Politics might be our calling card, but Washingtonians have a strong art community, and it showed this year in Miami
By Michael M. Clements
It’s apropos that Washington D.C.’s hot art scene is being showcased in balmy Miami around the spectacle of Art Basel. Here, in this internationally-renowned art fair, I’m off to uncover the multi-layers of local artists, collectors, curators, gallery owners, and creative types that are driving local visual arts communities from Georgetown to H Street NE.
Where better to begin then poolside at the Raleigh? Joining me for see-and-be-seen salads and afternoon mojitos is local art connector and collector advocate, Philippa Hughes. “Oh, there’s David Lynch,” Hughes says excitedly. He is in town promoting a short film he directed for Cartier (more on that later). Benicio Del Toro strolls by followed by Thelma Golden, chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Golden is sporting a stylish long sleeve black tee with a silver sequence Obama face woven in it. “What are you hoping to find here?” I ask her naively. “Something that speaks to me,” she answers before heading through flowing white curtains into the lobby.
Finding art that speaks to you at Art Basel is not a problem; the challenge is weeding through all the choices. For the initiated, Art Basel Miami is an internationally recognized art show held annually. Galleries and art lovers from around the world come together for a weekend of social and cultural events with exhibitions featuring over 2,000 artists. It features artwork from the 20th and 21st century, including established artists as well as newcomers, and a range of mixed media, from performance art to video art.
A hot topic this year was the economy. Last year marked the height of the contemporary art bubble. This year sales were down 30 to 50% comparatively. One gallery owner didn’t mind, saying the decline had “separated the wheat from the chaff and brought the festival back to its roots,” i.e., where serious collectors had time to work with gallery owners to purchase works.
Not sure where Jay-Z and Beyoncé fall into either category, but during my first sweep of the Miami Convention center, the glamour couple could be seen bobbing in and out of exhibitions protected by a phalanx of 6 foot 4” bodyguards.
A more intimate and in-the-know scene awaited those lucky enough to be invited to the annual Brillembourg-Ernst-Levinas Art Basel Miami Beach Fête. It’s a must-do for wintering Washingtonians. Enjoying the ocean view from Arturo Brillembourg and wife Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg’s gorgeous balcony in the Murano at Portofino: Isabel Ernst, Linda Sonnenreich, Aniko Gaal Schott, Tom Graham, Conrad and Ludmila Cafritz, Jane and Calvin Cafritz, Vicki Bagley, Irene Danilovich, and Dani and Mirella Levinas.
The hot topic of conversation? Arturo’s purchase of Mexican artist José Dávila’s sculpture “P18” – a shipping container sliced up into a series of equal-sized shallow boxes evenly space with alternating voids. Conrad and Ludmila also got into the act, purchasing an art work from one of the side exhibitions at the festival.
By 10:30p.m. it was time to meet Washington’s next-gen art players at the Rose Bar in the Delano Hotel. Mingling and talking: Kristin Guiter of the Corcoran, Transformer Gallery board member Kate Damon, along with Transformer Gallery manager Victoria Reis, Adrian Loving and Erik Brewer of Dissident Display, Lauren Gentile of Irvine Contemporary, Art Whino’s Shane Pomajambo, Sarah Tanguy, Carolina Furukrona, and photographer Lucian Perkins.
Day 2: The Art of the Party
After a workout at the chic David Burton gym and spa and a leisurely lunch at the über stylish Setai on South Beach, I haven’t left myself very much time to explore Aqua Art Miami and the Red Dot Fair, which I hear have great collections. Both are part of the 25 ancillary exhibitions that have been added over the years to complement Art Basel Miami in the Convention Center. Instead, I have some art party hopping to attend to. The first stop is Irvine Contemporary’s “Friends of D.C.” reception at the venue, Scope. Martin Irvine is holding court as a number of D.C. in-the-know art players sip champagne and discuss which artists are making the biggest splash this year. But it’s time for me to make a splash at another event.
I hurry back across Biscayne Bay just in time to attend a private Cartier cocktail reception in honor of David Lynch. His short film, commissioned by Cartier, is being projected every 20 minutes on a specially crafted dome in the Botanical Gardens. The film? Diamonds flying at you in fractal patterns like an asteroids scene from Star Wars – all accompanied by an eerie “Twin Peaks-esque” soundtrack. Talk about “high”-end. I spot the ever-fashionable Cindy Jones sizing-up a vintage Cartier necklace under the watchful eye of Cartier Chevy Chase owner, Mirella Levinas and personal shopper and Washington Life stylista Lana Orloff.
