Last week, I installed a new sculpture at Watkins College in Nashville, Tennessee. This piece was a tribute to my father who was a longtime board member of the Watkins Board of Trustees. He was very influential in the arts in Nashville and he was very much a part of the art scene for many years. In this tribute, I decided to go with a boat theme. I always remembered him taking me and my brother to see the barges being launched at the Nashville Bridge Company downtown. It was a cool event for a kid (not a lot was going on in Nashville back then) and it is a memory that always stuck with me. Since Watkins is near the Cumberland River, I wanted to use the concept of the river to tie my memories and its proximity together. The boat is stainless steel and is see-through. I wanted it to be kind of like a ghost or memory rather than a solid boat form, so I went with a light color and a visually light form. The boat is modeled after an Adirondack guideboat–an artifact of the place I currently reside. For the other structure, I chose to mimic a form that I had made years ago (as a model) that my father enjoyed. He always said, “Why don’t you make this one really big?” So, I did. In the middle of the piece is a sphere with an anchor. The anchor is a nod to my dad who was the person that kept me grounded the most. The anchor is forever in stasis and unable to ever be used, so it functions as a memory similar to the boat. It was installed one year to the day from when he died.
International Sculpture Day
Today was International Sculpture Day, a day to celebrate sculpture all around the world. We did our part here by casting some metal for the students. It was a great time, and I think the students really enjoyed it. We don’t usually cast in Sculpture I, but it seemed like the thing to do….Special thanks to former student Jon Lalonde for his help casting.
Sculpture Fields at Montague Park
I wrote an article for Nashville Arts Magazine about the sculpture park opening down in Chattanooga TN this month. Go on down if you get a chance…
Art Opening at Cumberland Gallery
On Saturday the 16th of January, I will have an opening at Cumberland Gallery in Nashville, TN. This will be a group show of 5 artists from around the country in which I will be showing drawings from 2015. I am pleased to have my first foray into the world of drawing at one of Nashville’s premier art spaces.
The Latest From Nashville Arts
Nashville Arts just published my latest article, this time on artists John Henry and Barry Buxkamper. You can read about them here. It is a good show, so if you are in Nashville, go check it out.
Le Domaine Forget Sculpture Park Opens
In June, the Harmonic Sculpture Garden at Le Domaine Forget opened to great fanfare and ceremony in St. Irenee, Quebec. The event was well attended by artists, dignitaries, and local art enthusiasts. Speeches by Quebec’s Cultural Minister and other politicians were well received and much appreciated by the artists that travelled to the exhibition. Jim Fuhr, a respected art historian and linguist delivered a lecture (en Francais) about each artist and their works that were on display. Later, Mr. Fuhr also gave a tour of the sculpture park to the public. Artist that were on hand also talked about their sculptures and answered questions from the attendees. Linda Howard, Bryan Rasmussen, John Henry, Terry Karpowicz, Peter Lundberg and myself all were able to explain our process and interact with the crowd during the evening. In all, it was a first-class event that really showcased the hospitality and generosity of our Canadian neighbors in the Charlevoix.
Quebec Winter Carnaval International Snow Carving Competition
Last week I was able to participate in the 43 edition of the International Snow Carving Competition in Quebec City, Canada. This event is part of the Quebec Carnaval, a three week endeavor that features all kinds of attractions day and night. I am not sure how the good citizens of Quebec City have so much endurance for three weeks of festivities, but they really rock it out for almost a month. Truthfully, the event seems to have a lot of cool history and definitely a lot of civic pride.
The spokesperson for the Carnaval is Bonhomme, who is like a rock star in Quebec City. He is a snowman that talks and has some sweet dance moves (we saw him really getting down at the outdoor
disco moshpit rave dance party one night). Every year, Le Monde de Bonhomme sprouts up on the Plains of Abraham and turns into a frozen atmosphere of super fun. There are dog-sled rides, horse-sled rides, regular sled rides and other carnival type events.
My teammates love the ice fishing tank where you can go and fish for some trout with a tiny rod and hook, and then have it cooked on the spot. There were constant little groups of young people with little bloody plastic bags of fish walking around. I guess they were saving them for later, maybe? Hard to say, but it’s always popular.
