Imagine Art Basel Miami Beach is a planet. It is after all, the big centralizing force to which all other early December Miami fairs, events, and exhibitions compare themselves. Those are usually referred to as satellite fairs: orbiting moons. Some of these moons are quite large, and orbit in close proximity to the Basel planet, while others are mere specks out on the fringe. Some of these moons have quite erratic, elliptical orbits, spinning in all different directions. These moons—their atmosphere, geography, constituents, demographics—are quite different from the Basel planet, and in fact they thrive off their alterity.
Browsing the press releases and websites of these “others,” I couldn’t help but notice the recurrence of the word “alternative.” UNTITLED. offers “an alternative viewing experience from the traditional art fair”; Fountain Art Fair espouses its “uniquely alternative art fair model”; SEVEN looks “beyond the art fair model”; and It Ain’t Fair offers “an alternate experience to the dozens of December art fairs in Miami,” just to name a few examples. So what are the differing planes of “alternativeness” out on the fringes of Planet Basel’s outer reaches? Which characteristics of Planet Basel do these other fairs and exhibitions resist? Does it have to do with the work on display? The layout? The atmosphere? The salesmanship? The location?
Let’s start with the kind of art you’ll encounter. Fountain is mostly distinguished by its street-level, gritty, post-Pop style of art—the kind you usually won’t find at Basel—as well as its young crowd. Street art is its major draw: this year Fountain is collaborating with Atlanta-based street art non-profit Living Walls on a 175-ft-long installation, as well as offering street art walking tours around Wynwood. But for all its alternative stylings and its emphasis on a fun, relaxed atmosphere, Fountain is still a fair: there are galleries in booths, with artworks for sale.
Melanie Bonajo, Genital Panik, 2012, c-print, 48 x 70 inches; Courtesy PPOW Gallery and SEVEN.
Many others don’t call themselves fairs at all. SEVEN, in Wynwood, is a cooperative effort of six New York and one London galleries, who started their own alternative experience to Basel in 2010. Wendy Olsoff of PPOW Gallery told me, “The Seven show (we never use the word fair) is a new platform. There are none of the trappings of a fair. No booths, no organizers, no unions, no applications, no catalogues and no entry fee, etc. The art of one gallery hangs near the work of another gallery. In this way every dealer becomes acquainted with the program of the other galleries, there is no competition and we show and promote each others’ artists.” It’s not that they have anything against traditional fairs, it’s just “a very freeing and exciting opportunity for all of us who have been in the business for so long to engage in a creative way of presenting and selling art…We knew there were no sharks or prima donnas.” This collaborative, convivial atmosphere makes for some pleasurable viewing; Olsoff remarks, “When people come to Seven they stay for a long time. It is a destination and there is a lot to absorb in the best sense. It is not hurriedly checking off a booth or fair from a list. It reminds me of the 80's on Avenue C—I love this.” Thursday is probably the best day to drop by: come for the performance—Melanie Bonajo and Joseph Marzolla in "Zazazozo"—and stay for the paella.
It Ain’t Fair is also—as its title clearly states—not a fair. “It's a proper, curated exhibition,” says Al Moran of OHWOW gallery in Los Angeles, who has staged It Ain’t Fair for the past five years. “The concept behind It Ain't Fair was to present an exhibition that was actually presented from an artist's point of view rather than in a trade show format. It's funny to think if It Ain't Fair as ‘alternative’ because the reality of It Ain't Fair is that we present artwork traditionally.” This year will be the final iteration of OHWOW’s annual exhibition. Moran explains, “In 2008, when we first started doing It Ain't Fair, we always knew there would be a set number of editions. I didn't want this to become yet another institution for Miami's Basel week. It Ain't Fair needs to feel a bit renegade for it to succeed. If you continually program something year after year you lose that edge eventually.” Why 2012 as the final show? “When the show came together…we knew internally that there would be no way we were ever going to top this edition of it. So the decision was made to go out with what we consider to be the best It Ain't Fair in our history.” This year, “to give back to the creative community to thank them for all of their support year after year,” It Ain’t Fair is sponsoring a daily soup kitchen from 5-7pm for anyone who wants a meal. This gesture is probably the most radical offering you’ll find at any of the events during this commercially driven art week—for one thing it’s not even couched in the terms of art, as some sort of relational aesthetics project, it’s just a real gesture of goodwill (what the season’s all about right?). Also at It Ain’t Fair, Know Wave radio out of LA will be taking over the airwaves, with DJ sets and interviews with musicians and artists (“such as Nate Lowman, Bert Rodriguez, Physical Therapy, Total Freedom, Semen Sperms, Eric Duncan, Rub-n-Tug, Lucien Smith, Nelleka, José Parlá, Reza Nader the Arab Parrot, Julian and Stray Rats, Brian DeGraw”) all week long.
Of course in Miami location means everything, with Miami Beach right at the epicenter. UNTITLED. is taking its fair right to the water’s edge, promising that the natural light and incorporation of the elements will prove an “alternative viewing experience” that encourages conversation and “maximizes the flow of the space.” It Ain’t Fair also takes place in South Beach, but most of the other alterna-events are taking place on the mainland, in Wynwood. As Wendy Olsoff observes, “South Beach is all about the scene, Wynwood isn't sexy. It is gritty…” But as with any up-and-coming art neighborhood, Wynwood is no stranger to gentrification. Perhaps what represents this shift most aptly can be seen adorning the walls. The Wynwood Walls project was started in 2009 by Tony Goldman, a real-estate developer who saw the transformative effect of street art in revitalizing neighborhoods. Goldman teamed up with Jeffrey Deitch and others to create a “museum of the streets” in Wynwood, inviting street artists and graffiti writers from around the world to paint the walls up to and during Basel week, giving the area a vibrant new coat of paint every year. Goldman passed away this past September, so much of this year’s art will pay tribute to him and his vision; keep your eye out for a new mural by Shepard Fairey featuring a portrait of Goldman, as well as a curated exhibition of lenticular lightboxes by Kenny Scharf, Ron English, How&Nosm, Logan Hicks, Swoon, Futura and Aiko, at the new Nicewalk Gallery space.
Wynwood Walls, with murals by Shepard Fairey and Kenny Scharf, photo by Captin Shmit; Creative Commons License.
Out of all of the art experiences you’ll encounter while you’re in orbit around Planet Basel, the Wynwood Walls may seem, in certain respects, the most resistant to the traditional art fair’s gravitational pull; noncommercial and unsalable, aesthetically divergent, with its own unique art history and tradition, street art is a far cry from the halls of international art merchants, but even this is quickly changing. For one thing, Banksy’s in situ work has been ripped from the walls to be offered for sale at a special exhibition at Art Miami. One can also argue that street art is one of the first signs of gentrification, another word for neighborhood revitalization. And one can question how much the invitation of world-renowned street artists to paint the walls of Wynwood every year simply adds matter to the hype machine, only increasing and strengthening the pull and force of Planet Basel. But how perfectly it sums it all up: like an asteroid belt that straddles the line between fringe and focus, in the inevitable circuit from alternative to accepted.
(Image on top: Amanda Ross-Ho, Negative Earth (TRIANGULATED), 2012, Found postcards and linen tape on mounted lightjet print, 40 x 60 inches; Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash and It Ain't Fair, 2012.)