It’s midnight in Miami and everything is fucked. This is a city known as a tropical paradise, and the weather is frigid. This is Art Basel, the pinnacle of style and sophistication, and I’m wearing socks with sandals.
I’ve just been turned away from a dinner for not being on the list and as I shuffle away, embracing the very particular shame of “denied-at-the-door,” I step in a puddle. I feel my socks (thrown on in an attempt to warm up my beachy outfit) absorb the liquid and I look down to see the puddle is actually a stream of raw sewage, oozing from the entrails of a super lux hotel.
Guess it makes sense. When people have asked how my Art Basel is going, I’ve been replying with two words: shit show.
The disillusionment I felt at Art Basel is surely my fault. That’s how disillusionment works. I had expectations, and they weren’t met. I was enchanted by Art Basel before I ever even arrived. An annual contemporary art fair held in Basel, Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, it had been described to me like a Sofia Coppola wet dream. Art world glitterati by day, swanky soirees by night, champagne with painters, yacht parties with sheiks, discussing contemporary art with Important People who live Important Lives.
Instead, my Art Basel was pretty blah-sel — a gilded spring break for vainglorious millennials and hashtag-y PR people. It was endless peacocking at brand “activations” disguised as parties, made worse by the fact that I knew there were edgy, intriguing art experiences nearby… if only I could find them. Instead, I was trapped in the bourgeoisie apocalypse.
In short: “I Went To Art Basel And Didn’t See Any Of The Cool Stuff.”
This is a story of high expectations being the death of authentic experience. And the feeling of attending an event where stimulating, fresh art is being shared but you keep missing it because you’re stuck wading through a garbage heap of swag. A tale of realizing that the cool kids are somewhere else and you’re stuck with self-styled marketing gurus and Snapchat whiz kids.
Maybe it’s the story of me discovering that flashy events like Art Basel don’t actually appeal to me anymore, but my FOMO-dominated ego hasn’t caught up with my spiritually evolving soul. Even re-reading how I come across in the opening paragraph of this piece makes me cringe. My big problem in life is not getting into a famous party and wearing the wrong thing? How am I any better than the people I’m mocking? To be honest, I think I would’ve had a better time in Miami writing about how the city is sinking into the sea and the erosion of good beach sand has reached such critical levels that the county is making a deal to ship it in from the Bahamas. But that story doesn’t pay the bills.
Perhaps this story is actually a rumination on what it means to be part of the “art world” or the “in crowd.” I’m reminded of the land in Gulliver’s Travels where children play ball with rubies and toilets are made out of gold because precious gems hold no worth. If value is subjective, how do you put a price tag on a good time, on an artistic expression – especially when you’re outside, looking in?
To be fair, maybe it’s way simpler: This story may just be a cautionary tale about not judging a city or subculture based on one weekend.
Whatever the angle, the truth is, other than boasting pre-Basel that I was going to Basel (back when I thought it would be glamorous and exciting), stepping in the puddle of shit was the most compelling thing that happened to me all weekend.