Once again, we threatened to go on the ice luge, but we were generally too tired and sore to do anything too exotic or strenuous. We were so tired that if there wasn’t a shuttle we probably wouldn’t have bothered to walk back to the hotel. There was a hot tub booth that had 3 or 4 hot tubs in which people were joyfully testing their immune systems and probably catching pneumonia. One guy jumped out and ran around the event site, which seemed foolish, but then again, I’m not from there, so what do I know. I guess I know that when it is -23 out, it is pretty smart to have a lot of layers on. And not be soaking wet.
After driving through the snowstorm that I had driven all night to miss the previous day, I arrived on Monday for the opening ceremonies and festivities. Even though there were wrecks everywhere from Potsdam to Quebec City, the
insane experienced drivers of Quebec were blowing by me at alarming rates of speed. I am good in the snow, but I was impressed by the don’t care attitude of the majority of drivers that left me in the dust.
The opening ceremonies were where we met the other teams, the organizers, and the volunteers. Each team is assigned a Chef de Mission, or handler, to help with translating or getting any needed equipment. Our Chef this year was Marc, the same guy we had last year. It was nice seeing him again (along with his fiance Claire who was also a Chef de Mission). He is a very excitable and talkative kind of guy, so he makes the various carving events fun and memorable. This year, there was another team from the U.S.A. (there were two for some reason), three guys from Maine. They had never carved snow before, so they were all excited and interested to hear what it is like to carve. They are stone carvers and carpenters in real life, so they were no strangers to subtractive work, but they had a lot of questions about the snow (that we didn’t really know either).
There was a team from Germany, three nice ladies from Potsdam, near Berlin. They were very surprised to hear that I was also from Potsdam, and after a bit of confusion, they realized I was talking about the NY version and not the real one. It was a good laugh for a bit though. Other teams were Canada (a sculptor, a police woman, and a student), Morocco (primarily sand sculptors), and France. This year, there was some sort of funding problem, so many teams didn’t make it to the competition. Overall, though, it was a great group of people this year.
Opening night was a lot speeches and celebration (Bonhomme came by and gave us a pep talk) but it was also a time to meet the judges. Each team was allowed to present a maquette to the judges to make sure any changes could be accommodated and accounted for at the end. It seemed weird talking to the judges after having been the judge the previous week, but every competition has a different way they like to do things. The judges in Quebec take it very seriously and with good reason, this is a big-deal part of the festival.
Day one was exhausting, partly because I had already been carving for a week, and partly because the snow was hard as cement. Snow is temperature dependent, so when it is -20 the snow becomes extremely difficult to work with. We were prepared with some new tools this year, so that was a big help, but it was still pretty slow going. Basically, at that temperature you are carving ice more than snow. Most of the teams only lasted about 9 hours on the first day because of the cold temperatures, and in our case, pacing. Our strategy was to pace our selves and not get too tired so that we could have a chance later in the week.
The snow was excellent quality, in fact, it is the best snow we’ve carved in a long time. Todd, the snow block maker, really put a lot of effort an attention into the blocks (as usual). Even though the snow was hard, it was fine grained and consistent with just a little ice here and there–which is ideal compared to many competitions. They use man-made snow, so it is much easier to carve and anticipate while you are carving.
For meals, each team is required to stop and be off-site during the meal time. I think this is for safety mostly, but it is very European compared to the other competitions that I have been in. Other events tend to be 24/7 where competitors can come and go at will. This competition also has a 10pm curfew except for the last night when we could work all night. The advantages are that all the sculptors are more included and there is more camaraderie among participants. Also, more sleep time. The drawback is that if you are sculpting on someone else’s schedule, which can sometimes be tough for the creative types.
Day 2 was a short day because we went to a sugar shack in the late afternoon and were done carving for the day. Sugar shacks are fun winter-time restaurants in Quebec that serve maple syrup themed dinners. It’s kind of like breakfast for diner with a musician and dancing. They seem to cater to groups of people and probably tourists, but the locals that we went with knew all the songs and all the dance moves.
