Art behaving badly: Highs and lows from the industry's final major event of the year

Updated 7th December 2015
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Art behaving badly: Highs and lows from the industry's final major event of the year
Written by By Janelle Zara, for CNNMiami
Janelle Zara is an art and design writer and editor. All opinions expressed are her own.
Art Basel Miami Beach is a bit of a misnomer.
The week long spectacle is attached to the annual December art fair, which just closed its 2015 edition on Sunday, is much less about art than debauchery, or self-promotion -- specifically which guest lists your name is on, your #artselfie prowess, and how many times you've spotted Leonardo di Caprio (sadly, my personal count this year was zero).
"Have you seen anything weird this week?" I asked Mills Moran of L.A. gallery Moran Bondaroff on Friday night, the end of day four, and he chuckled at the question. The answer, of course, was yes.
The specifics, however, of what he saw at the likes of the Fontainebleau, the hotel where his gallery was exhibiting in the NADA art fair, or during dinner at the Shelborne Hotel where a raucous A$AP Mob performed poolside, couldn't possibly be revealed.
The caliber of artwork sold at Art Basel, in tandem with the legendary status of the party scene, has made it the highest attended event of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
Unsurprisingly, it's always attracted eager participants of all kinds, but this year, without question, was over-saturated, overloaded, and particularly weird.

A bloated Art Basel

This year marked a new high in the number of fringe fairs orbiting around the main event, 20 or so in total, of varying quality.
"There's a lot of bad art being sold out there that doesn't have a future," Nick Korniloff, director of one of the satellite events Art Miami, told me Tuesday on opening night.
Art Basel Miami Beach during the VIP Preview
Art Basel Miami Beach during the VIP Preview Credit: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
The locally-grown fair, which carries artworks that range from small, $1,000-works of mid-career artists to multi-million dollar works by the likes of Alexander Calder, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Damien Hirst, dates back to even before Art Basel's 2002 inauguration in Miami. "Personally, I'd like to see a contraction," Korniloff said.
The more jarring expansion was the glut of events hosted by art-world interlopers: morning Vinyasa yoga with Equinox; burrata flavored soft-serve ice cream by cronut inventor Dominique Ansel; a show of paintings of hamburgers and hot dogs by the actor Adrien Brody.
"The design fair had a Dean & Deluca booth with cheese on it," added New York gallerist Marc Benda during the week's largest design show, Design Miami/, leaving us both perplexed.

After parties and hotel lobbies

With an unprecedented amount of things to look at, the days and nights at Bloated Basel were a battle against both the crowds and elements.
On Tuesday, a mob tried to haggle its way into the opulent new Faena Hotel's opening party, only to be rebuffed by the guest-list wielding girls at the door.
The crowns of roses they wore, alongside the party favors in the form of small rings embedded with pulsing, colored lights, and the unveiling of a giant 24-karat-gold mammoth skeleton placed in a vitrine by none other than Damien Hirst, made the party inside a little reminiscent of Burning Man at best, Coachella at worst.
A week of torrential downpours reached its peak Thursday night, as hoards of people gathered in the covered entrance to my hotel. We stared blankly into the distance as Uber prices surged six-fold and unfortunate pedestrians waded through ankle-deep water.
New York PR maven Nadine Johnson, after lighting a cigarette, advised me to "Just take an umbrella. It's all walking distance." She took a quick drag and forged on into the rain.
Regardless of the weather, Thursday turned out to be a good night for parties.
Brave souls ventured to the Perez Art Museum on mainland Miami to watch a collaborative performance by Blood Orange's Dev Hynes and artist Ryan McNamara.
In Miami Beach, New York artist Daniel Arsham celebrated the fourth installment of his short film series, "The Future Relic" with cocktails served in copper pineapples and free ice skates and bowling lanes in the lux rec room of the Edition hotel's Basement, where Italian disco legend Giorgio Moroder and Horse Meat Disco were also throwing their own party well into the night.
The late-late-night party, as usual, was Dom Pérignon's annual star-studded, laser-lit debacle at the W Hotel's The Wall, hidden inconveniently behind an obstacle course of winding hotel corridors dotted with guest-list checkpoint after guest-list checkpoint.
The prize for navigating the maze and repeatedly spelling your name to the event's PR was partying with Lenny Kravitz, Serena Williams, and Paris Hilton, as well as access to endless champagne.

Week and wit's end

As the Friday hangover set in, Art Basel hit an ugly turn that afternoon. One grisly altercation ended in fair goer violently attacking another using an X-ACTO knife. While the victim, thankfully, wasn't seriously injured, the crowd, embarrassingly, had hesitated in its reaction, not sure if the blood and police tape were the result of a fight or a piece of performance art, an indication that a week of unrelenting spectacle had left them unable to distinguish actual art from anything else.
The Freedman Fitzpatrick Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach, the day after a stabbing took place.
The Freedman Fitzpatrick Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach, the day after a stabbing took place. Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Los Angeles artists FriendsWithYou offered a reprieve from the madness in the form of "Light Spirit," a virtual reality artwork, complete with goggles, headphones, and a magic wand. Together, they induce "a meditative state, far very from the anxiety-driven hunt for parties and art lurking," according to FriendsWithYou artist Samuel Borkson.
For about 10 minutes I left the art fairs behind and pranced around a Dayglo alternate universe with a floating, rainbow anime character. As I took the goggles off I realized it was time to leave Miami.
Janelle Zara is an art and design writer and editor. All opinions expressed are her own.