Smock and Awe

Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Artist and activist Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

On last Saturday’s sunny afternoon, while galleries around her prepared for the final openings of the autumn, artist Andrea Zittel was hocking smocks in the courtyard in front of Regen Projects. Although Smockshop will soon be freestanding (in both the physical and, separate as it is from Zittel’s practice, the conceptual senses), its future home, in Chinatown, has yet to be completed. Rather than wait, Zittel has decided to take the store on the road. At around $350 dollars apiece, the smocks are cheap if you think of them as art, less so if you think of them as clothes. In designing the patterns and having a group of artists and artisans cut the cloth, however, Zittel looks to this as a way for artists to make money when their work doesn’t. “I tell all my students to make radically noncommercial work,” Zittel explained. “How can I expect them to survive?”

I didn't realize that I was the only man fumbling through the smocks (potential Christmas presents?), until Matthew Barney walked up. “Matthew, where’s your smock?” one of the shop attendants razzed him as he paused at a particularly interesting piece designed by Peggy Pabustan. “I’ve already got one,” he declared. He did not say whether he was outfitting himself or his wife, Björk.

As dusk settled in, Smockshop closed so that exhibitions by Barney and (at Regen Projects II) Urs Fischer could open. Visitors began to file into the gallery, looking intently at photographic remnants of Barney’s Cremaster 3, video from his Manchester performance, and drawings on black paper made with both subtle pencil lines and globs of his signature petroleum jelly. The photographs, many of American cars, were adorned with black rubber sashes as if they were the losers of a Motor City beauty contest.

Left: Dealer Kim Light and producer and curator Stefan Simchowitz. Right: Artist Barbara T. Smith.

I skipped out before the crowd reached critical mass and headed over to Chinatown. David Kordansky hosted an elegant show of photographs and sculptures by Anthony Pearson, while China Art Objects featured the Mountain School of Art’s First Annual Kippenberger Award for Artistic Excellence, given to the student who bought the most drinks over the course of the semester at the school’s eponymous bar headquarters. The winner, Justin Hansch, collaborated with artist Jason Starr on a group of delightfully messy paintings and sculptures. I overheard dealer Daniel Hug, who effused over the show, balk at the prices to China Art’s director, Maeghan Reid, who quietly replied, “The artists priced the work themselves.” Such a bold move makes them truly deserving of the Kippenberger.

As I made my way down Chung King Road, I checked in on the closing event for Barbara T. Smith at The Box. Gallery director Mara McCarthy watched over the people in their socks navigating Field Piece, 1968/71, a set of rather phallic-looking nine-and-a-half-foot resin tubes made to look like blades of grass, which light up when you step near them. A number of documentary photos depicted the sculpture’s original installation, complete with a group of nude men and women lounging in and around its translucent green blades. When asked about the works’ swinging atmosphere, Smith shrugged and offered: “What can I say? It was the ’70s.”

Next was Culver City, where, at Kim Light Gallery, curator Stefan Simchowitz kindly walked me through “Bitten!,” an exhibition of exceedingly colorful work inspired by pixelation—including Cory Arcangel, Paper Rad’s Ben Jones, and Christina Malbek. Words like new! and young! were tossed around, while participating artist and Deitch Projects' director, Kathy Grayson, dubbed the whole affair simply “exuberant.” A beatifically grinning Robert Olsen presided over the crowd at Susanne Vielmetter, where his paintings—quiet works imbued with a sense of urban dread—share the gallery, and contrast nicely, with Adam Ross’s paintings of sci-fi candy-lands. One might say that Los Angeles exists in both artists’ work.

Left: Artist Robert Olsen. Right: Dealer Daniel Hug and artist Eric Wesley.