The music is pretty accordion heavy, so it is not your typical stage show. This year, the place we went to was on Ile d’Orleans just outside of Quebec City. We loaded up a yellow school bus and headed out on some very slippery roads at quite a fantastic rate of speed. Luckily, the windows were totally frosted over, so I couldn’t see if we were about the crash or not. Pancakes, beans, ham, and beer were the fare that night, so it was a perfect way to end a day of carving.
Bonhomme came by, of course, because he digs the sculpture carving. He gave us another pep talk, but he must have had a cold because he sounded really different than the night before. In fact, he sounded different each time we met him. Hmmmm…
For desert, the sugar shack experience includes a maple bar, which is a fancy way to make maple taffy. The proprietor pours maple syrup into a snow covered bench, and you take a popsicle stick and roll up the hardening syrup so you can eat it. It is a super fun way to have an extremely sweet after dinner snack. My sister-in-law would not approve (she’s a dentist) but it is a very popular treat in the Quebec area.
The third day it was down to serious business, because that is the day when you start to feel you might be running out of time. Even if you are on track, the block is so massive that it seems like nothing is happening as you carve. Large areas of snow disappear, but when you step back to look, nothing drastic seems to have changed. 12 hours of carving on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday get the ol’ muscles moving a bit. The labor is extremely intensive depending on the design you are trying to make. It’s basically like shoveling snow for 12 hours at a time. At these cold temperatures, the tools need to be sharp, but they also need a little weight for them to go through as much snow as possible. The weight and the position of the carving makes is quite tough. I tried to count how many times I swung or poked the 10lb chisel at the sculpture, but I lost count (and interest in counting) at about 3,500 in an hour. This works out to approximately 40,000 reps per day. At the end of the day, it’s hard to lift anything above your head because you have been pursuing a non-ergonomic situation for hours at time. A veteran move is to make it seem like there is a lot of snow missing, but to not really carve all that much. We are certainly experienced, but that is not our way. We like to remove as much snow as we can so that the form looks light and airy. Volunteers from the local massage school do come to give 15 minute massages to the carvers every couple days, so it is possible to get a little tension worked out, but it never seems to be enough to dent the soreness. On the first night one of the masseurs pushed on my back a little funny, so I was in horrible pain for a couple days until a different guy came back and patched me back up. So…there was that at least.
The final night is called ‘White Night’ where the sculptors are allowed to work until judging at 9:00am on Sunday. This year, we worked a bit ahead so we didn’t have to stay up all night. We slept about 4 hours, so compared to some of the other teams, we were well rested on Sunday. At midnight, the volunteers bring food and coffee for the carvers, so it is a nice bonding moment for all the people involved in the competition. At 9am sharp, it is tools down for the competitors and the judging begins. For the judging, all the captains are given 2 minutes to explain their sculptures to the judges. I like this because is gives you an opportunity to highlight the things you want, and since there is often a language barrier, the competition provides translators for each team.
The medal ceremony was pared down a little this year compared to last time, but it was still cool. Cold, actually. Brutally cold. It was -5000 degrees anyway, but the wind was blowing extremely hard, so it just cut right through everyone. They had to hold down all the medals and everything so they wouldn’t blow away off stage. Bonhomme seemed to be unaffected, but he is made of snow after all. For the ceremony, we went up on stage and had our picture taken with some folks and then went back to the sculpture for more pictures. Our American Consul came by to say hello and to congratulate us as well as the Maine team for being there. It was great to have some support from the homeland, it made us feel good to be acknowledged and to be taken seriously. Hale was a class act and even brought us cookies from his wife.
After the ceremony, there was a party for all involved. It was fun to cut loose with the other competitors for the first time. It is different than Nationals because there is more of that early on in the competition, rather than later, but it was still great fun. It was nice to talk to everyone informally and easier to find out more about who they are and what they do in their normal lives. Even though there are some severe language barriers, there is still a lot of mutual understanding and companionship.
In all, it was a ridiculously fun trip though it was extremely exhausting. I think I lost 5 pounds in 5 days (sculptor discovers one weird trick for weight loss!) just from the sheer repetition of the carving motion. Through that tired achey-ness you really do feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, though. I hope to be back in future years because the event itself is amazing and the city of Quebec is so great.
