Not Playing Fair: On the Margins of Art Basel Miami

Carlo McCormick

As Art Basel Miami now celebrates its tenth anniversary as the preeminent global cluster-fuck of cultural clout, money and power, it is just as easy to measure its success by all that it has engendered around it as by its own phenomenal financial prominence. More than its hegemonic authority as a major art fair -- there are of course now dozens of art fairs running concurrently -- there's a veritable whirlwind of ongoing events where the convergent interests of corporate branding, publicity machinery, tourism, cultural marketing, sales and the obvious perks of fine weather and beaches exponentially feed off of one another to create a spectacle of epic proportions to imprint the consumer consciousness of an immensely desirable demographic. What is most curious and appealing to us, is that lurking on the outskirts of the market maelstrom is a kind of anti-industry of subcultural production that is the antithesis of the marketplace.

While most here just walk around these glorified trade shows looking at art until their eyes bleed and talk about what is selling for how much and other vulgar money-based conversations that are so shamefully not the point of art, out in the Wynwood district, rapidly growing over the past five years has been an explosion of the one true free art form that is now so established on its own terms as a parallel world that it begins to resemble its own kind of institution. The activity was begun locally by a group of graffiti influenced entrepreneurs called Primary Flight. On top of supporting local artists involved in less official modes of public art-making, they began to invite street and graffiti artists from all over to come paint the acres of unattended walls in what was then an economically disadvantaged and derelict area. Three years ago these energies took on a more formal methodology of cultural ratification when real estate developer Tony Goldman teamed up with Jeffrey Deitch to begin an ongoing outdoor art museum called Wynwood Walls. Now it is anybody and seemingly everybody's game. The big news around Miami may always be who had what in their booth, who bought what for what price, what bit of fresh blood has become market hot, but by our measure the side-story of all the great art being made that is not for sale to the few, and is rather free for the many is more visually and socially compelling than anything the art world can throw at us in their wildest of extravagances.

Among the highlights from the streets outside the citadel of affluence this year were not just the latest batch of new walls produced by some of the most prominent graffiti and street artists from all over the world, but a number of excellent shows and curatorial efforts in the Wynwood Arts District that approximate the traditional art gallery format. The walls will remain -- and certainly this year's batch, including monumental efforts by the likes of Aiko, Interesni Kazki, Saner, How & Nosm and Retna are worth a visit any time you can make it to Miami -- but if you happen to be here this weekend skip the damn fairs and check out the brilliant side show of DIY representation constituted by a number of pop-up galleries. Most impressive of the lot are the one man exhibition mounted by NYC graffiti legend Cope 2 where a massive outdoor mural featuring his classic iconic perfection of old school bubble letters is only a teaser to a wonderful little exhibition of smaller paintings (at a pop-up space at 167 NW 25th St.) in which a real sophistication of technique and content is deliriously enlivened by the inescapable fact that as his work from the trains in the early '80s has evolved into an ongoing studio practice he has despite it all kept it very real.

Primary Flight, which continues to progress further away from their role on the streets into a more legitimate kind of gallery operation, has a challenging show where these sensibilities are taken to more formal practices -- including a jaw-dropping window performance installation where artist Miru Kim is spending an epic duration of well over a hundred hours living naked with two pigs. Wynwood Walls has set up a gallery and store featuring stunning work from the pantheon of greats who have done work there, including Futura, Shepard Fairey, Invader, Kenny Scharf, Swoon and Vhils. Equally impressive is the show set up by The Underbelly Project, which made news not long ago for their heroic intervention in a disused unknown subway station in New York where more than one hundred artists ranging from Ron English and Lucy Maclaughlan to the London Police and Skewville worked freely unbeknownst the authorities. The love and respect they earned from this global community is amply evident in the high quality of work the artists have given to this show.

Every night here, as the art world runs on its merry way of parties, dinners, concerts, market gossip and institutional networking, there is this parallel world where openings, parties, book signings, graffiti battles and outré art events also take place. It's all good whatever side of the town you want to walk on, but to our view the art that is taking place with the 99% in mind rather than in whorish acquiescence to the 1% is infinitely more lively, vital and relevant. It may not be making much money (unlike many here we're too polite to ask about sales), but believe it or not, that's not the point of art.

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