It's eating everything in sight!
Run for your lives! It's growing, growing, growing!
No, not the Blob. It's Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB).
Since its inception in 2002, this Basel thing has engulfed every art fair for miles around, even surpassing its daddy, Switzerland's Art Basel, as the biggest art extravaganza in the world. ABMB's influence is so vast that it travels through both time and space, sucking galleries into its vortex year-round. Artists and gallery owners from Broward have fled to Miami permanently just to be in a better position to receive the world's attention (and dollars) during this all-encompassing art explosion. The fair has almost single-handedly made Miami, once merely the party center of Flori-duh, one of the world's art capitals.
Some artists decry the ABMB blob as a horror of commercialism. Some love the spectacle. Others say it may be ugly but it's also a desperately needed and highly appreciated opportunity. And, really, what artist doesn't want exposure? Even Lumonics, a group of Fort Lauderdale light artists who had been avoiding the limelight for 40 years, have decided to give ABMB a go this year.
There are 200 galleries that rent space in ABMB central — the Miami Beach Convention Center — and 1,000-plus galleries showing in more than 20 piggy-backing fairs. But only a handful of artists from Broward and Palm Beach, including Lumonics, will participate. Some with no gallery to call home have rented houses in South Beach, and one insolvent artist even plans to wander the fair in homeless garb as a piece of performance art.
The themes of the artists' works don't seem to follow any particular pattern, though at least one masterpiece screams, "I was created in South Florida." That would be the painting with the lifelike vagina, and the dildo set up alongside it, meant for literally fucking the art.
Other works explore the macabre, the link between crashed cars and life obstacles, the mentality of an athlete, the historical connection between hallucinogenic plants and religion, and, yes, the horror of ABMB itself (which runs from December 6 to 9). Among the local luminaries:
Jacquelyn Jackson Johnston
Fort Lauderdale's trend-defying transplant from Miami, Jacquelyn Jackson Johnston, (a.k.a Jacqui Brown, the dope art dealer) plans to take the glitz of ABMB head on.
She'll be the smelly one in worn faded jeans and a hand-me-down T-shirt, leading her Doberman, Phluffy Danger, to the swankiest parties they can find.
"I'm going to be homeless until Sunday," Johnston says, and she's not doing it for fun. She'll be documenting the experience and trying to raise awareness about the starving artists in downtown Miami, where rent has become unaffordable. That's why Johnston moved north last year and brought her non-profit dog rescue, Faktura Projekts, with her. (Check it out at www.Fakturaprojekts.com).
To Johnston, ABMB is a commercial nightmare that does nothing to promote true art. "The larger art players are coming in, handpicking who they want to make it, and we are going to starve," she says.
It's not a new theme for Johnston. For the past two years, she's curated "Pimp My Kart," an exhibit of reworked carts that once belonged to actual homeless people. That involved gathering the abandoned carts in Little Haiti (which helps clean up the neighborhood, Johnston points out) and distributing them to artists, who then have their way with them.
This year, Johnston hoped to involve others in her homeless performance art, but it didn't work out. "I'm going to need 36 hours straight of your time during Basel," she announced on MySpace.com. Not one person responded. "Everybody wants to go to the parties," Johnston said. "The stupid thing is, I'm going to the parties anyway. I'm going with my kart and my dog."
This well-known and thoughtful South Florida painter has nothing bad to say about Art Basel. Olsen, 37, appreciates getting to see work by masters before it ends up in a rich person's home. For instance, he saw a few extremely rare Warhols last year.
The exposure from Basel has fueled the art scene in Miami, Olsen says, which isn't necessarily good for Broward. Olsen names several Broward galleries — L'art Noir, Evolutionary Mundus, La Lush, and Gallery Yes — that have closed in the past several years. Another, Franz Martin, moved from Broward to Miami but eventually went under.
For successful artists like Olsen, though, location isn't vital.
Wandering around Italy last year, he was drawn to the religious art, particularly in the Sistine Chapel. Later he hit Amsterdam, did some mushrooms, and began to "relax into the concept" of the paintings that will eventually be on display at this year's ABMB.
On mushrooms, Olsen started to think about how many cultures he knew of that had built their religions on hallucinogenic plants. The Incas. The Aztecs. Ancient peoples of India. Then he thought about the religious art he saw in Italy, and he made a link.
