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Going with the Flow
by Felecia Chizuko Carlisle

A Local's Art Basel

Over the past few years of Art Basel Miami Beach I have had a myriad of contrasting and exciting experiences. Somewhere between $20 glasses of champagne and coke parties inside bread trucks disguised as art galleries, I have seen some good art, a lot of bad art and possibly everything in-between. The problem is that every year I feel pressured to see everything, and every year there is so much more to see. There comes a point of overload and exhaustion that I simply did not want to put myself through for another year. So my solution to the Basel madness in 2011 was simply to go with the flow.

For a local, the insanity begins a couple of weeks before the convention. In my neighborhood, the Wynwood Arts District, one can literally watch the transformation as hopeful participants scurry to make their best impression. Mural by mural, palm tree by palm tree and full speed ahead, this otherwise desolate urban desert receives an amazing annual makeover. Meanwhile, on the beach, the serious collectors come early, and the previews and VIP parties begin in advance of the main events. All over Miami, the traffic starts to slow down and get heavier both on foot and on the road as thousands of people trickle in from all over the world. Stress builds and foreheads sweat in anticipation.

Armed with my new attitude, I found myself gravitating towards the familiar, the local, my friends and my community and being completely satisfied in a way that I honestly have not been in the past. It seems as though the world only pays attention to Miami during this time. The New York Times wants to know if Art Basel is the sole reason artists come to Miami, and Art in America wants to write about Miami street art as if that is all we do here. With or without Art Basel, Miami has a strong art community that is often overlooked and undervalued nationally.

Erwin Wurm  “Beauty Business” 2011 Courtesy Bass Museum

My Art Basel began with a preview party of Erwin Wurm’s solo exhibition at Bass Museum. This was a total delight and timely gesture. One of the installations consisted of a series of cabinets containing alcohol to be consumed by the viewer. It seemed like an inside joke between the city and Wurm, as if he knew we were going to need it. Regrettably, it may also reinforce the outsider perception of Miami as just a “party town.” Nonetheless, it appears that the two of us may have some things in common. Neither Erwin Wurm nor Miami is taken as seriously as I personally would hope.


Moving on, I visited Bas Fisher Invitational as a follow up to my previous introduction in ArtSlant to Richard Haley for the performance, “Leaf, Rust, and the After Culture," a collaboration between Haley and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Anderson. During the performance, Anderson read from a script she had written while she and Haley acted out the events of the text using puppet-sized props on a mini stage. The story they tell is of Detroit, art and culture in ruins. 

(Left) Mindy Abovitz, Founder and Editor, Tom Tom Magazine; and drummer from Miami-based girl-band Siren

Tom Tom Magazine, a Brooklyn based print review about female drummers hosted a series of live interviews, lectures and performances at Sweat Records and Churchill’s Pub. Funded in part by the Knight Foundation, Sweat Records is the premier resource for independent music and Churchill’s is the local landmark venue for live music of all types. Both places are essential parts of Miami’s cultural and artistic landscape. Without them we might be left with the monotonous drone of 90’s era techno oblivion. 

Between sets at Churchill’s, videos from Valerie George’s project Nam June Psyche were presented. The image above is a capture of the band MC Sweet Tea and her Head Band from Austin, TX.  Nam June Psyche was featured last year in Tom Tom Magazine. It is a nomadic recording studio disguised as a sculpture replete with a full set of drums riding atop a 1980’s Mercedes station wagon that runs on veggie fuel. 

Ruben OchoaCores and Cutouts @ Locust Projects

Two other Miami favorites, Locust Projects and Dimensions Variable, both not-for-profit artist centered venues, are definitely worth mentioning. Ruben Ochoa’s “Cores and Cutouts” was particularly impressive because of how it literally used the material found on site and activated the space by completely transforming it. I also had a blast singing karaoke in Domingo Castillo’s installation at DV. What an unquantifiable relief it was to be offered such an experience during ArtBasel.

Brookhart Jonquil at Dorsch Gallery's Pulse booth.

Dorsch Gallery was at Pulse this year with a solo project by Brookhart Jonquil. Dorsch recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and was a pioneer back in the early days of the Wynwood Arts District. Dorsch Gallery is truly unique in terms of the experimental and risk-taking attitude it takes as a commercial gallery and is a cornerstone of the local community. Jonquil is a current resident of LegalArt Artist Residency in Miami. 

And finally, yes, I did make it to the convention center and am glad to note that my friends from Bas Fisher Invitational, Naomi Fisher, Jim Drain, Christy Gast and special guest Richard Haley were the very last panelists in the Art Salon. I am so proud that they were there to discuss their own venue as an artist-run, not-for-profit space against the backdrop of the commercially driven mayhem of Art Basel. This beautiful irony gives me hope that no matter what the industrial machine of art is driven to do, someone remembers that without the artists and the local communities that sustain them, none of it would even exist. 

~Felecia Chizuko Carlisle

TOP IMAGE: Richard Haley and Mary Elizabeth Anderson, "Leaf, Rust, and the After Culture," detail of performance. Courtesy Bas Fischer Invitational.

Posted by Felecia Chizuko Carlisle on 12/12/11 | tags: art-fairs

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