Mitzi Gordon has trekked south to Art Basel Miami Beach week so many times she can’t quite remember how many — probably six. Last December she drove her Bluebird Books Bus, a repurposed yellow school bus painted bright blue and stocked with printed matter, through the city during the art fair. This year she tried something new, heading to Miami’s hipster gallery district and street art hub, Wynwood, with two of St. Petersburg’s best known mural painters: Sebastian Coolidge and James Oleson, who is Gordon’s partner. Working over three days, the trio added a pair of vibrant murals to Wynwood’s walls, and Gordon, whose role was helping out Oleson, got a taste of the craft.
“This was the most time I’d spent on the streets with these guys, and it’s no easy work,” Gordon said afterwards by phone. “It’s a hard gig.”
While she was there, Gordon took the time to post some stickers for her “Read Movement” campaign in the neighborhood, where these days it’s tough to find a hard surface that isn’t already covered with art. Designed by Jay Giroux, the stickers promote reading with a catchy graphic of a woman’s face, masked with the word “READ.” Camera in hand, Gordon posted stickers and photographed murals — something she hopes to encourage more of in Pinellas County as director of Creative Pinellas.
“It’s great to see that level of participation in a public mural program. It’s definitely a painted city,” she said.
Each year tens of thousands of artists flock to Art Basel Miami Beach week to make their mark. (Coolidge’s took the shape of a four-frame mural of a nude woman with traffic-stopping breasts near the high-profile Margulies Collection. He went on to paint at least two more, Gordon reports.) During this year’s installment of Miami Basel (Dec. 3-7), more than 73,000 visitors flocked just to the main event — the Art Basel Miami Beach fair inside the Miami Beach Convention Center, where blue chip galleries hawk multi-million-dollar artworks. Countless others attended the dozens of satellite fairs, museum and gallery exhibitions, public art displays and performances that proliferate throughout the city, as well as the spectacular parties that vie for attention. A private Miley Cyrus concert at the tony Raleigh Hotel was the week’s most bizarre offering — and most sought-after ticket.
Tampa Bay’s proximity to Miami means there are always at least a few locals looking to get in on the action.
Artists Neil Bender and Taylor Pilote marketed their work at the Select Art Fair, a 3-year-old platform that grew in size dramatically this year and moved from the Catalina Hotel to a tent at Mid-Beach. Like many younger fairs, Select struggles to maintain a high level of quality among its exhibiting galleries and artists. As free cocktails flowed on opening night, there was everything on tap from a nude couple roaming the fair with a peacock as performance art to a video installation by rising art star Rashaad Newsome. Neatly groomed in button-down shirts and ties — Bender in his customary pink, Pilote in black — the guys chatted with visitors to their 200-square-foot booth, hoping to meet new collectors and curators.
“One week here gives us way more publicity than Tampa can,” Pilote said. “We’re in a small circle in Tampa. It’s getting bigger and better, but you can’t jump out of that group.”
The experience was a first for Tempus Projects, which partnered with Bender and Pilote to sponsor the booth. (Artists represented by galleries or even nonprofit spaces such as Tempus are held in higher regard than those operating alone.) Tempus, which celebrates its fifth anniversary on Saturday with a party in its Seminole Heights space, has exhibited both Pilote’s fiberglass sculptures of draped car façades and Bender’s erotically charged figure paintings. Making an appearance at the fair, where everyone is angling to become “someone,” was a good proposition for both the nonprofit and the artists.
“It’s part of the game,” Pilote said. “You catch traction with other people who are catching traction.”
At Aqua Art Fair, another alliance was playing out between Erika Greenberg-Schneider, owner of Tampa printmaking studio Bleu Acier, and former St. Pete gallery owner Mindy Solomon. The two collaborated to stage a booth showcasing two French artists: Dominque Labauvie, a steel sculptor and Greenberg’s husband, who lives in Tampa and is represented by Solomon’s Miami gallery, and Pierre Mabille, a painter who lives in France.
By day two, Mabille’s colorful pastel drawings of rhythmic, elliptical shapes had attracted so many buyers that Greenberg had to rehang the stand with available art. Elegant in a black tunic and ballet flats, she sold at Aqua while Solomon tackled Art Miami, a larger affair in the city’s Design District, with the wares of other artists.
“We have an arrangement that works for both of us,” Greenberg explained with artful discretion.
Greenberg has earned her stripes as a Miami fair veteran. Under Bleu Acier’s brand, she participated twice in the Bridge Art Fair before it dissolved, and once in Untitled, which has evolved into a hot venue for young, conceptually driven galleries. This year, she wasn’t eager to take on the effort alone. With Solomon’s backing, Aqua — an intimate and well-liked fair at the Aqua Hotel on South Beach — felt like the right degree of commitment, even with the 18- to 20-hour workdays.
“When I want to relax, I have a vodka in the hot tub,” Greenberg said.
Slideshow of other Miami art at Art Basel 2014 to come. Stay tuned!