It’s that time of year, when I gather with some friends in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and we freeze our tails off for a week while carving snow at the National Snow Carving Championships. This year was extremely mild compared to some years, but it was perfectly cold for snow carving. If memory serves, the temperature was around 30-32 during the day and 15-20 or so at night. 32 (and sunny) is pushing it, but the snow was able to re-freeze during the nights, so all was well. In fact, for pure carving, the temp made the snow soft and easy to get through, for the most part. Snow is very temperature dependent, so the colder it gets, the harder the snow is to carve. Conversely, the harder the snow, the easier it is to finish and sand, so this year presented a good mix of the two.
My team was able to go this year and represent New York State in the contest, though my usual teammates were not able to attend (they went out and got jobs or something…). Undeterred, I loaded up the car with two new teammates (Alyssa and Hannah) and headed out west. We had to leave a day early because of an impending snow storm, and none to soon. Luckily for us, the drive out was a fairly uneventful 13 hours. While one teammate was pumping breast milk (8 month old baby) the other was homeworking via computer in the back, I drove on—making them listen to rough comedy and super sad indie rock the whole way.
It was actually pretty relaxing to get in a day early because there was time to go see more of the town and get to know my team. Lake Geneva is a small town in the winter but it probably triples its size in the summer. I have yet to go there in the warmer months, but I hope to sometime. My grandfather apparently spent a great deal of time there as a respite from the hot Chicago summers, so it’s cool to think about a connection between us, albeit, at different times and for different purposes. For Winterfest, the weekend of the snow carving event, the town blooms into a bustling and festive place. Thousands of people come for the weekend and view the sculptures, eat at the various restaurants, and partake of the general winter carnival fun. It’s a pretty cool experience for us because we are treated so well by the town and by the locals. Everyone we met was warm and friendly, making the experience so positive and fun that you forget you are there to do some serious work.
The first night of the event is always a meet and greet with each team, the organizers, and the stompers. Stomper is the term for the people that make the snow blocks each year, and in this case, it is two dreadlocked, massively bearded, and guitar wielding brothers. Actually, I think one of them is a drummer, but certain facts tend to escape after the first night of snow camp.
Meeting each team is a great way see old friends that have competed before, as well as new potential friends that you haven’t met yet. Some teams are gregarious, while others are much more reserved, but it is still a good opportunity to see who your competition will be and to talk with like minded people. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Colorado were all new (to me) this year, so it was cool to see some new blood (speaking of blood, I’ll get to the Alaska story later). Vermont was a mother/daughter team and New Hampshire was a father/daughter team, so there was definitely a family vibe to the event. Actually, Nebraska has a father/son combo on the team, too. Illinois seems to have the same thing, but they will neither confirm nor deny one and the same.
I gave my new team relatively little primmer about the event, so the first night was fun for me to watch through their eyes. I told them there would be a man dressed as a bear (Man-bear Von Helsingvanberowitz) but they didn’t believe me until they saw his furry head. I told them there would be a team all in kilts and with weasel alter egos (the Kilted Snow Weasels), but again, they were skeptical until they saw some hairy kilted legs. The team dressed as Vikings were believable to them, but the others were out of the comfort zone for sure. There seems to be a gathering force of costumery and shenanigans that make the competition hilarious and bizarre.
Of course, not everyone is insane and weird, there are mostly normal people that compete in the event (if you can call wanting to hang out in the freezing cold for 4 days and chip away at a snow block normal). In fact, many of the people that carve snow are not even professional artists, they tend to come from all types of professions and educational backgrounds. This is one aspect that makes the competition so interesting, that everyone is very different but they have a common cause for one week.
The first day of competition is always a test of will and human compassion. Half of the contestants are severely hungover and the other half both sympathize and revel in the foolishness of mankind. This year was no different, as I saw some bleary eyes at the morning breakfast. Most people tend to perk up as the bracing cold hits, but then the all-team meeting puts people right back into their trances.
The team meeting is where Don, the organizer, goes over the rules and answers questions and such. This year, Michelle (assistant organizer and former Kilted Snow Weasel) put a timer on the speaking, which was loudly cheered by many. Seriously though, it is a necessary meeting so everyone is there and really does have a great time getting the event off to a great start.
