Art & Design

This Is the End: A Real-Time Recap of Art Basel Day 4

Art & Design

This Is the End: A Real-Time Recap of Art Basel Day 4


8:48 a.m. Morning, azure blur. My feet all-over blistered. From the balcony of a cheap chain hotel in downtown Miami I can see tennis courts on the roof next door, and a bridge.

11:58 a.m. The Rubell Family Collection, one of the largest private stockpiles of contemporary art in America and most-visited exhibits during Art Basel Miami Beach, is conveniently located near Sir Pizza. I get a personal-size margarita and eat it all at a long stoplight. No pizza in New York ever tasted so right.

12:04 a.m. So I am walking and thinking and here is my thing with painting, to pick up where I left off at NADA. This “painting is dead” vs. “painting forever” (see: the new Kaleidoscope, with John Currin on the cover) is a reductive and linear argument. Painting has never been about the future. It is always about making history, and some histories are more realized—in and by the West—than others. Some artists still have much more to make. If you’re Kehinde Wiley, you can paint black youth in florid, monarchical portraits, and it’s a beautiful fresh challenge to the recent past. But if you’re a white guy, you can’t just do ’70s minimalism but with neon, which appears to be a trend now? Yeah, that shit looks like Barnett Newman for Asics.

12:15 p.m. This year, the Rubell’s artist in residence was Oscar Murillo (also prominently featured in this Kaleidoscope, which I picked up at OH-WOW and do recommend). I had never heard of him, but now that I google, I realize I saw him on the stairs at the A$AP Rocky party. I remember because I almost tripped, startled. He looks so much like Basquiat.

Murillo, born in 1986, was given five months to work from a 60-by-60 feet gallery plus sculpture garden at the Rubell Family Collection. Rumour says he was placed there by Stuart Shave, one of his former dealers (he’s already had three). In interviews, Murillo says the Rubells happened to come to his solo show at a New York fair last March. You decide what to believe. What we know is that almost nobody was talking about, or buying, his work last March. Now that he’s in the Rubell, everybody is talking, and prices will soar.

The Rubells are not simply buying work they believe to be good and important. The Rubells are buying artists whose work will then be “good” and “important” because it has been bought by the Rubells.

Of everything Murillo created here, five pieces—all paintings, all enormous, none particularly distinguishable—were chosen. Here, form matches intent. These paintings, three of which feature banal words (“yoga,” “chorizo”) painted over an accumulation of Twombly-ish paint and debris, are overwhelmingly large not because they’re improved by largeness, but because they are the product of largesse; they are huge because the space is huge. These paintings say you can own me only if your space is huge, too. I say maybe you can swallow that elitism but I cannot, not at the cost of the work. Because these paintings are the gigantic fruits of the non-organic supermarket: They look so good, so colourful, so fucking impressive, but you must know the smaller ones taste better.

From the statement: “Murillo’s paintings are a function of the process that creates them.”

Shut up. Really?


In the next room the paintings, by Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi, are also huge, but I think they deserve to be. They’re monumental. It seems many young painters went to the Abstract Expressionism show at the MoMa last year and got like really inspired, but Jinshi’s new work is insane. It’s more like Abstract Extinctionism, like he’s saying, you want paint? I’ll give you paint, I’ll give you all the goddamn paint. If Pollock was a drip, this guy is a cannonball. Paint, applied with both aggression and precision, gobs and globs and piles up topographically until you’re looking at a battlefield or love.

12:58 p.m. This Thomas Houseago sculpture got booty.

1:05 p.m. Out in the sculpture garden, I talk to a man whose job it is, this weekend, to keep immaculate the surface of a Bugatti designed by French artist Bernar Venet. This man is actually a Bugatti technician. A Bugatti technician is spending his weekend sham-wowing an art car because one speck of dust might betray it as something below pure creation.

I need a cigarette.


1:21 p.m. Richard Jackson’s artist statement includes the indelible maxim, “Some things are just funny.” To wit: A whole room is taken up by a silver, spinning Daffy Duck with a paint-hose for a nose; the paint is Disney-yellow, splashed and splattered everywhere. For this, Jackson filled Daffy with yellow paint and flipped a switch. Haaaaaaaaa. I’m sure he’s laughing, probably while driving a Bugatti to the bank, but the rest of us, most of us, want to feel or know or believe something.

