Wet Paint in the Wild: Artist Emma Stern Takes On Art Basel Miami Beach

The artist takes us through a week in her life.

Emma Stern in Miami.

Welcome to Wet Paint in the Wild, the freewheeling—and free!—spinoff of Artnet News Pro’s beloved Wet Paint gossip column, where we give art-world insiders a disposable camera to chronicle their lives on the circuit. To read the latest Wet Paint column, click here (members only).

“I hate doing things I’m not good at, and I suck at this. People assume that because I can paint I should also be good at photography, but they’re wrong. I hold this truth to be self-evident (see below). I am not exaggerating when I say every single good photo you see was taken by someone other than myself. I even bought two disposable cameras to cast a wide net and prevent this exact scenario and still, most photos are of the bottom of the inside of my purse or a close-up of my cuticle or of nothing. But this is, like, the third time Annie’s asked me to do this and I just couldn’t bear to see the disappointment on her sweet face again when I broke the news of yet another failed attempt. So, I’m going to make up for my lack of photographic competence by doing something I actually am good at: Turning everything into a piece of unhinged autofiction!!!” Emma Stern

I changed my flight last minute to one that required me to be at JFK at the ass-crack of dawn Tuesday morning just to make it to the opening day presentation at Untitled Fair. The series of three onsite performances (“New York Performance NOW!”) were organized by my dear friend Baldassarre Ruspoli, who runs the infamous Chinatown space 99Canal, and curator Kyla Gordon. Above is my documentation of the gorgeous performance by Ms. Z Tye, called American Idoll (2023) that had me in tears.

Another highlight of the “New York Performance NOW!” series: Whale Fall: RESIDUE (2023) by Mayfield Brooks.

Did I mention I had to be at JFK at the ass crack of dawn to make it to Untitled in time for the performances? I’ve been trying to wean myself off my Monster EnergyTM addiction ever since I accidentally Googled the CEO, but I gave myself a pass this day. Also the Zero-Sugar Ultra Strawberry Dreams matched my outfit.

After proper caffeination and a quick costume change back at the hotel, me and the homies (from left: Jonathan Hoyt, Scott Jawson, Nate Kuo, Malaika Crawford) headed to “an intimate dinner in celebration of Cartier watchmaking” at Chef Thomas Keller’s Surf Club Restaurant. I really hate food and eating but this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, bar none.

Chef Thomas Keller emerged from the kitchen mid-meal and took photos with the guests. He was such a cool guy! Here’s the selfie I took of us.

Managed to sneak in a little pool time Wednesday morning! My first time trying a cigarette :]] I couldn’t figure out why I was getting so many dirty looks from other hotel guests while posing for this pic but turns out that contraption I’m sitting in is to help lower folks in wheelchairs into the pool and someone was waiting to use it for its intended purpose. Whatever!

In the afternoon, made our way to the Convention Center for the VIP opening day of the main fair. I may be biased but Almine Rech Gallery turned it TF out for their booth this year! Here’s me, my liaison Audrey-Anna Oliveros, and Almine in front of my painting Xandra (side quest) (2023).

Almine Rech hosted a really spectacular dinner at Jaya at the Setai. This really talented aerialist was performing over a shallow pool in the center of the dining room the whole time. Made me remember why I love Miami, and how I’m so sad it’s going to be entirely underwater or at the very least uninhabitable within the next 75–90 years, by some estimates.

Wound up at the Lomex Gallery party, where I ran into Annie and assured her I was doing “A REALLY GOOD JOB!!!!!” on my Wet Paint in the Wild photo diary assignment.

Asked Quentin for some photography tips.

Finished at Deuce. Tried to buy this painting off the wall and was told to “Nothing is available but your interest has been noted.”

The next day, I was very dehydrated for some reason but was being brave about it. Had a hoodie up/sunglasses on lunch with my friend, artist Natalia Guzman (aka Lolita111000) and this bird who was OBSESSED with us.

I retreated back to my hotel at 11 p.m. Thursday night to watch South Park and fall asleep. Woke up hydrated, thriving, and in my lane! Gotta try this more often.

Design Miami is consistently my favorite of all of the fairs. Imagine scrolling on your phone on this Harry Nuriev installation.

What if we kissed at the Birkenstock x Design Miami activation??

Went to go visit my friends Cynthia and Carlo on the mainland in their gorgeous new home before Cynthia’s DJ set at Domicile Friday night.

We got to the clurb early AF so we climbed on stuff! (It’s a girl thing.)

Finished with an epic night at Twist! Here’s a pic of the “bisexual” man telling me how Miami real estate is actually a deceptively safe bet in the long-term while he rubbed his full erection on my leg.

My parents met sitting next to each other on an airplane. They way they tell it, they were traveling for work, from NYC (where my Dad lived) to Boston (where my Mom lived). What was meant to be a two-hour flight turned into a more lengthy ordeal when they were held on the runway for several hours due to a blizzard, giving my Dad enough time to work up the courage to spit some game on my Mom. The guy next to me on my flight back from Miami was a buzz cut named Tyler. He saw me take this photo of Kathy Acker’s experimental fiction Blood and Guts in High School and asked what it was about. I read him the following excerpt from page 33: “Having an abortion was just like getting fucked. If we closed our eyes and spread our legs, we’d be taken care of. They stripped us of our clothes. Gave us white sheets to cover our nakedness. Led us back to the pale green room. I love it when men take care of me.” Tyler put his airpods in and wouldn’t even look at me for the rest of the flight. Did I mention my parents are now divorced and haven’t spoken in over a decade?

On Sunday, when I went to drop off the cameras back in NYC, the really nice guy at the counter said there was one photo left on the roll and he used it to take this pic of me. If you look closely you can see my last two brain cells fighting over the final serotonin molecule left in my entire body. 

See u next year!!

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