The sci-fi noir mood carried through to Canter’s, the legendary twenty-four-hour Jewish deli, where Vielmetter holds most of her gallery’s dinners. While this kind of deli—endless menu, 1960s-kitsch decor, and cavernous interior—may fast be disappearing from New York, it is still an integral part of the LA experience, though our server was less a beehived matron than a graying stunt double for David Lynch’s Eraserhead. While people polished off pastrami and knishes, I jokingly asked Vielmetter whether anyone came into the gallery for last-minute Christmas shopping. “Perhaps one couple,” she mused. “They bought a rather festive red and green painting.”

The following night, Overduin and Kite organized a performance of Guy de Cointet’s At Sunrise . . . a Cry Was Heard, which debuted at the Biltmore Hotel in 1976 and was here being performed by the original actress, Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman, to coincide with the upcoming show of de Cointet’s work at the gallery. The crowd included many of the late artist’s friends and collaborators (Larry Bell, Bob Wilhite, and Cirrus Gallery’s Jean Milant); critics Bruce Hainley of Artforum and Sonia Compagnola of Flash Art; and artists Nathan Hylden, Carter Mull, and Bobbi Woods. One audience member noted that if Kafka wrote soap operas, the result would approximate de Cointet’s work, and this performance—surreal, theatrical, and funny—seemed a case in point. In the performance, Glicksman waxes philosophic and attempts to tease out all of the subtleties of the “abstraction, antiquity, and unchallenged beauty” of a painting shown in the center of the stage. That the painting she declaims about is nothing like the one in front of her brought the kind of chuckles that Waiting for Godot can elicit from the right audience. After the approximately thirty-minute piece finished to a round of applause, the audience gathered around to toast the actress and the writer. I caught up with Glicksman on my way out, and in response to my congratulations, she gave a breathy thank-you and added, with a smile, “I’m not a very good actress, but I think it went well.”

Andrew Berardini

Left: Artist Penti Monkkonen and collector John Morace. Right: Dealers Lisa Overduin and Kristina Kite.

The Ambassadors


Left: Artist João Pedro Vale with dealers Filomena Soares and Manuel Santos. Right: Artist Mafalda Santos. (All photos: Miguel Amado)

Last Saturday morning, a group of Lisbon-based artists, dealers, critics, and journalists flew to Luxembourg for the opening of “Portugal Agora” (Portugal Now) at MUDAM, a show co-organized by the museum’s director, Marie-Claude Beaud, and curators Clément Minighetti and Björn Dahlström. Although everybody knew one another, the group seemed divided into cliques, a common condition of the historically atomized Portuguese art world and one that seemed insurmountable, even at the most ambitious exhibition yet of “Portuguese art” outside the country itself.

The exhibition brings together thirty-eight artists, a cohort that, as Minighetti put it, would “reveal the various practices and generations” that make up the country’s cultural life. This sentiment, albeit with a different complexion, was also expressed by Serralves Museum director João Fernandes, who observed that he “would never have dared to make such a diverse selection of artists.” Even if the show is, according to Instituto Camões president Simonetta Luz Afonso, “extremely important” because it was organized by foreign curators, the checklist nevertheless reflects, in large part, the current power relations within the Portuguese art scene, which is dominated by a few curators and critics who emerged in the mid- to late 1990s and who today focus almost exclusively on a handful of artists and dealers. The lack of works by Julião Sarmento—one of the most widely recognized Portuguese artists worldwide—was surprising given the show’s variety of artists, from old master Paula Rego to international rising star Joana Vasconcelos to the San Francisco–based muralist Rigo 23 to young painter Mafalda Santos.

MUDAM’s Director Marie-Claude Beaud and Portuguese minister of finance Fernando Teixeira dos Santos. Right: Curators Björn Dahlström and Clément Minighetti.

