hand). I decided to be on the lookout for art related to food, and while I wouldn’t say it was a trend, there were a few key pieces. (I saw on another roundup that photographer Isaac Layman’s work gained notice at Pulse, including an oversize print of frozen sausages). I particularly liked a sculpture of martini olives and a giant triptych of a cheese grater.
For those who’ve never been, Art Basel Miami Beach — it’s called that because the original fair takes place in Basel, Switzerland, not to be confused with basil the herb, as one of our twitter followers had trouble with over the weekend — is exhausting. You walk and you walk and you walk, and yet you feel like you’ve only seen a sliver of what the fair has to offer. I checked out pieces by Murakami, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Johns, Hirst and so many others, and I barely saw anything. We were growing restless. Clearly it was time to go back to the Design District, where my friend had been tipped off to a Ryan McGinley show I’d somehow missed during my two trips to the District the previous day.
McGinley’s gauzy, large-scale photographs of beautiful young nude people in natural settings were a good, easy-to-fathom fit for my mushy brain, and a few scattered pieces by the late Dash Snow and the hot artist Dan Colen made for a pretty cool show. We also saw some pieces we liked by Daniel Arsham, Aurel Schmidt and Luis Gispert at OHWOW gallery’s pop-up space. Then we passed an oddball performance piece by artist Miru Kim, who penned herself into a glass storefront with two pigs, where she cavorted naked with them for 104 hours in a piece called “I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me,” and made our way to the awesome Primary Flight gallery, whose group show had some of the best works we saw during our short stay, including works by Retna, Kenton Parker and Shelter Serra.
A day earlier, I’d rambled on to friends about that curry pork taco from the Clicq’d Up truck, and had been told by locals that I MUST try Ms. Cheezious’s grilled cheese sandwiches. Lucky for us, we spotted the truck doling out the gooey treats from its colorful set of wheels. My buddy and I ordered the recommended grilled blue and bacon (crisp bacon with creamy blue cheese and green onion on sourdough bread) and the crabby cheese melt (fresh made crab salad with sharp cheddar cheese on sourdough) and we went —as my friend so eloquently put it — halfsies. The crab sammy was tasty enough, but that grilled blue and bacon is a masterpiece of grilled cheese sandwich making. If you’re ever in Miami, hunt down Ms. Cheezious and try one.
Pre-dinner, I attended a cocktail party at the home of Miami art collectors and patrons Dan and Kathryn Mikesell, to honor San Francisco artists Andrew Schoultz and budding photographer and noted vegan Moby. Dan offered a personal tour of the couple’s stunning collection to a few of us, including Moby himself. The musician talked about how he took the advice that photographers should shoot what they alone have access to and began shooting large crowds from the stages of his gigs; the photos are featured in his art book Destroyed, released earlier this year.
I left Moby to his vegan empanadas and headed back to Soho Beach House to meet friends for dinner. The club had set up a special beachfront tent with sofas and tables, and on Saturday night they’d even cooked up a special grill menu. After my friends and I dined on delicious grilled lobster tails, steak and Mexican corn, we cabbed it across the bay to Bardot, the intimate and underground-y live music venue and club in Miami’s Midtown neighborhood (coincidentally owned by a Food Republic Ambassador). There, Holy Ghost! Headlined a DFA party and played a lively, sweaty set that probably would have been a great capper to a fun-filled 48 hours in Miami. If, that is, I didn’t head back to South Beach to hang out at the Westway party at the Red Room (an extension of the new-ish hipster strip club in NYC, Westway). There were no strippers, but I think I heard the same Rick Ross song remixed eight different ways, plus a certain song about Kanye West and Jay-Z livin’ it up in Paris. Had they been in Miami last week, they could have written a damn good sequel.