At the team meeting, it was discovered that team Alaska was down a man. Apparently, in the middle of the night, one of the teammates got up to use the restroom and tripped while in the bathroom. Unfortunately, he tripped and stepped right in the team tool bag. To make matters worse, he then proceeded to fall into the bag itself (think of a very large duffle bag with extremely sharp chisels and other tools inside). 27 stitches later, he was convalescing back in the hotel room for two days. There were other minor injuries as usual, but nothing this serious thank goodness. It made me think of several years ago when one of the Weasels (Randy) slipped on some icy stairs the night before the competition began and was also out for the duration. Actually, Alaska set up a table and chair for their injured teammate on the last two days of the event so he could participate and tell the crowd what had happened. I bet he told the same story 100 times in those two days. Luckily, he should be ok though.
The event itself has the usual trials of working outside in the cold: sweating, taking off layers, getting cold, putting layers back on, etc. It seems like one is either freezing from wet clothes or burning up, with not much in the middle. This year, with the temperature as it was, it was very hot. A few swings of the chisel and layers were coming off, especially because it was nice and sunny as well. It is always funny to me to be out in the freezing cold in a t-shirt and hear the exclamations and feel the general consternation of frozen passers-by.
Speaking of frozen, my two teammates were extremely excited about the movie Frozen and insisted that I watch it with them. Even though it was a short movie, we finally made it to the end after 3 nights of watching (sleep is hard to come by at snow camp, so I opted for that when I could). For a movie with so much singing, it seemed like a case study in group passive aggressiveness. If I’m honest though, it was a pretty cute movie with some clever songs. It was also a great team-building moment for us. There always seems to be an event or situation during Nationals that is a bonding moment, and I think this was it for us. It was either that, or the seemingly constant sound of the breast pumping machine coming from the bathroom…
The first day of carving is pretty temperature dependent. Some teams that have a ton of snow to move usually like to tackle the project early (actually, the blocks are about 12 tons worth of snow) so when it is warm on the first day they tend to get moving. Other teams tend to wait a day or so to get the major carving done because they don’t want the heat and sublimation to shrink the block too much. Every team has their own strategy based on what they are carving and what the weather forecast calls for (or how late they stayed out the night before). We started right away because our design called for a lot of snow removal and then some delicate finishing work. The earlier we could get the major snow out of the way, the more time we would have for the surfaces to freeze up before we sanded them down. Overall, this was a good choice for us because the weather cooperated just as we had hoped it would.
Each year, on the first night of carving, there is a sponsors dinner. This is a night of fun and food where each major sponsor of the event gets paired with a team for dinner and general fun. The cool thing about the night is that each sponsor usually brings gifts for the teams depending on what their company is about. For example, restaurants sometimes provide free food to their team, or clothing manufactures provide hats or gloves. This year, our team was sponsored by the Lake Geneva Business District (a group of business in Lake Geneva). They brought us a great give basket with all kinds of products from local businesses. Of course, it isn’t necessary to get something from the sponsor, but it really does make each team feel welcome and important. It’s a great tradition where a little goes a long way.
Each team usually brings a small gift for the sponsors as well as the other teams, too. Sometimes these gifts are funny, sometimes they are useful, but again, it is nice just to be thought of and to exchange things with people from different cultures (relatively different). Usually, teams bring a pin or a button or something like that. Teams that have been many times have collections of these items from over the years, and usually display them on hats or some other clothing at some point during the event. Ambitious teams bring some pretty cool items like Iowa that had blacksmithed some decorative swans for each team member, or Nebraska who usually brings homemade beer for everyone. This year the team from Wisconsin went all out with some original t-shirts that summed up the experience of snow carving quite nicely.
Alyssa and Hannah, though both sculptors, were new to snow carving so they didn’t know quite what to expect. After a couple days of hesitation, they both really got into the spirit and started to knock some snow off the ol’ block. I think initially they were afraid to do something wrong or take the wrong piece off (it’s hard to put pieces back on once they are gone) but after a while, they gave in to curiosity and no fear.