Santos’s father, Portuguese minister of finance Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, and former European Commission president Jacques Santer were among the VIPs who patiently listened to the official opening speech, which emphasized the importance of the exhibition as a way of raising the status of the long-standing yet oft-neglected Portuguese community in Luxembourg. The city, one of this year’s European Capitals of Culture, has long been home to a migrant Portuguese population—hence the framework of the exhibition. However, this topic wasn’t much addressed by the works on view, as the majority of Portuguese artists engage primarily with formal questions rather than social issues. Indeed, only Isabel Carvalho dealt with immigration in her projects: She set up two radio panel discussions with young Luxembourg-based artists and musicians of Portuguese descent and also commissioned local hip-hop bands to perform at the opening.

After noting Rigo 23’s STOP sign (written in Portuguese), I followed the VIP committee through the intricate I. M. Pei–designed building and Sancho Silva’s mazelike brick structure girding the lower floors. I noticed that some artists were frustrated by technical difficulties—sculptures had to be fixed and video projections turned on. Apparently, an earlier power failure had thrown a wrench into the installation process. Others were quite pleased, including Margarida Gouveia and Miguel Branco, whose photography and miniature paintings and sculptures of fantastic human and animal figures are smartly juxtaposed. João Pedro Vale, who is exhibiting a large-scale installation that references “Jack and the Beanstalk” in the museum’s grand hall, and Vasconcelos, whose suspended sculpture featuring a popular form of Portuguese jewelry made from red plastic cutlery has been given a large space to itself, were also radiant, not only because their works were magnificently presented but also because they were attracting most of the attention.

Left: Collector João Pinto de Sousa and artist Joana Vasconcelos. Right: Artists Wendy Wong and Sancho Silva.

Initially mistaking him for Vale, a journalist approached João Penalva in order to provoke a comment. Reluctant at first, Penalva said that this was a significant show for the promotion of Portuguese art, although he acknowledged that he wasn’t “sure what Portuguese art is.” How, Penalva wondered, if he has been living in London for more than twenty-five years, does his production relate to Portugal? The question reminded me of another visitor’s comment in regard to the conspicuous absence from the opening of Pedro Cabrita Reis, the title of whose work A propos des lieux d’origine (About the Places of Origin) provides the subtitle for the exhibition. Apparently, Cabrita Reis proclaimed that he “wasn’t a Portuguese artist, just an artist.” On that brisk night, in between the small talk and cigarettes, I was left to wonder how many of the other artists sympathized with, or even understood the implications of, his sentiment.

Miguel Amado


New York

Left: Blonde Redhead performs at the Guggenheim. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Ryan McGinley. (Photo: David Velasco)

Last Thursday’s Young Collectors Council Artist’s Ball at the Guggenheim brought uptown a low-life tableau appropriate to its guest of honor, the photographer Ryan McGinley. Plausibly candid yet staged, intoxicated, and headlined by the artist of the evening’s favorite band, Blonde Redhead, McGinley’s Guggenheim takeover sported nearly as many flashbulbs and cameramen as people willing to pose for them.

The museum’s press reps had promised heavyweight lens fodder, and some even made it: indie-music darling Feist, Piper Perabo, Leelee Sobieski, and, nailing the New York zeitgeist, Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively. (Some of the more outlandish camera bait—Michael Stipe! Mary-Kate Olsen! Joshua Jackson!—did not.) In lieu of the consortium of art stars (glimpses of Jeff Koons, Jack Pierson, Adam McEwen, and Slater Bradley; brief introductions to Rita Ackermann and Whitney Biennial curator Shamim Momin), I made do with the company of a few McGinley models, on hand to gawk at their own outré cameos.

“Might get a nosebleed up here,” joked Host Committee member Aaron Bondaroff, sweating it out above Fourteenth Street. A few feet away hung Kai Regan’s photograph Everyone Loves Aaron, on auction to support the museum. As for McGinley’s posse, artists Dan Colen and Nate Lowman, Donald Cumming and Wade Oates from McGinley’s other favorite band, the Virgins, and half of the remaining Bowery set were present—and often pictured as well. I asked Cumming whether he felt honored. “That’s Wade,” he said instead, pointing at a projection of a McGinley photograph of a dick protruding through unbuttoned jeans. “But seriously, I’m very proud of my friend,” he added, meaning McGinley.

