Sunglass Idiots! Slipper Thieves! Lawsuits! Kenny Schachter Braved the Existential Vortex of Art Basel Miami Beach to Get the Goods
Our intrepid columnist visited the marquee Miami fair—or was it actually Burning Man?
“The Nausea has not left me and I don’t believe it will leave me soon,” John-Paul Sartre wrote in his 1938 philosophical novel Nausea. “But I no longer have to bear it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is I.” Just think—that précis of existential angst was written before Art Basel Miami Beach even existed. Imagine what depths of alienation Sartre could have expressed after 20 years of the fair. Personally, I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary of me telling everyone I’m not going to attend this year. Needless to say, I’ve unfortunately never missed one. I made sure to check the app Sharktivity before I left to determine which of the blood-lusting dealers and art world players would be on hand to celebrate.
Put it this way: the Miami Beach behemoth was the biggest it’s ever been this go-round, with 282 galleries making it a full third huger than the Swiss iteration. After seven nonstop hours traipsing up and down the aisles, we—me and my 26-year-old son Adrian, a talented artist exhibiting at Amanita Gallery in New York and Florence and in an upcoming exhibit in March 2023 at New York’s Gratin Gallery—only managed to see two-thirds of the galleries, and we never returned. I’m certain we weren’t alone in that regard. Besides, there is no way to meaningfully see nearly 300 galleries in a week, much less a day or two.
The problem, if you could call it that (and I will), was that, peering down the aisles, there was no vanishing point on the never-ending horizon line that constituted this year’s extended version. The only salve that kept me going, literally, was the fact that I had dragged Adrian along for the ride. Poor him—my Tourette’s-like outbursts to other fairgoers and dealers were so frequent that I lost my voice, maybe because no one ever listens to me on the home front. He said I would render him gray-haired by the end of the trip and nicknamed me the “inverse homunculus.”
Let’s start with the obvious and get it out of way. Art Basel Miami Beach is a vulgar flesh-fest, fueled by mountains of cocaine and turbocharged by this year’s drug of choice, magic mushrooms. Over the years I have increasingly augmented my photo series “Idiots Wearing Sunglasses at Art Fairs” with impromptu “fashion” shoots there. In addition to sunglasses, everyone brings their own peccadillos. Early one morning, a dealer was jolted out of bed at 6:30 am by boot camp instructions blaring out of a bullhorn at the Shelbourne Hotel. He immediately proceeded to the checkout counter. Another dealer, boasting a shit-eating grin plastered across his face, said he was traveling “WOW” (without wife); hey, don’t shoot the messenger. Something that refers to itself on Twitter as tom_tuna commented: “Basel getting closer and closer to Burning Man every year….” The transformation is complete.
I passed on the Sant Laurent-sponsored Madonna Sex book relaunch party on the beach. Had I gone, I inevitably would have walked right past the dirty-dancing age-denier who was all but unrecognizable from the footage I caught on social media the following day. “Who’s that girl?” indeed. Leonardo DiCaprio, meanwhile, complained to a friend of the zero-sum game that saw one of his advisors paying more attention to Sylvester Stallone (who was said to have purchased a Rashid Johnson boat painting). Even for celebrities, Miami can get a bit Rocky.
A tire-kicker at the fair, about as far from a collector as humanly possible, incessantly asked CANADA Gallery owner Phil Grauer if the central image in Katherine Bernhardt’s painting was indeed the Pink Panther. That the larger than life, clearly rendered image of the Pink Panther dominated the composition was of no import whatsoever. Phil, to his credit, ignored him. What is wrong with these people? I was half expecting a protestor to glue themselves to Jeff Koons’s gargantuan Oldenburg-esque boring bowl-of-eggs sculpture at White Cube, but, alas, no such luck. One egg had a discernible pinhole and a visible seam—is Jeff losing his infamous perfectionist touch? Or just hungry to get things to market?
One exhibitor featuring a museum-worthy booth of historic works stated that outgoing fair director Marc Spiegler had ultimately succeeded in doing what he had set out to do from the onset of his tenure at Art Basel: to destroy it. When I pressed him further to explain, the disgruntled dealer said that there were an excessive amount of galleries this year (more than one dealer and viewer complained) and that the opening was so densely swamped by the infinitely replicating virus (art advisors, not COVID) that he couldn’t have a meaningful conversation or—more importantly—a transaction. There were so many “VIP” attendees at the bifurcated openings that the moniker should stand for Very Icky People. The scrum of hoi polloi was so thick that dealer Lisa Spellman swathed nearly her entire display with stanchions to ward off the selfie swarms. I heard of the refrain “Don’t touch the art” at fairs but never “KEEP BACK 500 FEET” before.