From Cartier, I meet up with Virginia-native / model Katie Rost and head to an invite-only dinner La Piagga hosted by Betty Bui in the honor of Chinese photographer Chen Man. We sat next to photographer Laurent Elie Badessi, whose series “The American Dream” is a controversial patriotic series of men dressed in American military uniforms wearing U.S. flags as blindfolds. Also in attendance Brightestyoungthings.com writer Chris Burns with fellow DJ Measax (Maxwell Wellman) and Doc. Indo (Jeff White). They were flown down from D.C. to deejay the dinner as well as a house party on Star Island. Always great to see the city’s best and brightest talent represented. Even better is that the guys are kind enough to give us a lift in their slick stretch limo to catch artist Shepard Fairey DJ at the Red Lounge in Skye bar at the Shore Club.
After navigating passed the velvet rope, I’m happy to see Washington-based sculptor Kyan Bishop as well as D.C. based artist and University of Maryland, College Park, professor Jefferson Pinder.
At some point that night, in between artful discussions and slamming DJ sets, I realize Art Basel is similar to the Sundance film festival: daytime consists of art (or film); night brings networking and fun; and in between, one tries to squeeze in as much beach time (or snowboarding) as possible. As such, the next day, I treat myself to a leisurely lunch at the Shore Club followed by a few hours of guilt-ridden sunshine.
Day 3: Exploring the side venues
Over the years, a number of small, but important venues have emerged to serve the contemporary art market at Art Basel. SCOPE is perhaps the highest regarded. It is here where Conrad and Ludmila Cafritz purchased their work. It is also where Paul So’s Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U St., NW) and Martin Irvine’s Irvine Contemporary Gallery (1412 14th Street NW) have a presence.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. A number of people have said the art work is fresh,” says So – a physics professor at George Mason University, who was excited to be taking part in his first Art Basel. Just as fresh is So’s emphasis on showcasing local artists. This year at Art Basel, Hamiltonian gallery showed works from: Christian Benefiel, Linda Hesh, Tom Block, Michael Dax Iacovone, Anne Chan, Youngmi Organ, Ian MacLean, Davis Bryan Rojsuontikul, Leah Frankel, Michael Enn, and Sirvet Jim Rieck. All hail from the mid-Atlantic region.
Next up is the Asian art section at SCOPE then Red Dot and Art Miami. For interior design lovers, Design Miami, now in its third year, is quickly becoming a Mecca for the home design industry.
But after five hours of art, it’s time for cocktails and conversation at the iconic Fountainbleu hotel, where the Corcoran School of Art and Design is hosting its first ever alumni mixer. Shahdeh Ammadi, assistant director of student and alumni affairs at Corcoran College of Art + Design, says “the school has a strong list of alumni, any of which are involved in some way with Art Basel. We thought it would be great to get them all together.” I concur.
Corcoran alum, sculptor and sometimes guest lecturer, Akemi Maegawa, is at my second stop of the evening – Dissident Display Gallery’s Adrian Loving is deejaying poolside at the South Seas hotel, for the Pilikia Art of Fashion event. “I have a large warehouse space in Kensington,” Maegawa says, “I’ll invite students to take on new work there because they typically don’t have the space to create sculptures on a large scale.” You can view some of Akemi’s work at her next show, Invisible, Inc., which will be exhibited at Irvine Contemporary from February 23- March 29, 2009.
Also poolside was Loving’s business partner, Eric Brewer, who was carrying a digital video camera to document the weekend. He and a few friends, including the Corcoran’s Kristen Guiter, were planning to attend that night’s big celebrity bash with Pamela Anderson at the Fountainbleu. Tory Burch’s party on the previous evening brought out the big celebrity names. Before that Benicio Del Toro and David Lynch each hosted private “it” gatherings.
The crowd at Art Basel, like so much of the work presented here by artists, is definitely mixed media: buyers, collectors, artists, writers, actors, scene hoppers and bawlers. This year Washington showed that it too could paint the town with the best of them.