Left: Artist Slater Bradley with the New York Times's Jennifer Pastore. Right: Leelee Sobieski. (Photos: David Velasco)

The momentary ascendance of the LES was a point of pride for McGinley—“Downtown comes uptown!” he affably noted, on message, once cornered. The Guggenheim wasn’t unprepared for the invasion. Protective carpeting covered the floor. Security kept a stoic eye trained on those stray Richard Princes hung low enough to be mistaken for party favors. Not only Regan but Bradley, Agathe Snow, Carter Mull, Spencer Sweeney, Marc Swanson, Ryan McGinness, Carol Bove, and Aïda Ruilova had all donated their work for silent auction—a cavalcade of young artists stepping up to remind their elders that the youth movement in New York only begins, and doesn’t end, with McGinley.

As if in fond parody of McGinley’s own photographs, most basked in the scene’s hedonism and engaged in some innocently bad behavior—even if it never devolved into true debauchery. Blonde Redhead took the stage after an introduction from McGinley, doomed by circumstance to merely play sound track to the revelry. Their solution? Hazy, smeared, and unprepossessing shoegaze, but loud: a classic downtown riposte to uptown bad manners.

As for the “young collectors,” one could only wonder who was in it for longer than the duration of the evening. Flirting with the affluent young—in this case, socialites and their hedge-fund boyfriends—with an eye toward cultivating future trustees is an age-old museum tradition. But it’s hard not to feel put off by such transparent speculation. Still, the scene was irresistible, especially with McGinley, one of the more significant artists New York has turned out in the past decade, as the draw. Certainly, McGinley’s friends seemed unruffled by the peacocking. In a team effort, the circulating vodka-shot trays were tapped out, then the champagne. By the evening’s end, Bondaroff—again in the role of his downtown alter ego, A-Ron—had commandeered a microphone to salute the man of the hour. Sensing the clock ticking, he added: “We only have five minutes left to make it happen.”

Zach Baron

Left: Aaron Bondaroff with the Guggenheim's Bronwyn Keenan. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Nate Lowman. (Photo: David Velasco)

Idle Chatter

New York

Left: Cabinet editor in chief Sina Najafi with Aaron Levy, executive director and chief curator of the Slought Foundation. Right: Jean-Michel Rabaté, senior curator of the Slought Foundation. (All photos courtesy Cabinet/Slought Foundation)

God, how did they get me out of bed for this one? If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then theorizing about sloth is like masturbating about peace. Or something like that. And this was no Beckettian affair, with broad expanses of idle silence to contemplate nothingness at one’s leisure; this was six and a half hours of nonstop lecturing, paneling, questioning. On a Saturday. OK, there was a lunch break. But really.

Co-organized by Cabinet, a fine magazine to which your correspondent has contributed, and the Slought Foundation, which must be the artiest organization in Philadelphia (see for yourself:; no hoagies allowed), “In Defense of Sloth,” at Cooper Union, turned out to be a standard academic conference—professors delivering papers, abetted by slides—gussied up by its odd topic and a couple vintage nature films.

To honor the symposium’s theme, I tried to be late. I really did. I overslept, inched my way into Manhattan, and lingered outside by the statue of Peter Cooper. To no avail: The symposium out-slothed me. I took my seat inside the sparsely populated Great Hall a good five minutes before it began. Cabinet editor Sina Najafi and Slought director and curator Aaron Levy welcomed us and proceeded to list synonyms for and other words related to sloth. So, not exactly “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but at least commensurate with the level of underachievement implied by the event’s title.

