Upon my return from Miami Basel, I have a bad morning dream, a common one for art historians. I am preparing to participate in a panel discussion... the chair, a friendly man I know slightly (who was he?), approaches me as everyone readies: "Where are your slides?" he asks. I have none. And no notes. I don't even know the topic. "I thought this was an informal colloquium kind of thing," I reply. "No, not at all. Everyone is reading a prepared paper. We invited you because we thought you were one of the tribe."
What would I have said then, if I had remained asleep, restlessly tossing after my seven hour drive home to Tampa? I awoke to type.
Hanging with Dealers...
"Kunst muss hangen!" cries Andrea Fraser. In that piece she is quoting Martin Kippenberger. He had bought some aluminum smiley face wall works by Fraser, which kept falling on the floor. For “Kunst,” Fraser mounted two fashionably crummy paintings on the wall, and projected a video of her ranting at herself onto them. I caught a glimpse of a still from Fraser’s work somewhere along the endless hallways of art which Miami became last weekend.
For a few days, Miami Beach and the Wynwood district on the mainlaind became the world’s biggest gallery district – Chelsea, Brooklyn, London, and Cologne rolled into one. It was nirvana for some and hell for others.
For me, Miami suddenly seemed like the most interesting city in the world. Over 30 years in the artworld and I’ve never seen so much contemporary art in one day. One morning which seemed by its end as if it were a week long, began at INK, where Stead Thomas, whose job seemed then to be literally holding a door open, slipped me a VIP card I never got to use, and ended in a Puerto Rican café as Pam Longobardi bought sandwiches for the dogs living in the dirt parking lot.
“Got your filters on?” cried curator David Norr as I passed him in the halls of the central show. No, never. So now I have a subconscious of world market art and the smiley-faced banana republic our nation has become.
As a digestive system for the contemporary collector, the Art Basel fair proper was conceived as a comprehensive museum, with a lobby in the mouth, the modernists in the gullet, and today’s blue chip in the stomach. Everybody else was in the miles and miles of digestive tract, with various “organs” – like Art Supernova, the sideroom multi-dealer pseudo-exhibition (I think there was a Nova I didn’t find) – and even an anus: a painting with the words “Just Another Crap Reena Spaulings Show” announced that NYC gallery collective’s offhanded booth.
There were epiphanies – an early work by Lucio Fontana, a lustrous blueish ceramic lozenge shape mounted on a black-painted oval with a hole punched through it as if by an oversized dowel. Suddenly the obscure canonical canvas slitting works made sense to me. “It’s the material, stupid!” Ergo, Arte Povera and process art. Out of ceramics, into painting, and beyond. (Asger Jorn, master of detournement, was also big into ceramics.)
My nominees for most influential work – the animator, master of the drowning polar bears, in Al Gore’s movie "An Inconvenient Truth"; the other anonyme, the designer of carceral costume and accessories at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Hugely popular themes – crowds and maps. The global justice movement and Google earth. My favorite crowd: Longobardi’s tiny workers in a circle of flames, all cut out of obsolete currency, at Pool. (The pic above is a detail of "Event Horizon," 2006.) My favorite birds’ eye view – the front and backstage of an endless rock concert called "Rock Iraq" by David Shapiro in the Feldman-Pierogi-Hales show.
I recently learned that Kippenberger based his Metro-Net project on a snatch of a Buster Keaton movie, “The Frozen North” (1922). The Metro-Net series of sculptures purport to represent a global system of underground subway trains, entrance/exits, ventilation shafts. Kippenberger worked out the design for the system on hotel stationery around the world. This struck me as a perfect expression of the globalized nomad condition of contemporary art. I became obsessed with finding a still of the Keaton scene. It turned up on Google Video, titled in French. “The Frozen North” is fragmentary, a lost featurette, existing now only as scenes. In the very first shot in the Google cut, Keaton emerges from the Metro-Net prototype, a dark, fully shingled subway station of the kind that disappeared from NYC long ago. He walks through deep snow toward the camera, then past it. On his back we see that he is carrying socks hanging on a line… It is Marcel Duchamp’s "Traveling Sculpture." Keaton next appears at a window…
Artists are all thieves. Kippenberger caught Keaton and Duchamp red-handed, and took what was nailed down. In the case of Keaton and Duchamp, who took from whom? I saw Frances Naumann in the Basel, who would know if anyone does, but he had mounted a dense museal exhibition of Dada memorabilia, which I dared not approach. Besides, he was very busy selling.