For the past three years I've gone to Art Basel Miami Beach, the biggest art fair extravaganza in America. It's always the first of December, which means the beginning of the Christmas season, except you never really get that festive spirit while there. Everything is antithetical to the idea of Christmas: the balmy weather, the brilliant light, girls in scant clothing — and the art fairs are strictly business. The most Christmassy it's ever felt was when Paul McCarthy sold his Chocolate Santa with Butt Plugs. I missed that this year.
The galleries bring out their best when in Miami, so you see a lot of great art, but it feels so empty, so blatantly commercial. Everyone is on edge because they've invested a lot of money to be there. Miami was NOT better than ever this year, as it has been reported. Sales were made, but many dealers went home empty-handed. And there were plenty of parties, but a shortage of free-flowing champagne (and I do mean FREE). Can anyone really stand another Campari cocktail?
So the real fun started when we left Miami. My publisher and I rented a car and headed north to New Orleans to take in the new international biennial, Prospect.1. We made it in two days and spent two days at the biennial, albeit most of it on the shuttle bus, which, to tell you the truth, was just as much a thrill as the art because you get a grand tour of the city.
Even though I had just spent the previous week submerged in art, here it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. The installations in the Ninth Ward mingled and meshed in a perfect way. No one tried to make anything look pretty or false; the devastation left from the hurricane was massive and emotional. The artists didn't try to sweep anything under the rug. On the morning we left New Orleans, it was snowing. It was all so magical, and it felt like Christmas for the first time.
Once I got back, the real world beckoned. The fact is, there are a lot of artists out there who are affected by the economy and are truly concerned. So to suggest the art world is immune (which tends to be a popular belief) is to be in denial. I know Larry and Damien can't be bothered, but really, this bubble is about to burst. And Artillery would burst if we couldn't talk about it. Andrea Brauer gives us a lesson on how the WPA worked for artists when it was implemented and how it could work now. Greg Walloch interviewed artists living and working (sort of) in New York. Jason Flores-Williams thinks the recession could only be a good thing for all artists. And Ezrha Jean Black was the first person to ask — rather vocally — "Where is Jeremy Strick?" Sounds like a great movie title, doesn't it? Ezrha Jean delves into the MOCA Madness and we're relieved to hear it's not going anywhere.
So, we're on top of it, here at Artillery, and we're not going to fake it. Times are tough, we're in a recession and it doesn't look like up to me. Still, there will always be art, and there will always be Christmas. And maybe this recession is a message that it's not always about money. Both art and Christmas could be a little less commercial, and maybe we'll begin to know the true meaning of both, if there is one.