Sticker Shock and Awe

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On my final day in town, I finally get around to visiting the Big Kahuna, Miami Basel, itself. With a lot of what’s on view sharing three characteristics—big, weird, and expensive—I prepare myself to enter a funhouse of visual art.


Basel is an art marketplace to the extreme, an art Costco for collectors, as one New York Times reporter put it this week. In one corner, Picassos and de Koonings line the walls; in another, monitors loop the latest in video art. This year, the fair drew a record 40,000 visitors to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Inside, it seems as if all of them are here now, yammering on cell phones in at least a dozen different languages.


It’s a shopping—or window-shopping—experience designed to make you feel very special and like complete shit all at once. Private lounges and VIP entrances separate the wheat from the chaff—but a latté or a glass of champagne is readily available even to the general public. Bag searches are obligatory (but not for me as a member of the press!), as is condescension from gallery helpers. And, please, though large metallic sculptures look an awful lot like playground equipment, do not let your progeny climb on them.


Many Bay area folks I run into confess that they’ve enjoyed the main fair least, some of them skipping it all together. But despite the satellite events that have sprung up around the city to offer art that’s fresher and more affordable, Basel’s still got one thing in spades: spectacle.

Pictured: (1) Visitors cool their heels at one of Basel’s public lounge spaces.

(2) Oldies but goodies: 40-year-old paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat will run you a cool $2 million.

(3) At Deitch Projects, a warped payphone by Richard Lazzarini sold for $350,000.


(4) Bored Gallery Babes, a species indigenous to the art fair ecosystem...


(5) Shintaro Miyake’s furry critters take over this Tokyo gallery’s booth.


(6) Lehmann Maupin Gallery of New York opts for a white tile floor to complement paintings by Adriana Varejao. The effect: like standing in a giant shower stall.


(7) Zilvinas Kempinas’s filmstrip suspended between two blowing fans sold out as an edition of six priced between $20-30,000 each.


(8) Iain Baxter’s canned bears were still available late Sunday afternoon for $27,500.


(9) Good question. This piece by Brett Murray, made from “metal and fools gold,” sold for $5,000 each as an edition of 3.

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