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.