This sort of unafraid spirit is exactly what one has to have when carving snow because if you are too hesitant, the block will look clunky and under-carved. They did a solid job realizing the piece in the end, especially since I only told them what they were making the night before the competition started. Seriously, I showed them a terrible drawing and they made a pretty cool sculpture.
Judging at this competition is done by the artists themselves, not outside judges. This method is quite rare in any competition that I know of, but it does make sense in a lot of ways. The idea is: who better to judge the artists going through a week of freezing cold art making than the same people that were there and witnessed the whole thing. There are flaws, but overall everyone has high character and is very honest about the best piece. It is unique to the sport and in any sport in general, and it gives Nationals its own mystique.
We had plenty of adventures throughout the week including one local woman’s quest to see if the Weasels had anything on under their kilts, Colorado’s persistent snow carving groupie, seeing old friends at Harry’s pub, leading the group Omm, and other hijinks. Hopefully, next year we will be back and compete while seeing our old friends and meeting new ones.
Our 1000 mile drive back was brutal because we had to leave right after judging to avoid yet another snow storm. We did, thank goodness, but other teams had to stay an extra night or stop somewhere on the way. We drove all night and made it back to NY at 5:30am—just in time to get in the car and head to Quebec City for Internationals…
Art Miami/Art Basel
Last week I was able to go to Miami for the annual spectacle that is Art Basel, in addition to the other concurrent art fairs that consume the city. Since I was driving, my first stop was Savannah, Georgia where I picked up my spiritual advisor and one-time law partner, Brotha O. To get to Savannah, I had to brave the legendary Atlanta traffic and head on down through Macon and points east. Atlanta was busy, but I must have gotten lucky because the traffic was merely annoying, not rage inducing. In contrast, Southeast Georgia was, um…sparse…to put it bluntly. Between Macon and Savannah, there wasn’t much to see except for pine trees and the occasional town, unless you count the unusually large Bass Pro Shop(s) building that I passed. Seriously, it was like a mile long. But the drive was pleasant enough with a good audio book. Savannah itself, was an interesting town, I had never stopped there so it was nice to get a feel for the place. It was a funny mix of old southern charm and huge industrial sprawl. I really wasn’t expecting the industry (refineries, paper mills, etc.) part of the town, I had in my mind a much sleepier southern hamlet. I spent two days wandering the city and meeting up with some old friends that happened to live in town, Matt, whom I haven’t seen in 15 years, and Mrs. Becklesworth. It was great to see those guys again. I was able to tour the art museum at a local art school and see other sights about town. The night life was festive and I enjoyed the bartenders asking if I wanted my drink ‘to go’ or not. In all, it was a nice detour through the deep south and even the
cockroaches palmetto bugs seemed to enjoy the festive atmosphere. A large, but friendly bug had come to greet us at our table in one of the local establishments, so we neatly trapped it under a pint glass in case the waitron wanted to take care of it. She declined to express much interest and left it to entertain our table, bless her heart…as they say.
Savannah was cloudy and cool as we left on our drive to Miami, but as my guide predicted the day before, the minute we hit the Florida line, the weather cleared and became comfortably warm. Apparently, he has experience with this phenomenon from transporting his boys to soccer games in nearby Jacksonville, so I figured he knew what he was talking about. So, sunny Florida it is, and off we went in his 2005 Pontiac Emasculator with a fully stocked cooler and a fresh 16 oz. bottle of Tums.
Once in Miami, it was all sunshine and good times. We were staying on the mainland, but there was still plenty to do within reach of just a few minutes driving. Our first full day in the city, we decided to tackle Art Basel at the convention center. After a short drive to the island and a pleasant search for parking (shout out to gps traffic monitoring software!) we hit the spectacle full-on. Naturally, the first thing you notice is that the place is enormous, but once you get over that it is easy to settle in to a rhythm to look at all the art. Since neither Brotha’ O. nor myself had any pressing agenda for the day, we decided on a grid pattern to maximize our art fair capacity. We banged it out in just under 5 hours, which is scooting through the madness pretty fast. Normally, I can’t stand 5 hours of anything (no, not even golf) so I think we put in our yeoman service, for sure. What makes Art Basel a spectacle is not the artwork at the fair, but the people that come to see the people seeing the artwork. I think. It doesn’t appear to have much to do with new experience or cutting edge type art, in any case. The major galleries that I saw (and there were nearly 300 major galleries on hand) were selling chestnuts and new standards. It reminded me of the top half of FM radio, where songs that sold well 40 years ago are still doing the work, while stations sprinkle in a few hits from 5 years ago to make it all seem fresh and exciting. It makes me really wonder why the collectors are so attracted to the atmosphere of so little personal attention and mass commodity. Convenience? Ego? Deals? One collector I know talked about how it was akin to ‘shopping’, as in the ‘I have money to spend, and let’s see what we can go find to buy’, kind of shopping. He also talked about continuing education for the collector, not necessarily what is new in the art world itself, but what is new in the gallery inventory from known artists. It does makes sense on all these levels why a collector would be attracted to the event. As an academic, it makes much less sense, but it is no less valuable.