There were mixed sales results bandied about, from reportedly sold-out galleries to such sentiments as “Larry didn’t even rehang his booth.” Though, in Marc’s defense, there were plenty of gems to be discovered from an encyclopedic overview of Rochelle Feinstein at the joint booth of Hannah Hoffman and Bridget Donahue that was so eclectic (and great!) that it had the appearance of being a group show (with works starting at $45,000). Then there were the densely mottled surfaces of the 23-year-old Ugandan painter Emmie Nume at Afriart Gallery from Kampala priced at $8,000 to $12,000. Okay, I couldn’t readily find the Ugandan city on a map, but at least I admit my geographical ineptitude—and, it’s a good thing I’m so immature, as artists seem to be getting younger by the day.
Meredith Rosen rolled the dice and nearly stole the show with a 1984 installation of a fully functioning casino installation by the 75-year-old Belgium conceptualist Guillaume Bijl. A visitor had another idea of theft in mind when her number came up on the roulette wheel and she responded by walking off with one of the small canvases that decorated the exhibit. The scrappy New York dealer put chase to the perpetrator and swiftly recovered the loot. The six-figure installation itself is currently being considered by a prominent European institution. For my own part, although I forswore buying anything, I caved at Mitchell-Innes & Nash and bought a tiny series of portraits on a wall-mounted wood cube (for $3,500) by the self-taught Marcus Leslie Singleton, who spent time living in a shelter before finding support for his art.
Over the past five months, I’ve been itching to get back into the investigative art journalism game (sounds better than “gossip,” no?), in some instances feeding stories to my esteemed peers—I couldn’t help myself. So here’s some juice that was just too good to pass off to others. The $105.7 million Gauguin painting from the Paul Allen auction at Christie’s went to a US tech supremo; I know who, but I gave my word I wouldn’t tell you. This year I missed the annual public outburst from my friend the lawyer Aaron Richard Golub (well, actually, he’s wished me dead in the past), who was sidetracked in a New York courtroom defending Pace Gallery from charges of stiffing their Chelsea real estate broker for the fat sum of $12 million. Though Golub hasn’t responded by the time of this writing, Marc Glimcher, president and CEO of Pace, offered this: “I have nothing to say.” He then continued, saying: “It will be over soon and it will be a sad story for someone.” There you have it.
Richard Prince (of Thieves) appropriated a new property in San Francisco—kidding, he paid for it—adding it to his portfolio including two homes in New York City, two in Southampton, a 100-acre compound in upstate New York, a house in Palm Springs (which he told me he converted into a LeRoy Neiman museum, don’t ask), and yet another one in St. Barthes. Maybe he bought the Bay Area place to be closer to the crops of his Katz + Dogg marijuana brand. By the way, crypto doesn’t have a monopoly on crime: I heard of a collector that smuggled a few Chagalls into the Bahamas wrapped in towels and subsequently hid in a friend’s cupboard. Never underestimate the ingenuity of a tax evader. And I spotted someone poolside sporting a pair of monogrammed slippers he told me he slipped out of Larry G’s closet at a party the dealer had hosted. I love the art world.
I hear that cracks are beginning to appear in the LGDR supergroup (which I predicted from the start)—specifically, that Jeanne Greenberg is already operating back in her old space and Brett Gorvy may also be on the way out. Jeanne gave no comment, but Bret had this response: “I find it very flattering to be the subject of the conversation—and why it is so viral now and involves Hauser—Jesus! What does Iwan think 🙂 But I am very much at home and especially excited by 64th street.” Ha, I hadn’t heard about the Hauser & Wirth twist, but good to know—Iwan Wirth had no word on the subject either. But thanks, Brett.
It’s a good thing my Hoarder 4 auction is coming up at Sotheby’s from December 12th to 20th, with a concurrent exhibition in their New York venue. As I mentioned, my attempt to bypass buying was to no avail—instead, I found myself once again testing the notion that all it takes to consummate an art sale is a casual nod, not even a handshake or signature. Now I need to deaccession, and do so fast—or else begin attending Debtors Anonymous, which one dealer in Miami told me she frequented after launching her gallery to fund dauntingly mounting and seemingly never-ending expenses. With more than 150 works on offer and no reserves (my loss is your gain!), I gave Muhammad Ali a run for the money by dashing and shuffling in the aisles of the fair to avoid eye contact with the various artists and dealers whose works will appear in the sale.
C’mon, how else can I afford to go on in the face of the scorched earth that was once the NFT market. Yes, NFTs will be back once the techlash from the Sam Bankman-Fried implosion subsides—and that’s admittedly a little fun to watch unfold in real time (as fun as watching a car crash). But as far as Art Basel Miami Beach, I won’t be returning. I promise. Would you care to place bets on either, or both?
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