Behemoth on the Beach: Art Basel Synopsis by Cara Ober

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Uneven but Satisfying: Aqua Art Fair 2013 by Cara Ober


Tracy Emin at Lehmann Maupin

What needs to be said about an art fair where Tracy Emin is the headliner? The booths are big and you can see white wall space, a clear indicator of quality in an actual gallery (read: I can afford to leave this empty). A glass of champagne (ironically the brand is Ruinart) costs $12 and the bottle is $120. A can of coke is four bucks. Heavy, glossy fair catalogues are free and the lines for the bathroom are long. This fair is so big it’s divided into a number of sections including gallery booths, film, outdoor public art, magazines, and several different individual and group curated project spaces.

I will admit I am not a huge fan of this fair. Sure, it’s the impetus and epicenter for the ever-growing spectacle of art sales that is now referred to as Art Basel Miami Beach, but it’s not the greatest viewing or shopping experience for a regular person. This fair is like window shopping on Madison Avenue in New York – while it’s full of great big shiny stuff, the price points and dense crowds are prohibitive and exhausting. I found myself rushing through and not paying close attention because everything was equally loud and blingy. On the whole, the artists featured at Basel are the most blue chip of the blue, and the works presented here are polished to the point of sterility.

Art Basel Miami Beach is full of museum-caliber artists, but I’d rather see their work in museums or a biennial. None of this work will ever come to live in my house. On opening night, also known as vernissage (named for French Salons where artists would put one last coat of varnish on their works after hanging them up) this fair sells to VIP VIP’s, to museums and the 1% of the 1%, and after that it’s kind of like Disneyland. Galleries like Gagosian, Gavin Brown, Lehmann Maupin, Pace Prints, and James Cohan are perfectly at home here with their international counterparts and I appreciate that Basel, unlike other fairs, curates individual artists and groups of artists into mini-exhibits, so it’s not all sales booths. Other highlights are the magazine section of the fair, where Art in America, Art Forum, and others sell subscriptions, magazines, books and T-shirts (Frieze T-Shirts read Fuck Art Fairs), and the excellent wooden barrelly viewing booths in the ‘Film’ section of the fair.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed delivering a lecture to Johns Hopkins alumni at a private event in the Basel Convention Center, I have to admit the truth. Bottom line, this fair is big, impersonal, loud, and crowded. There’s a palpable sense of excitement here and you can practically taste the money, but it’s not a satisfying experience for an artist or a novice collector looking for a special piece.

Below you will find a variety of works at this year’s Art Basel Fair and a few of my favorites culled from the melee. More photos and commentary from the other fairs is on the way!


more Tracy Emin


oh, Tracy. being an artist is so hard.


lots of color




giant egg at Gagosian



fair navigation above and a lounge, but no electrical sockets hence no young people sitting around waiting for their iPhones to charge


fuck-art copy

F*ck| Art Fairs T’s in the Art Basel Font




Champagne Cart a la Ruinart


big letters and a flag


hot pink is nice


don’t step on the art, you Philistines!


dangling wires as sculpture everywhere – I’m not feeling this


would look good in a big bathroom?


did someone knock this over?


a very large stack


gold bling on a tray


a backpack cast into concrete


Simon Evans at James Cohan



Eva Kotatkova collages at Meyer Reigger – a favorite




Viewing stations in the Film Section were actually very cool and comfy, but there weren’t enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to view




Mickalene Thomas @Lehmann Maupin






taxidermied baby deer covered in glass baubles



Barry McGee at Ratio 3. This was one of my favorite pieces in this fair, obviously because I’m interested in archeology and pattern, but also because of the intimacy of the work. In a fair where everything is BIG and obnoxious, McGee’s accumulation of smaller paintings works as a whole and wasn’t dwarfed by the scale of the fair. Despite their flat and snazzy read from a distance, these works were surprisingly rewarding up close. Their surfaces were activated by unexpected layers of paint and an imperfect, wonky hand. Maybe I’m sizeist? Maybe I’m just not into big works?




A special project by John Armleder with works by Massimo Bartolini, Sanford Biggers, Alighiero Boetti, Enrico Castellani, Steven Claydon, Dan Colen, Roberto Cuoghi, Dadamaino, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Bertrand Lavier, Nate Lowman, Rudolph Stingel, Piotr Uklanski, Kaari Upson and Yan Pei Ming. People kept walking by and saying “Oooh! Look at the kitties!” Maybe live cats at an art fair are the next step? Petting booths? This is the future of art, people.




My other favorite piece at Basel was a giant wall of intimate drawings and collages by Colombian artist Johanna Calle at Galleria Cass Reigner. This work was included in the ‘Supernova’ section of the fair, which gave twenty galleries the opportunity to show works by ’emerging’ artists. Again, accumulation is the only strategy that works at this fair for an artist who works small. Each piece was intricate, personal, awkward, and a bit sweet. A mostly neutral palette punctuated by reds and tans pulled it together as a cohesive view.








Johanna Calle, Colombian b. 1965 “Untitled (other letters)” 2001. Ink on Paper

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