If you thought the Frieze Art Fair was the pinnacle of superficiality in the contemporary art world, Art Basel which took place last week on Miami Beach is its attention grabbing, celebrity obsessed, glitter sprinkled sister: part art fair, part Spring Breakers! This is what Frieze would look like if frequented by the excessively moneyed, perma-tanned schlebs who descend like it’s all one big party: and indeed the artworks shown by over 200 galleries and innumerable satellite shows jostling for display space – “jostle” being the polite term – are all catered towards the affluent cash pouring in from all over America, and, increasingly so in recent years, Latin America. Reports came in of artworks changing hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars: pile ‘em high, sell ‘em even higher. This is the Royal Academy Summer Show Hang for those with no attention span and money desperate to escape their manicured fists, with the ‘Preview days’ – where the most important buyers grab their loot – described by commentators as nothing less than a scrum.
To understand perhaps the most defining characteristic of the artworks at Art Basel, it is useful to glance over the media coverage and the overriding presence of celebrity standing in front of the them: in 2012 Beyoncé posed in front of several booths, while this year we were treated to the glittering presence of hot couple FKA Twigs and Robert Pattinson among others. This art is the ultimate in commodity flattering to the moneyed egos and ‘personalities’, to simply be seen in front of: shiny, reflective and glittery, aching to be subversive and dangerous in some way, such as the famous hamburger made from money, or prints of traditional paintings overpainted with slogans blaring the words “Wil Twerk 4 food” (oh I see what you did there.. how positively clever). It is no surprise that the Picasso plate that was stolen ticked all these boxes: shiny, immediate, with an inane grinning face and a seven figure price tag. Given that this piece will be impossible to legitimately sell on, this is either extremely stupid collecting informed by sheer greed, or the biggest ironic joke ever (I really wish for the sake of humanity it were the latter).
If Jeff Koons has taken over the Andy Warhol mantra of “business is good art”, where the beauty of his art lies in the monetary transaction of a product that is perfectly vacuous yet superficially irresistibly shiny and ‘Pop’, then this is its new dystopian future, where the art has become nothing more than another currency; when you can buy as much ‘art’ as you like. Like bulk-buying cans of tomato soup (reference absolutely intended), somehow the taste is lost: conversely everyone is now much poorer for being richer. Leo DiCaprio reportedly buys “at least two pieces” each year, as if ticking off a shopping list: bought to a quota rather than, heaven forbid, simply being moved quietly by the visual power of a piece – how laughable! Philip Hook recently wrote in his excellent book ‘Breakfast at Sotheby’s’, commenting on the peculiar beast that is the Fine Art trade, that buying a painting through a dealer often resembles a love affair for collectors: you hear of the piece first, then see tantalising photos in records or journals, then the overwhelming power of its real beauty hits you at first meeting. He adds that the thrill of paying to purchase such a beauty and taking her home feels somewhat deliciously illicit. In sharp contrast, where is the difference between DiCaprio picking up two of these artworks and his picking up twenty girls to take home from the party? In another perhaps unintentionally ironic twist, Miley Cyrus’s performance perfectly mirrored the art on show: all glitter wig and nipple tassles but no knickers and absolutely nothing, nothing to say.
Artbytch © Artlyst 2014 Photos: © Artlyst 2014
Artbytch is a regular weekly opinion piece which reflects the views of a single journalist and does not necessarily represent the view of the editorial staff creating this publication.