The first lecturer was Marina van Zuylen, French-department chair at Bard, who spoke about Paul Lafargue’s 1883 treatise against work, “The Right to be Lazy.” Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, preempted Calvinist attacks on his argument by pointing out that God worked for six days and rested for all eternity. Then again, his father-in-law once said of his writings, “If that’s Marxism, I’m not a Marxist!” (You keep score; I’m too lazy.) Titling her presentation “I Work, Therefore I’m Not,” van Zuylen summarized Lafargue’s passion for idleness, his sense that our “absurd and lethal rivalry with machines” was killing moments of authentic being in human life. She also quoted Nietzsche, who wrote that “work is the best police” and that “American work madness is infecting Old Europe.”

Left: Pierre Saint-Amand, professor of comparative literature and French at Brown University, and Marina van Zuylen, chair of the French program at Bard College. Right: Marina van Zuylen and Aaron Levy.

Next up was Pierre Saint-Amand, from Brown, also French. His talk on Rousseau’s slothful predilections—as expressed in his autobiographical writings and rather at odds with his political thought—drifted by me into the ether, mainly due to Saint-Amand’s thick accent and breathy delivery. He seemed like a very nice, very smart guy, but I found myself thinking about banana-nut muffins. I do recall that he said that Rousseau purposely threw away his watch, though, which I liked.

Daniel Rosenberg, associate history professor at the University of Oregon, and also nice/smart-seeming, began his talk about the talented Taylor family of the nineteenth century and how their children’s books inculcated the youth of the day with a strong work ethic—but really, I had to go. This was too much like college, or work, so I left. Snack, cigarette, stroll, gaze at Peter Cooper. When I returned, Christopher Turner was giving a wry, entertaining look at the early-twentieth-century fad for the Steinach operation—vasectomies with monkey- or goat-gland transplants on the side—which attracted attenuated males from Freud to Yeats with promises of restored vigor and virility. While there was no proof the procedure worked, many believed it did—until it was rendered obsolete by injectable synthetic testosterone.

After lunch, the old nature films ran—one on the Dodder, a parasitic plant of creeping tendrils, another on those busy, busy ants—both narrated in the psychotically cheery 1950s style that must have been partly responsible for the countercultural upheavals of the 1960s. Then, when Cabinet’s UK editor Brian Dillon told the room that he wouldn’t start his talk until his friends returned from a Japanese restaurant, a well-dressed middle-aged man loudly objected, “You’re half an hour late already!” and stormed off with his companion in a huff.

Left: The sloth doll. (Photo: Grayson Revior) Right: Emily Apter, professor of comparative literature and French at NYU, with Cabinet UK editor Brian Dillon.

After this inappropriate blast of officiousness, Dillon’s friends returned, and he gave an engaging talk on the relationship of British hypochondria and sloth, noting that Darwin (who frequently farted and vomited), Boswell (who envisioned a mechanical bed that would raise his torso every morning), and Florence Nightingale (who did much of her work from bed) all developed surprisingly efficient routines through the management of their real and imagined maladies. Slought curator and University of Pennsylvania professor Jean-Michel Rabaté followed, lecturing on Belacqua, the indolent character in Dante’s Purgatorio, and Samuel Beckett. As he mentioned how Beckett’s students would often find him sleeping at home instead of teaching them, I began dozing myself. Older than the rest, Rabaté was deeply substantial, but I was ready for Molloy’s ditch.

There was no stopping the Sloth Express, however. MIT architecture professor and Grey Room coeditor Felicity Scott seized the dais and delivered a rapid-fire talk on the Drop City geodesic dome commune, Santa Cruz’s way-alternative Pacific High School, and the Ant Farm collective—all late-’60s iterations of the counterculture’s refusal of work and straight society. Her mannered, staccato speaking style, along with her ideas, did manage to jar me awake but also made me realize how much pedagogical effort went into this afternoon’s celebration of inactivity. Curator Katherine Carl then gave a casual overview of the charmingly slothful Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic—who has said that there are no Western artists, because they’re not lazy enough to earn the title—with slides of his witty, maudit artwork and of him sleeping. At this point, my ass hurt. Had exhaustion exhausted itself?

