Much of the East Coast spent last week huddled beneath an onslaught of wintry mix — but down in balmy South Beach...
Grantland’s Ben Detrick contributed a post to their Hollywood Prospectus blog yesterday. I actually agree with the foundation of his analysis. Essentially, he examines a slightly different side of the same phenomenon I addressed in my Day Three recap: the whole parallel calendar running alongside the premier art fair. Parties at various VIP hotels, programming in the street-art-dominated Wynwood district on the mainland, concerts by pop culture darlings old and new - all often sponsored by liquor or fashion companies, with a crush of would-be spectators arguing with doormen over their rightful inclusion on the list. There is an overflow for sure, and Raekwon is as good a lens as any to view it through.
However, I reject the larger conclusion Detrick draws about what this means about the art world. My gripe is primarily concentrated on the following segment of his post:
With festivalization come inevitable gripes — it’s not about the art anymore, it’s not about the indie rock anymore, it’s not about the fashion anymore — but people always complain when outsiders breach their small, cultivated circles. Shit, it happens with the local Vietnamese eatery that gets a positive review in the local alt-weekly. But democratization of the art world can’t be a bad thing. And it surely shouldn’t be the private domain of the privileged scions of shipping companies and hotel empires.
But back to Raekwon… On Saturday night, the Chef hung out at a house party in a waterside mansion that was affiliated with Hennessy, street-culture magazine Frank 151, and French clothing company Pigalle. Trap music thumped, social media darlings like Vashtie Kola and the #been #trill dudes photo-bombed, avant-garde designer Shayne Oliver from Hood by Air trod around in tiny black shorts, and Mykki Blanco chatted with Venus X and Ghetto Goths from the “Kingpinning" video. This wasn’t all about art, precisely, but it was surely a faction of a new artistic class.
Here’s the thing: I was at that house party. I can tell you with unwavering confidence that it “breach[ed]” the real fine art world as effectively as Occupy Wall Street breached the real business of investment banking. My friends and I spent most of the night marveling at how completely different the crowd there was from the crowd actually shopping for artwork at Art Basel Miami. One of them joked that walking through the door was like walking through a portal to Park Slope - all hipster affectation and trend-conscious politicking about fashion blogs and how to get decent drugs. It wasn’t out of that question that someone in attendance might have bought something by a meaningful artist at Art Basel itself… but it also wasn’t out of the question that someone in attendance might have been an extraterrestrial masquerading as a human being to gather information on our youth demographics. Possibility does not equal probability.
Detrick’s statement that “[t]his wasn’t all about art, precisely” is a weak shield thrown over his argument at the last minute to try to keep it upright; his companion notion that the crowd was “surely a faction of a new artistic class” is even flimsier. The truth is that there are two Basel Miami weeks: one for the wealthy to ultra wealthy collectors shopping and schmoozing at the actual fair and its premium-branded satellite events, and one for an underclass of the arts and fashion industries that drafts off of the main event for its own ends. There’s very little meaningful crossover between the two. The idea that this is somehow a new phenomenon is a misread of the situation. There have been countercultures as long as there have been cultures. Whether it was the Dada movement railing against the complicity of high culture in the madness of World War One, or the punk and underground art scene in New York in the late 70s and early 80s lobbing grenades at the perceived boredom and safety of the sanctioned creative class, this is not a new dichotomy. The two worlds run parallel as they always have. A select few individuals rise from the lower class to the upper and become names of consequence. Most never make the leap and become nothing - at least, to anyone beyond their immediate circle.
I realize this may sound like I’m taking shots at the non-elite creative class. That’s not my intention. I have no problem at all with what they’re doing, and I wish them well. Hell, right now I’m arguably one of them. My problem is strictly with Detrick’s argument that this contingent has somehow “democratiz[ed]” the art world in a groundbreaking way. As far as the market is concerned, the set he highlights has little impact as either artists or consumers. They are the coffee shop art world - trap music and fury signifying nothing. They are as meaningful to the high end of the industry as the protesters in Zucotti Park were to the suits in their gleaming high rises, either ridiculing them or worse, simply ignoring them altogether while they go about the real business at hand - the business that casts a shadow the others will almost certainly live permanently inside of. Any argument to the contrary is either pandering, misinterpretation, or wishful thinking.