Arts & Culture

Blogging Basel: Summer Camp for Art Stars

Sometime around midnight at the Essex Bar, after a countercultural icon was done hitting on my boyfriend, I realized we knew everyone. The pop-surrealist art world is a tiny place, and the entirety of it seemed settled in Essex’s faux … Read More

By / December 5, 2008

Sometime around midnight at the Essex Bar, after a countercultural icon was done hitting on my boyfriend, I realized we knew everyone. The pop-surrealist art world is a tiny place, and the entirety of it seemed settled in Essex’s faux leather banquettes. There were the gallery owners, the beautifully coiffed female artists and their protégées, Travis Louie, my good angel, talking to everyone. Still delirious from staying up all night, I leaned back in the banquette and let it all wash over me. This was Basel.
We were home.

We got in at 9 in the morning on Thursday. At the airport, the TSA demanded to X-ray my see-through neck scarf, and our hotel was a crack den out of central casting. We weren’t sure if the pattern in the bathroom was wallpaper or mold. (No wonder it was so cheap.)

Dodging ticket scalpers, I made my way to the convention center to see if bloggers are established enough to get press passes for Art Basel proper. We are. After presenting an assignment letter and bringing up my first Blogging Basel post on the iPhone, security led me through an elaborate maze of press services, where they gave me an unflattering plastic ID and a swag bag of truly impressive heft.

It was my first time at proper Art Basel. Last year, I confined myself to the fairs my friends could sneak me into. So I had never seen the Babylon of Wealth that existed in the convention center. Reader, picture with me the expensively tanned dowagers, the be-suited men, the free champagne. The TV crews, the Picassos, the Cindy Sherman self-portraits as big as walls. 50% of the art industry, like the T-shirt industry, seemed to consist of portraits of Barack Obama. I didn’t feel classy enough. Not at all.

My aide in Going Places I Don’t Belong was Jennifer Wright, an exceedingly pretty young journalist who I texted as soon as I landed in Miami. She was working for, and had just had her snazzy 20s ensemble complimented by Rachel Zoe. She appears all willowy in a polka dot silk dress, and whisks me off to the UBS Lounge to sit with my social betters. Even inside the UBS Lounge there are alternate, more elite lounges with free buffets and Dom Perignon, guarded by security. While 68% of Christie’s last auction went unsold, Basel was packed shoulder to shoulder opening night.


Post-Basel, I went to meet my good angel, the art star Travis Louie, at Aqua Art Fair. While the entirety of Aqua would fit into Mary Boone’s Art Basel booth, it’s still a stunning fair. In a blue, tiled hotel that looks like a swimming pool, girls in pushup bras are doling out Campari, and Travis, whose daguerreotypes-of-monsters style has exploded in the last year, is being mobbed by well-wishers.


Travis guides Fred and me around the fair (collecting a larger and larger entourage along the way). At one New York gallery, he finds two original Colette Calasciones in the back room. Calascione’s one of my favorite artists. Her buttery, oh-so-tight oil paintings are of the sort of beautiful vintagey ladies that are just off enough to bring back Baroque.

Also met Chris Crites, who paints mug shots and hardened 60s stag-mag models on paper bags. They’re tightly rendered, and the colours appealingly juicy, which only contrasts with the profoundly disturbing subjects.


At Cerasoli LeBasse gallery, I met the beautiful Freddi Cerasoli, graffiti artist and curator. Ceraseli talks a bit about the ingrained misogyny of the street art scene before sharing her favorite tip for tagging. "Dress really nice, like you’re going to a party. And bring a guy. That way, if a cop sees you, you can pretend you and him are snogging." Beau Basse, the gallery’s other owner, is displaying a bunch of works on paper from artists that he discovered (a nice change from the endlessly recycled ten people you see in so many pop surrealist galleries).

Me, Fred and Travis go to La Sandwhicherie, the one non-price gouging place to eat on Collins. It’s a sandwich shop behind a gas station. As the night rolls on, we start to run into everyone. First, Eric White and a Nike rep join us. Then, we walk over to a tiny Cuban place that’s transformed into pop surrealist land, with Niagara, Carrie Ann Baade, Justin Giarla, Van Arno and friends spilling across six tables.

Somehow, afterwards, everyone knows to go to Essex.

Art Basel week is part summer camp, part high school reunion for every art scene ever.

Tomorrow: Has Wynwood finally lived up to its rep? Plus- parties!