Just as viable as prayer in Christianity, eating trippy plants was a way of communicating with the divine, Olsen decided. After returning from Europe, he got to work communicating that idea through 11 psychedelic paintings of modern people in traditional religious poses. You'll find them at the Harold Golen Gallery.
Fort Lauderdale graffiti artist, engraver, and stenciler, Books is at it again. Along with Anthony Spinello and Lynn Yohana Howard, he'll be curating ABMB's first-ever street-level group graffiti exhibition throughout the Wynwood Art District. It will include 26 artists from all over the world.
The abstract, "wild-style" tags of BlackBooks, the stenciling team behind the eponymous Fort Lauderdale business, will also be on display in the Spinello and Scion galleries. BooksIIII and partner Andrew Black are looking forward to the attention and the possibility of lining their pockets with a little extra cash. Though he's heard plenty of people bash the fair for its commercialism, its size, blah, blah, blah, BooksIIII says he doesn't want to waste time on negativity. Especially about ABMB — one of the greatest opportunities out there for the area's artists.
"Basel is a circus, man," he says. "What else can I tell you?"
Scary Mary Santa Domenico and Conde
She may be 350 years old, but this artist/vampire has life in her yet. Scary Mary (a.k.a. hostess with the mostest pain) and her Hollywood neighbor and curator Conde, 45, will have their paintings on display at 1525 Lennox Ave., a house in South Beach they've rented. Well, a slave actually paid for the space, says Scary Mary, who is also a dominatrix.
Naturally, she'll be doing demonstrations in the torture chamber, as well as leading the doll burial ceremonies. Videos that Scary Mary has been making since 1986 will be running on screens in the seven-parlor home, and bloody marys and dead meat canapes will be served on opening night (Dec. 7), from 7:30 to midnight.
"The doll will represent things we hate. Like commercialism," Scary Mary says.
Her work and Conde's together explore the themes of the living and the dead, with Scary Mary's representing the living — after all "I'm the undead," she says — and Conde's venturing into the skeletal and the macabre. There will also be plenty of erotic art, including that vagina painting.
"You can put it right in," Scary Mary says. "It's like nothing anyone else is doing."
If you haven't heard of Lumonics there's a reason. Though adored by a small circle of friends, fans, and Florida art critics, they never asked for any attention, and for almost 40 years they routinely turned down invitations for more exposure.
Influenced by light shows of the late '60s, they've kept their heads down, quietly creating multimedia environments for the purpose of "making people feel good." They work mainly with Plexiglas, acrylics, video, and electronic and classical music to create a mood in a space. But for ABMB, they'll have individual light pieces for sale at the Edge Zones Art Complex. That's a first.
"We've never been to an art fair," says Dorothy Tanner, who runs the show these days. Her husband Mel died in 1993, and Tanner has decided it's time for his life's work to be shown. The most exposure they've allowed themselves was two years ago, when friends talked them into setting up a space at the Coral Springs Museum.
Friends kept telling Tanner she should share her art with more people, and finally she agreed. "I was like, hey, this stuff should be seen."
Alex Sweet and Timothy Buwalda
The Snitzer Gallery, owned by Fred Snitzer, will feature the wood burnings of Fort Lauderdale's Alex Sweet and watercolor paintings of West Palm Beach's Timothy Buwalda.
Sweet, a former high school athlete, explores the mentality of the athlete through his burnings. Buwalda — who left the family air-conditioning business three years ago — has examined connections between life events and car wrecks in a series of paintings.
Buwalda had been working with metal for nine years in his family business as an air-conditioner repairman, but he wasn't your average A/C dude. He loved the angles and the way the pieces fit together, and unlike most repairmen, he always wanted his installations "to be pretty." When he came home, he'd sometimes be up all night painting. Though he was the fastest A/C installer in the company, he wanted more. "I remember being in an attic one day and just thinking I was wasting my life," he says. "It wasn't my occupation. I immediately got out of the attic."
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He enrolled at New World School of the Arts in Miami, where he took a class with professor Fred Snitzer. Snitzer gave Buwalda his first solo show two months ago, and his paintings sold out. Now the gallery will feature Buwalda, 32, on the floor of the convention center, where dealers and wealthy collectors will no doubt behold his work and maybe hand over the big bucks.
"I never thought in a million years I'd be showing there," he said. "It tips you back."
New Times' own staff photographer will display some of her renowned child beauty pageant photographs at Bridge Art Fair and at Aqua. For more information on exhibitors and events, go to www.artbaselmiamibeach.com.