No. There must be the requisite panel discussion, and so there was. All of the speakers lined up behind a long table and were joined by NYU comp-lit professor Emily Apter, who moderated. By now, there were hardly more people in the audience than onstage, but a few questions were fielded: one from a young man who stuttered, another from an older man I presumed to be homeless but who flaunted his SLOTH T-shirt and waxed about the Jewish Sabbath, and the obligatory “You’ve been talking about white men the whole time; where are the women?” question. The last, in this case, was a good one—all the sloth champions discussed were men, save Nightingale—but it was neatly, and very untheoretically, parried by Apter, who said, “There are women of certain classes who are just women.” Nice work if you can get it.

Stocked Market


Left: Autocenter director Joep van Liefland. Right: Zegar Cools with some customers. (All photos: Jennifer Allen)

Expansion is the new name of the game for Berlin galleries. From Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA) to Galerie Nordenhake to Isabella Bortolozzi, many have recently upgraded to bigger and better digs. Never one to miss out on the action, nonprofit platform Autocenter has followed suit, setting a new agenda in the process. “Location is key,” mused Joep van Liefland, who has codirected the gallery—originally located in a former auto-repair shop at the deepest, darkest edge of the eastern district Friedrichshain—with Maik Schierloh since 2001. “We were looking for greater visibility and a larger public,“ explained van Liefland. ”Of course, high-profile neighbors always help.”

Indeed, CFA set up shop in a David Chipperfield–designed building near Museum Island, where swarms of tourists stream in and out of the Pergamon Museum, while Nordenhake moved to a larger location in the Lindenhaus, just down the street from Daniel Libeskind’s landmark Jewish Museum. Now Autocenter—after sharing its garage with the insider nightclub Lovelite—has moved into the floor above discount supermarket Lidl. A quick stroll from the Storkowerstraße station on the S-Bahn, this particular link in the popular chain is one of several big-box stores that have recently sprung up in a no-man's land between Lichtenberg and Friedrichshain. Making my way through the parking lots last Friday, I was greeted by a host of signs announcing BRUTAL BILLIG (“brutally cheap”) and SCONTO SOFORT (“cash-payment discounts”). Good luck finding such promises at Art Basel Miami Beach.

One of Lidl’s holiday-season slogans—LUXUS FÜR ALLE! (“Luxury for all!”)—was so promising that I decided to make a detour to investigate before checking out the Autocenter's grand reopening upstairs. “I'm looking for some art,” I told Lidl Service Team member Frau Herrmann, who smoothly directed me to a DIY craft kit packed with glue, paint, and little seashells (all the way from Florida!). Instead of some long-winded critical-theory spiel, Herrmann gave me the straight talk—“It costs €4.99”—and walked away. The high euro might deter American collectors, but I was ready for some major Christmas shopping.

Left: Artists Jeroen Jacobs and Lucio Auri. Right: Artist Deborah Ligorio and curator Fanny Gonella.

With some dismay, I soon realized that Lidl is undercutting prices for the official avant-garde and threatening to destabilize the entire art market by shamelessly mass-marketing fakes—however fabulous-looking. If Tobias Meyer were here, he'd be banging his hammer in protest! Along with the seashell craft kit, I picked up three Duchampian snow shovels (€14.99 each), a Candice Breitz–friendly karaoke machine (€99.99), a Richard Prince–like fan kit for Rapunzel, Barbie’s German cousin (€4.99), and Thomas Hirschhorn's signature brown masking tape (a five-roll pack for a mere €0.99).

Overloaded with luxury, I ran into some families in the parking lot and convinced them to join me for the opening. “Will we be on TV?” the father asked. “Not quite,” I explained, leading them toward the exhibition: a retrospective featuring artists, from Liu Anping to Suse Weber, who exhibited at the Autocenter’s old location over the last seven years. My personal fave: curator Caroline Eggel's re-creation of her own 2002 group show, “Tomorrow’s Fish & Chips,” as a rickety shelf decked out with works (or photocopies of works) by Pae White, Matthew Monahan, Olafur Eliasson, and Lucio Auri.

