Art Basel Miami Beach: Dizzying, Dazzling and Full of Dollar Signs

Art Basel Miami Beach Vernissage December 1, 2016 - Getty -H 2016
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Stars, star artists and selfies in Miami Beach.

The hardest thing about covering arts week in Miami is staying focused. You’ve got the art, the people, the fashion. An Elle Macpherson sighting!  A brand-new painting by Los Angeles artist Enrique Celaya Martínez! And are those the $10,000 Vetements hand-painted boots?!

So if in our roundup of what not to miss, we veer from people to places to things and back, please know that here in Miami, one’s eyeballs do the very same thing. (In fact, "Eye Movements,' a colorful work on view at Art Miami, by the L.A. artist known as Desire Obtain Cherish, is about this very phenom.)

Scouting the stands during VIP hours at Art Basel Miami Beach were MOCA’s director Philippe Vergne, Martha Stewart and artists Chuck Close, Rob Pruitt and John Baldessari. The biggest sale ($2 million) on Wednesday was a 2016 canvas by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford, who has been chosen to represent the U.S. at next year’s Venice Biennale. Five art works, all made in 2016, by L.A.'s Sterling Ruby also sold, priced between $55,000-$180,000. David Kordansky’s L.A. gallery found itself with a nearly sold-out booth by late morning Wednesday, with works by Sam Gilliam ($400,000), Mary Weatherford ($100,000) and Rashid Johnson ($175,000) quickly claimed by private collectors and a foundation.

Thursday morning at the art fair Pulse, artist Zoe Buckman (wife of actor David Schwimmer) had a timely artwork on view. She created the neon piece Champ (2016) in response to the attacks — physical and political, historical and pending — on providers of women’s reproductive health care in the U.S. and the impact on underserved people and communities.

A hot ticket every year is the invitation-only opening at the private museum founded by the hip hoteliers Mera and Don Rubell (brother of the late Studio 54 founder Steve Rubell). This year, the first room of their ground-floor exhibition is given over to “Video Art in Latin America,” a project of the Getty Research Institute’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a collaboration of arts institutions across Southern California that will present these works along with more than 70 exhibitions focused on Latin American and Latino art next fall at LAXART.

Meanwhile, upstairs, High Anxiety: New Acquisitions presents artworks the Rubells bought within the last two years that purport to reveal a “shared state of uncertainty, nervousness and pessimism,” according to the family. “It’s been a year of huge anxiety. We were feeling it — I was even having nightmares,” Mera explained in an interview. The show, she added “demonstrates that a lot of good art deals with decision-making and challenges facing our own lives and the world, in terms of social justice, climate, sexuality, bigotry, political power.”

Two c-prints on view are by artist and cult filmmaker John Waters (aka “The Pope of Trash”). First, there’s Brainiac (2014), which mocks up and thus mocks the breathless storytelling of The National Enquirer with fake news stories about “celebrities” like the writers Joan Didion and Philip Roth, and then there’s Beverly Hills John (2012), a scary self-portrait for which the artist has made his face up as if he has had every possible dermatological and surgical intervention.

Another highlight is a fragile interactive sculpture of a chubby, life-sized infant titled Glass Baby (2015) by artist Jennifer Rubell (the couple’s daughter). Museum-goers are encouraged to hold and pass the sculpture as if it were a real child. “I looked at the piece again after the elections and I felt it captures this feeling of taking the country and passing it along," Jennifer explained. “And it made me cry thinking of the trust. You are banking on the humanity of the person you’re giving it to.”

(The talk of the Rubells’ opening party, however, was the family’s plans — known by insiders for many months and announced by The New York Times on Monday — to expand the museum in 2018 into a former nearby food distribution warehouse that is being turned into a massive art campus by the art world’s favorite architect, Annabelle Selldorf.)

For the more than 100,000 visitors who flocked to Miami this week, there were other kinds of eye-candy, too. Tuesday night, Sarah Jessica Parker surprised guests (including model Petra Nemcova) at a temporary pop-up aerie called L'Eden by the champagne-maker Perrier-Jouët. As part of a performance created by theatrical director and New York nightlife impresario (and Harry Potter actress Bonnie Wright's boyfriend) Simon Hammerstein, Parker, bedecked in pink sequined Dolce & Gabbana dress, recited a love poem by W.H. Auden and grabbed the glass of another guest to offer a toast. Also seen at that ongoing bubbly rooftop party this week were Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker’s ex-wife Barbara and Karolina Kurkova (in a silk Olivia von Halle suit and Mark Cross bag).

Beyoncé and Jay Z are apparently making a penthouse suite at Loews Miami Beach their home this week, according to an employee of the hotel. Sean Combs made the scene Wednesday with longtime art advisor Mariá Brito, also known to advise Gwyneth Paltrow. As Cuban-American artist and Miami native José Parlá talked about the recent death of Fidel Castro at the opening of his art exhibition inside Miami’s historic Jewel Box building, the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh, now on medical leave with his NBA career on the line, studied Parla’s paintings. Bosh towered over fans who flocked to the local sports star with wishes for his health and — times being what they are — requests for selfies.