Artmageddon!

Art Basel '06 is bigger than ever. Is bigger better?

Most of the Wynwood spaces have saved their heavy artillery, hoping to dazzle collectors during Art Basel, and will showcase some of the city's finest talent.

"Destroy This City," a group show with works by Quisqueya Henríquez, Leyden Rodríguez-Casanova, and Wendy Wischer, will be on display at the David Castillo Gallery. "A Timely Response," at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, will feature more than 20 artists from its stable, including Elizabeth Cerejido, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Elsoca and Fabian, Robert Huff, Glexis Novoa, and Karen Rifas. The Fredric Snitzer Gallery will exhibit Naomi Fisher's solo show of large paintings depicting red-eyed, decadent, degraded women, as well as Bert Rodriguez's public performance of "A Bedtime Story (The Five Chinese Brothers)," in which the artist will blare the story from a bullhorn as he stands atop a billboard on the southeast corner of 29th Street and North Miami Avenue every night at 9 from December 7 through 9.

Perhaps the scrappiest fair trying to piggyback on Basel is Zones, organized at the World Arts Building in Wynwood by Edge Zone director and local artist Charo Oquet. The do-it-yourself fair is exhibiting the work of more than 70 locals and hosting a few visiting galleries during the show.

Oquet says she was inspired to create a fair because she believes that South Florida talent gets lost in the shuffle during Art Basel. "Basel is the biggest platform we have, so we decided to put up a fight, since we are like little rowboats getting steamed over by a transatlantic," she explains. "So our only choice is to adapt, die, or leave."

She says that she has visited Art Basel in Switzerland as well as the Venice Biennale and that both pale compared to the boil of activity in Miami. "Believe me, this has grown bigger. Nothing compares to us because none of those people put out like we do. That's why everybody keeps coming back. In the end, we have to realize this all translates to money. People need to get ready for what's coming or fade in the end."

Several South Florida dealers agree that the volume of activity during Art Basel has become a distraction and can confuse visitors and locals alike.

"There is no way people coming to Miami can decipher this mess or focus on what's good or bad," Kevin Bruk laments. "It's not about the art anymore. Even Puffy is throwing a party for Basel, jewelry companies, car manufacturers — galleries are now secondary to the party scene."

One of the biggest Basel-sponsored blowouts takes place from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday when Art Loves Design takes over the Design District. It will feature enough free hooch to float the Titanic and dozens of gallery openings you won't likely remember having seen the next day.

In addition to hosting the second installment of the wildly successful Design Miami fair, the district will feature E.V. Day's suspended sculptural installations, Stealth, Black Hole, and Red Streak, synthesizing the history of Cold War technology and a postfeminist superwoman discourse. "The Paper $99 Art Store," a "cultural shop," will feature bargain sneakers, mouse pads, and skateboards. Craig Robins will exhibit works by Paul McCarthy, Joseph Beuys, Cosima von Bonin, and others in his collection at his newly renovated Dacra offices. The Moore Space is exhibiting "Clamor" by Allora and Calzadilla and "Twilight Town" by Sean Dack and will inaugurate the Moore Loft Space, dedicated to long-term projects, with "Zero Hero," an installation and performance by John Bock, originally presented at the 51st Venice Biennale.

Perhaps best encapsulating the Zeitgeist is the project by Sam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III. The pair, who compose the Friends With You collaborative, have teamed up with six other artists to create "Skywalkers," a procession of 15 cosmic blimps kicking off Thursday, December 7, at 2 p.m. in South Beach and wending from 17th to Fifth streets.

"This has almost been an impossible mission," Borkson says of the floating 60-by-10-foot balloons that will be moored to the Earth by 150 handlers during the first parade in Art Basel history. "Basel runs Miami this week and has become the new mayor of the city," he chuckles. "I didn't know we had to pull so many permits for gaseous things here on the streets, but they took care of everything for us."

The artist says the project was nearly torpedoed when one of America's largest helium outlets folded this year. "There are like only two of them in the whole country, and one had to keep a stock of the stuff for hospitals and almost ran out after the Macy's parade. But we managed to hook up with 20,000 cubic feet of the gas."

When asked about his thoughts on whether Miami is approaching a state of "Artmageddon," with all the art hoopla and general kookiness going on this week, Borkson echoes the opinion of locals who remain underwhelmed. "I don't care about any of that stuff," he says of the eruption of competing fairs. "It's all too much to digest, and your body can only absorb so much protein before you develop the squirts. That's why we wanted to do this, because, bottom line, it's something everyone can enjoy."

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