The tiny rich children in front of me love it, but that’s because it is made for them.

1:35 p.m. I’ve seen this Cady Noland piece before. The Rubells curate a new selection every year, ostensibly according to theme, but more likely according to which investments need the most maintenance. In this case, Noland’s This Piece Has No Title Yet (1989) is so impossible to install—if you touch one of the hundreds of Budweiser cans, it will explode—that maybe it’s always here. I wouldn’t mind that. Although, since Noland’s work deals with American power, structures, and conformity, I think she should remake this one for the new Millennium, you know, with Pabst cans.

1:52 p.m. Middle-aged white guy John Miller has cast a bunch of fake old things in gold leaf and called it “A Refusal to Accept Limits.” I bet.

1:55 p.m. Gen-X white guy Nate Lowman has painted his first check ever, which just happens to be from the Rubells in the amount of $3000, and called it “First Check.” You know what, Nate Lowman?  Why don’t you just cum directly on my face? It would be a better painting, and a less offensive work.

2:01 p.m. There is one major piece of craft-like art in this year’s exhibit: A pretty, discombobulatory sculpture made from braided straw, rope, and pearls. Of course it’s made by a woman. Of course. Like I said yesterday, new art made by women (and sought by buyers) is so often, so much, like craft. Whether this movement is overdue or regressive, I don’t know yet, but I can tell you this artist’s name is Maria Nepomuceno.

2:22 p.m. The pieces that get to me, in the end, are probably the smallest: Andro Wakua‘s Sun of the Sleepless II, a black mask on a stick, leaning in a corner as if to casually haunt you, and his 4:52 a.m. (Orange). 


2:30 p.m. On the walls near the Rubell are posters made by Tigermilk Films. Aping perfectly the design of the Art Basel Miami Beach posters, they say, New York Rapes Miami Beach.

2:51 p.m. The new Prada store, in the Design District, appears to be made entirely out of perspex and candy. It opened, conveniently, two days before the fair.

3:12 p.m. I have under an hour to see the de la Cruz, second to the Rubell in importance, and even less desire. But it’s the “Miami model,” in which private collections become the new public museums. I can’t pretend that’s not true (especially because I’ve already said it). Besides, the old museums often house private collections, and donations, and those who collect and donate often sit on the boards of those old museums, making decisions that purport to be, but cannot be entirely, in the public interest.

So it’s important for me to see the de la Cruz, but it’s also enervating as fuck. On the first floor, I adore Felix Gonzalez-Torres, even though his string of light bulbs no longer looks new. I dig Glenn Ligon, with his coal dust where Warhol used diamond dust. But the most space is given to Rudolf Stingel, whose silver enamel paintings look like he copied them directly from the Premium Royal Deluxe American Home Wallpaper catalog at Lowe’s.

3:28 p.m. The second floor is worse. As you can see from my text messages to Dani, my roommate, I may or may not have a small aneurysm.

3:31 p.m. A fancy old woman snips at me for walking on the edge on a slightly raised platform, made from exactly the same material as the floor, because in doing so I walked within two feet of some hideous pastel styrofoam assemblages. “You don’t want to hurt the art,” she says. “Okay,” I say. She seems to be waiting for an apology, which is not forthcoming. Who is this woman?

“That woman,” says a delightful de la Cruz staffer named Layla, “is the owner.”

Layla has seashell-pink hair and gold glitter smeared around her eyes. She looks a little like Grimes. We talk. She makes music in her basement and works here during the fair because the money’s good. How good, I ask her. OK, she says. Not that good.

Layla likes romantic art. She can’t remember most artist’s names but she knows when art means something, she says, because her whole body reacts.


3:58 p.m. The place is closing but I climb quick to the third and last floor, where, in the very back corner, there is a roomful of Ana Mendieta. I love Ana Mendieta. I don’t love her just because she died tragically, at age 36, in the year and the month I was born, but that must be part of it.

I love Ana Mendieta because she buried herself alive.