A trend that interests me about the fairs are the preponderance of galleries that show the same artists. Last year, it was Wesselmann everywhere, this year it was oversized candy and/or doughnut wall sculptures.
Obviously, galleries from all over the world are not going to call each other and work out who to bring in advance, but it just seems so odd that they double up so much on the same few artists. I wonder how they feel about it–if they are happy that the artists they are carrying are ‘hot’, or is it like showing up to a party with the same outfit on? (not a worry for me very often because every guy my age seems to show up wearing the same outfit anyway) I noticed quite a few Mel Ramos’ at both Art Basel and Art Miami this year, as well. There were other examples, but none seem come to forefront of my flu-addled brain at this time.
Are the galleries that sell the big ticket items expecting a sale, or just hoping? Surely, a gallery must know a certain collector is willing to purchase before they load their Brancusi up in the mini-van and head on down.
I would guess there is a mixture of known knowns, and known unknowns if one were to Rummify the question. Galleries know the big buyers and probably suspect interest from medium buyers, and probably also bring some newer stuff to try out, just in case. There were a lot of pieces that I appreciated the galleries taking the time to ship to Miami because they are so cool to see. Others, you just have to wonder why would a gallery bother. When I see a gallery with less than inspired work at an art fair, I always get the scene from The Jerk in my head where Steve Martin’s character loses his fortune and he just starts grabbing random stuff from his desk as he wanders out the door. “All I need is this drawing. And this painting. And this other painting. That’s all I need. And this watercolor, too. That’s all I need….”
In any case, it was a record year for sales with many galleries selling well at all price levels. I read somewhere that there is a 100 percent re-application rate for galleries to come back next year. If true, that would suggest that it is a very lucrative venture for all parties involved.
Art Miami was kind of the same, but also kind of different. It was the same in the spectacle and rodeo roundup type of atmosphere, but it seemed to have a more chill attitude. Perhaps a bit more personality. It certainly is more informal in look and feel. It was also more crowded–smaller spaces, tighter turns, etc. This gives it a much more bazaar type feel than at the convention center. It was on the mainland near the Wynwood Arts District in a series of large air-conditioned tents. Inside, I saw some of the same works, but overall it has a much more contemporary feel.
As one might expect, the fairs that we saw were quite painting/2D heavy in comparison with sculpture. Much of the sculpture that I saw was somewhat installation-y, with relatively few pieces dedicated to craft and form. Big names were represented: Kapoor, Plensa, Turrell, Weiwei, but they were not very plentiful. They were attention grabbers in my case though, because many of the sculptures I saw were very loose in craft and materials. Clearly, I’m no Stuckist, but years of teaching Beginning Sculpture has me jaded, so when I see poorly constructed ready-mades or glue-a-thousand-of-these-together type sculptures in a professional setting, I tend to walk at a brisker pace.
In the same manner, there were very few contemporary drawings on hand. I see drawings at gallery openings and at university shows, so I know people are still making them, but I was surprised to see how little there were represented at the big fairs. Technology seemed to have a hot hand still, though last year I saw many more moving image paintings (the Harry Potter type of thing). This year it seemed to be represented by 3-D printed forms and cnc carving type pieces.