But the real showstopper was the new Autocenter Mobile Bar, a 360-degree rotating tap on wheels. “No more lineups!” proclaimed Zegar Cools, a member of the four-man-strong bartender team, who served guests with a speed and cheer that recalled ’50s full-service gas-station attendants. But do all these fancy-schmancy features, however pleasing, spell sellout? “When Autocenter showed at the fake Gagosian Gallery at the last Berlin Biennial,” whispered one guest, who wanted to remain anonymous, “it could only go more mainstream . . . ” But van Liefland enjoys mixing the popular with the peripheral. “We are looking for ‘friends,’ sort of like museum patrons,” he explained. “Instead of getting a wing, Friends of the Autocenter can drink for free at all the openings.”

With my token friendship beer, I wandered out onto the expansive balcony—two thousand square feet with an unobstructed view of the Fernsehturm television tower—and dreamed of future summer barbecues. The gallery will definitely be the place to enjoy both art and sunsets, stretching over the empty skyline before it fills up with the Gagosians, Joplings, and Jablonkas, all trying to catch up with the Autocenter trendsetting machine.

Left: Artists Mai Gunnes and Hester Oerlemans. Right: The Autocenter bar team.

Heavy Traffic


Left: Collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Wexner Center director Sherry Geldin with dealer Carol Greene. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Art-fair week in Miami Beach may be the one time and place in the world where it’s impossible to avoid feeling both cosseted and cast out at once. Why, for instance, must every luxury hotel blast horrid music in its public areas twenty-four hours a day? Is there a local ordinance mandating guests spend more time out partying than in bed sleeping? I have no complaints, really: Miami always has been just another name for gaudy excess, and on that level it did not disappoint.

Between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday night, I enjoyed plenty of advantage, hopping a ride to far-off MoCA in Stefania Bortolami’s prom-night stretch limo, feasting at a Baldwin Gallery dinner at The Setai with dealer Richard Edwards, getting a cool hairdo from artist Cary Kwok at the Herald St booth, and puzzling with design experts over whether the pendulous, fabulously fishnetted Swarovski-crystal “Light Socks” designed by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro were more representative of male genitalia or female mammaries. Clearly, it helps to get out of town now and then; these aren’t the same sort of challenges one faces at gallery openings in New York, where people rarely want to talk about the art on view, only the clothes, or the surgery, or the money. In Miami, they want it all.

Left: Producer Laura Bickford. Right: Artist Peter Nadin. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

By Friday, I was ready for some real-world amusements, beginning with UBS wealth manager Chris Apgar’s brunch at the National, where goodie bags carried K/R, the new book from architects John Keenen and Terence Riley, and brunchers included collector Dianne Ackerman, dealer Sara Meltzer, and Keenen himself. From there, it was off to Debra and Dennis Scholl’s modest home on the Intercoastal to view this year’s rotation of their collection. The guests were nursing hangovers; the art, as curated by Matthew Higgs and Jeremy Deller, was, for a change, pleasantly not overhung. Just before I left, Oscar-winning producer Laura Bickford (Citizen X, Traffic) arrived, having just wrapped The Argentine, her new Benicio del Toro–starring Che Guevara biopic, in Bolivia. She was stopping by on her way to New York, while I made tracks to the Geisai fair at Pulse to dally among artist-dealers—like Chelsea’s favorite copyist, Eric Doeringer—before heading over to the Scope fairgrounds, where New York artist/farmer Peter Nadin was staging daily “Art and Agriculture” events with three-and-a-half-star chef Gwenaël Le Pape.

