Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's too early in the season for the star of Bethlehem, so that glow in the sky last week could only have been the neon lights from "the most prestigious art show in the Americas," Art Basel Miami Beach:
photo by Casey Kelbaugh, New York Times

The Miami show, we are told,  brought together 250 "leading galleries" from around the world, "including the world's most respected art dealers offering exceptional pieces by both renowned artists and cutting-edge newcomers."

Photo by Casey Kelbaugh, New York Times

Don't bother looking for any crass commercial art at Art Basel Miami, jocko.  This was 100% fine art, in all its finery.  The New York Times described it as "a holy gathering on the annual pilgrimage route of the super rich."  The number of private jets arriving at the local airport rivaled those of the Super Bowl, and a "line of quarter million dollar cars [was] idling while their owners waited for a parking valet."

You cannot attract such an audience of billionaires, socialites, celebrities and arrivistes by treating art as something functional.  They would recoil at the notion of art produced on demand to satisfy a commercial objective.  Instead, such buyers must be flattered into believing they are purchasing something spiritual as a measure of their sensitivity and perceptivity.

For example, in the panel convened to discuss The Future of Artistic Practice, the moderator began with a common theme:
Poetry is always what can't be sold....It has no usefulness.  It is merely useful through the ethical and aesthetic awareness that results from it. Poetry.... holds out in a world where people tend to lose all their spiritual values in favor of practical, predatory goals.  
This year more than 50,000 seekers of spiritual values clogged the bars and spas of Miami, buying at lavish prices.

And these weren't just your traditional tired old billionaires and hedge fund managers.  A whole new generation of the artistically sensitive has emerged:  Paris Hilton, of the Hilton hotel dynasty; Dasha Zhukova (daughter of a Russian oil mogul and accused international arms smuggler, wife of a multi-billionaire alleged to have made his first fortune as a ruthless gangster in Russia);  Vito Schnabel (son of famous blowhard Julian Schnabel); Diana Picasso (great granddaughter of Pablo); even the tasteful Donald Trump dynasty was represented.  This new generation of talent is what comes of outlawing the guillotine.

Noted performance artist Ryan ("I'm an artist so I'm not, like, an asshole") McNamara took the microphone to speak about the artistic challenge of staging "subversive" performance art at the parties of such wealthy people:  "Halfway through the party I had these revolutionaries come in, run through the crowd screaming and then attack the cake with frosting... all they wanted to do was make the cake more delicious."

Also present was famed British artist Tracey Emin.

Art by Tracey Emin

The Saatchi Gallery describes this work of art as "a transient crowning glory," continuing (for the benefit of those who may have trouble recognizing glory): "Emin's triumphed over all and has money up the whazoo to boot." Emin was at Basel to share her technique: "I like to lie in bed in the morning for an hour just thinking, thinking thoughts.  And that's one of my favorite things to do."

Artwork produced using Tracy Emin's patented technique of "thinking thoughts"

Other great thinkers joined in to advance the path of culture.   For example, Jonas Mekas took the stage to read his poem which sheds light on the nature of beauty:
Their beauty
Was beautiful....
It was so totally somewhere else
And so far from what's on TV....
 If there was ever a time when illustration was more "commercial" than fine art, that time is long gone.  But more to the point, so much of the quality and seriousness of fine art seems to have been eroded by its current emetic marketing model.

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