We were able to hit a couple collections while we were in the Wynwood District. Our first stop was The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse which has an outstanding group of sculptures that rivals many museum collections in scale. There, we met up with our old compatriot Pax who happens to live in mid-south Florida. It was great to see our old friend after at least 10 years. He told us some great stories like the time when his dad got a letter from Michael Heiser requesting some land to ‘dig a hole into’ (while we were coincidentally looking at a Michael Heiser sculpture). We had a great time knocking around the museum catching up and seeing some great pieces.
Another great collection that we were able to visit was the Rubell Family Collection, which was housed in a repurposed DEA warehouse, also in Wynwood. The collection we saw was heavy on painting, but of these, there were some really cool examples. Apparently, the whole family is very involved with the collection–when we walked in there were three pre-teens manning the entry counter and thanking patrons for coming to their collection. One girl was handing out brochures and yelling ‘you deserve to have free stuff!’ at everyone. While there, I saw Bomani Jones, the only celebrity sighting of the week (we missed the Drake/Diddy fight somehow) though Brotha O. says he isn’t a celebrity. It was cool to see a sports guy at a museum (and not an easy one for the non-art indoctrinated, either).
Another mini art fair that we saw was at the Aqua, an art deco hotel on Miami Beach. Some of the hotels in the area rent out rooms to galleries to display their work. It is much cooler than you would think because they take out all the furniture and only have open wall space in each room. It is very similar to walking through the other art fairs except that it is more intimate and somehow more friendly. The dealers looked exhausted but seemed to be happy in general.
One artist I particularly liked at Aqua was Im Jibin (http://www.shineartists.com/artists/imjibin) who had some fun plastic eyeless figures and sculptural arrangements. He was on hand to talk with, so that was even cooler. I suspect very few artists actually come to Miami for the fairs, especially not ones from as far away as Korea.
Miami was great for just walking around. We were able so see so many cool and funny things just by happenstance. Graffiti seems to be state sanctioned, so there is a lot of it, and some of it is even good.
We met my cousin for lunch one afternoon, and at the next table over, 5 or 6 college age types were tripping their faces off. By the time we left, they were out in the street rolling around and carrying on (don’t worry, the traffic was so bad in Wynwood that they had virtually no shot at getting hurt). We also made it to the beach to check out that whole scene, but just as we got there, it started pouring rain, so we headed for the shelter of a bar and some cold frosty refreshments.
Other sights and sounds around the city were cool. Christmas decorations were in full swing (which is always sort of strange in a tropical climate) and we saw people dressed up in strange artistic ways (a guy in a lobster suit of some kind was the most adventurous). One of my favorite things that I saw was not necessarily art, but I read it that way. It was a crack in the ground that had been painted red. Very simple and gimmicky, really, but in a town full of glitzy galleries and commodity, it seemed very appropriate and thoughtful.
My favorite meal (in a town full of great food) was a hole in the wall Honduran restaurant. They had the coldest beer I’ve ever had and some great food. It was a bit like one of those movie situations where when you walk in, the juke box skips and everybody turns and stares at you for a second. After we stood around for long enough and we weren’t obviously going away, they took our order and cooked some great food. I felt like we passed some cool test and were ‘in’. Or, they were just busy and took awhile to get our order, one or the other… For tortillas, the cook had a basketball sized wad of dough that she would pinch off parts of and flatten for eventual frying. I’d never seen this method in person, so that was pretty darn cool. Sanitary? Hard to say. Delicious? Most certainly.
Another night, we ended up at a ‘VIP’ party that was complete with bands, djs, and some celebrities (lil’ Wayne for example). I didn’t actually see any famous people, but they were apparently there. This party was a mess, and it made me wonder who it was really for. The vacuous gaze and indifference of both the audience and the performers suggest it wasn’t for either of them. Clearly, no one had paid to get in, it was all invite only, so it just seemed like a weird social experiment. It came off as a marketing scheme, so maybe that’s what it really was. As a rule, if I ever decide to go to this type of VIP party ever again, I hope someone has the decency to handcuff me to a bus station urinal instead. Let’s just say, it wasn’t my scene…
In all, it was an exhausting, but hilarious trip. We saw some fantastic art and had a great time soaking up some of the fantastic art scene. I would definitely recommend that anyone interested in art check out the scene down in Miami at least once, you won’t be disappointed.