As Le Pape smoked ham from pigs that Nadin had raised on his upstate–New York farm in a custom cooker that I first mistook for a stack of black Tony Smith–like cubes, Nadin folded gorgeous sheets of numbered and signed papers handmade from cattails over delicious slices of ham, imprinting them with pig-grease stains before handing them to hungry art lovers. It was, perhaps, the most confounding performance of this most consumer-driven week; many people seemed flummoxed by art they could take home for free.

Nadin’s ham only whetted my appetite for Carol Greene’s plein air dinner at The Standard for curators like Stefan Kalmar, Daniel Birnbaum, Massimiliano Gioni, and Richard Flood and collectors like Randy Slifka, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, Mera and Don Rubell, and the Scholls. Despite the fact, or because, there were only two artists present (Miami’s Jim Drain and Naomi Fisher), this was one of the most gracious parties of the week, even with Slifka talking nonstop about his art enthusiasms (among them Sigmar Polke and Robyn O’Neil). I was sitting next to the husband (Matthew Higgs) of “one of the world’s best photographers, Anne Collier,” Slifka said. Higgs, meanwhile, spoke of “the 150 people taking cell-phone pictures of themselves in front of the Anish Kapoor” at Lisson Gallery’s booth and left early to join a larger contingent of artists at Mark Handforth’s dinner nearby.

Left: Collector Randy Slifka. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Collector Joel Dictrow with dealer Marianne Boesky. (Photo: David Velasco)

On the way out, while waiting for Gagosian Gallery’s Bob Monk to get his rented car from The Standard’s valet-parking crew, a man in a white linen suit slowly approached the Wexner Center’s Sherri Geldin, who was standing in front of the door with the Whitney’s Donna De Salvo. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, in a gentle southern drawl. It was author Tom Wolfe, in Miami to research a new book. The waves parted. “If it had been anyone else calling me ‘Ma’am,’ I’d just feel old,” Geldin said after he had doddered his way inside. We all agreed he was charming.

I raced back to the Delano’s rooftop solarium, just in time to catch artist Doug Aitken leaving with 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito and Lisa Spellman for the Visionaire “Sound”-issue party in the hotel’s new basement-level Florida Room. Approaching the entrance, we were repelled by a contingent of nasty bouncers who were clearly angling for a fight. Though it meant giving up a chance to hear 1980s supermodel Linda Evangelista talk-sing her contribution to Visionaire, “I Don’t Get out of Bed for Less than $10,000 a Day,” I accepted Lauren Taschen’s offer of a VIP BMW and went with Aitken to the NADA party at the Paris Theater, where Gang Gang Dance was onstage giving a piercing concert to the dazed, young-thing audience gathered around them and seeming not to hear a note.

Left: Artists Jim Drain and Naomi Fisher. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Art adviser Mark Fletcher. (Photo: David Velasco)

By Saturday night, I was ready for anything—and I got it when I arrived, late, at the temporary Soho House tent on the beach, having missed the Julian SchnabelLou Reed dinner at the Delano because of another dinner that was too much fun to leave. The London import’s actual club in Miami won’t open till next year, in what used to be the Sovereign Hotel. Why it had to preview during Miami Basel, I don’t know; there wasn’t a single art-world denizen present. However, Dunhill had sent pitchmen to give out pastel-colored cigarettes rolled from three different and heavily aromatic blends of tobacco and pour fruity new cocktails custom-designed to go with them. A fellow named Sergio was engraving the complimentary silver-plated cigarette cases. It may not have had much to do with art—I didn’t even see anyone smoking—but it was very Miami. I thought about the black vinyl bracelets handed out at Pulse by artist Jennifer Dalton, imprinted with the phrase I’D RATHER BE HOT THAN RICH and the complementary white ones that read I’D RATHER BE RICH THAN HOT. If I didn’t know it before, I knew it now: Even after five days in an art bubble, far outside the real world, I’d rather be among art folks than not.

Linda Yablonsky