The Bombay Gin models were gorgeous, seven feet tall and performing water ballet. You could get close enough to the Warhols and the Picassos to see the brush strokes. And price tags ranged from the thousands to the millions.
Such were the sights at Art Basel Miami Beach, the American sister to one of the world’s top art fairs, Art Basel. This year, for the first time, a group of Asheville artists attended through The Satellite Gallery. They returned earlier this month and shared their observations with Xpress.
“It was overwhelming,” says local artist Alli Good, who remarked on the models, the brush strokes and the price tags.
Bill Thompson owns Satellite, which earned an invite (and after the strong Asheville showing, a return invite) to the Gen Art Vanguard fair, a contemporary art show held alongside Art Basel Miami Beach. The Satellite stall was loaded with Asheville work from artists such as Good, Gabriel Shaffer, Taiyo la Paix, Brian Mashburn and Dustin Spagnola.
“We rocked their socks off,” says Thompson, who says he was thrilled. “We had all new work by all new artists: We were showing against big galleries in big cities.”
Although Art Basel Miami has only been around for two years, it’s widely considered the most important American art fair. Miami hosted seven sites for this year’s extravaganza, each with its own genre and specialized contingent of dealers, collectors, curators and artists. In addition, a melange of other art fairs are held at the same time.
The main event caters to several hundred of the most important national and international galleries that exhibit works of the world’s most prominent artists, living or dead: It’s the place where important collectors compete for works priced in the millions of dollars.
The Gen Art Vanguard fair, where the Satellite Gallery stall was located, was in the Wynwood Art District of the city and hosted seven galleries, most from California, and all from cities much larger than Asheville.
West Coast artist and teacher John Baldessari once said “an artist going to an art fair is like a teenager barging into his parent’s bedroom while they’re having sex. At fairs gallerists are reduced to merchants, a role in which they’d rather not be seen by their artists.”
La Paix and Mashburn had a different experience, which they say was both valuable and enlightening. “For the first time,” la Paix says, “I really saw the marketers as human beings, all just trying to put food on their table. It was good to see that firsthand.”
Mashburn says he found the marketing aspect of his experience educational. “At one point in time, it would have rubbed me the wrong way,” he admits. “But I saw the arts industry in action. People were gracious and gave me advice on how to proceed—I learned a lot about the nuances of marketing.”
The artists agree they were on sensory overload the whole time.
From la Paix: The blow-up sculptures on Biscayne Boulevard blew him away. And the Gen Art Vanguard party was unlike anything he’d ever seen or imagined.
From Spagnola: He was awed by the pool at one end of the space with synchronized swimmers, the light pen he played with that was connected to a computer and a projector, the martini bars and the fact that he saw 30 murals created in two days.
Spagnola and la Paix stayed in the Wynwood district, while Mashburn and Good explored more of the venues. Mashburn found the work at Art Asia particularly inspiring: “It was sharp and tight, challenging, but still approachable. I found it engaging on many different levels,” he said.
He spent a whole day at the convention center, where he says he found the work of very high quality, “but I became numb—there was just too much!”
Good was awed to meet artists she had admired for years, and delighted to feel that her work, which she says is not carried by “fancy” galleries, seemed to fit in the context of the Gen Art fair. “It would be an understatement to say that I was overexcited,” she exclaims. “I felt like a child!”
“It was inspiring to walk into a random gallery and see work I had seen in magazines,” she adds. “There was so much high-end work.”
Good, who went with her husband, Doug, and 8-year-old son, Oscar, also came home with philosophical questions about her work and her life. “It was great to have people feel that my art is important, but seeing acres of art made me think, what is the purpose of all this? How do I get to be a part of it? And, most of all, why do I want to be a part of it?”
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]