Here is a series of her “earth body” works, her silhouette etched onto land, or entombed, and there is the small triptych from Untitled (Body Tracks), in which she dragged her carmine-painted carcass, frame by frame, down the pure white studio wall. I don’t know whether it’s the exhaustion, or the enervation, or the relief at being suddenly alone with an artist, but now I’m crying. I think the boy doing security is about to call me ma’am, but I don’t care. This work is why I’m here, and I do not mean “here” as in the de la Cruz.


5:45 p.m. One of the Morgan Hotel planes flies over the Delano. It bears the John Baldessari banner, and the fair’s truest slogan: “Ads imitate art. Art imitates life. Life imitates ads.”

6:00 p.m. The NADA pool party looks wicked-fun on my friends’ Instagrams, all DIS Magazine-type performance jokes and Ryan Trecartin selfies, but I am not in a participatory mood. I meant to go to two more fairs, but after the Mendietas I just didn’t. You understand.


7:30 p.m. At the Standard Hotel, where I eat with Dani and then drink with Jenna and Davey, a certain guest named, uh, Jay-Z??? is due to arrive. You can feel the social unrest. People afraid to sit. It’s the launch party for a new book, by the artists J.R. and Jose Parla, Wrinkles of the City, the city being Havana, Cuba. A pop-up cafe is selling Cuban food, which I find annoyingly co-opty until I learn it’s made by David’s (see: Friday’s lunch) and not expensive.

J.R. and Jose refuse to be associated with brands, the Standard excepted because the Standard Press is their publisher, so this party is the only unsponsored event I’ve seen all week. It doesn’t take a lot to be radical anymore.

I want to see Beyonce, but I don’t really look.

8:29 p.m. I’m drinking aureate tequila in the faded heat, happy. My friends Steph and Olivia, owners of my favourite neighbourhood store American Two Shot, are hosting a dinner at Steph’s parents’ house. We are on the very edge of the water. Light makes it poison green. Fish glimmer. Either it feels, or I feel, Gatsbyish.

All the girls and some of the boys are wearing crowns of daisies and roses, made fresh for the party this morning.


10:15 p.m. Walking across the Venetian Causeway, back to the hotel, Jenna says the bridges are too low to jump from. On a dock, a sign says “Idle Speed.” Miami in two words.

11:03 p.m. We were going to the Miami Art Museum but now we’re not. Text messages on Davey’s phone say it is like “something out of a Tom Wolfe novel.” I change. I’ve been wearing Nikes all day, and now I want leather, platforms, to not be so comfortable.

11:29 p.m. “What do you think about December 21?” asks the cab driver. I have been trying not to think about December 21. I tell him it is already the end of a world, if not the world.

“I think nothing will happen,” he says. “Unfortunately.”

12:45 p.m. The Journal thing, at the Hotel Victor, has the highest ratio of people-I-like to people-who-make-me-question-life of any party so far. Mostly I chain smoke and drink prosecco with Alice and Colin on the patio, but Colin wants to go swimming and Alice disappears, too, or I do.

One photographer, a pretty girl who’s there with the Journal, walks around snapping candids. I get nervy. I haven’t seen a candid photo in three years and I don’t want to see mine now.

Another photographer approaches Aurel Schmidt. “You think I’m going to tell you, like, I’m wearing this designer or that designer?” she snaps. “It’s all vintage. My shirt’s vintage. These shorts are vintage. I don’t care.

1:56 p.m. Upstairs there is or has been a party for James Murphy. He has a book now, or something. Projections play noiselessly on the walls. The floor is strewn with the shards of white balloons. In one empty room, a disco ball spins.

So yes, the LCD Soundsystem party feels exactly like an LCD Soundsystem song

Like the end of a world.

3:01 a.m. I lost more friends. I found Karley. Now I’m on the roof, thinking that MDMA crystals are like adult Pop Rocks, when I should be on the beach, alone. But Karley has the best friends. Matthew, especially, I could listen to for hours, talking in his shamanic and patient way about the possibility of nothingness, the nothingness of existence, the existence of evil, the evil of capitalism, the capitalism of… everything, except he never says the word art, I think because he’s an artist. I am not sure it hasn’t been hours. I’m not tired. Or, I’m the least tired I’ve been all day.