Art Basel Is OverPlease Exit Through The Gift Shop

The dust has finally settled in the wake of Art Basel 2011, which passed through Miami last week like a drunken tropical storm chasing free booze into a fine art gallery.

Between the art fairs, the music events, and the awesome new murals, this was arguably the best Basel yet, but can our beloved festival overcome the perils of mainstream popularity?

The Sound of Art

For its part, “Music Basel” was a resounding success. Keeping the fun going long after the fairs closed were performances by a cadre of awesome musicians including Yelle, Neon Indian, and nearly all of DFA, not to mention a set by Soulwax at a ritzy South Beach hotel. Somewhat expectedly, the complimentary shows like James Murphy and Pat Mahoney’s set at Grand Central and Basel Castle drew lines that stretched for blocks after reaching capacity almost instantly – an unnerving preview of what WMC 2012 promises to be like.

Life Isn’t Always Fair

The sad truth about Art Basel is that there’s simply not enough time to experience all of it – a problem made exponentially worse by the snail’s-pace traffic orgies that inevitably accompany the arts festival every year. Determined Baselers can get in on a good amount of action, though, and like most things in the life, it’s all about knowing where to go and when to stay the hell away from there.

Among the satellite fairs, Scope and Fountain stood out as highlights, thanks to artists like Deathface and Radical!, although it was definitely worth it to hit up Pulse, Art Miami, and probably Nada as well. Overall, there was good art, there was bad art, and there was a ton of stuff that’s questionably art strewn randomly across Miami’s trendier neighborhoods for Baselers to sift and sort through on their own. Geographically, between the Design District, Midtown, Wynwood, and Miami Beach, Wynwood laid claim to both the best atmosphere and the worst atmosphere, depending on the time.

By day, Wynwood was the street art mecca it always promised to be, with an array of artists both local and imported painting new walls throughout the Arts District. The ambience was one of friendliness, creativity, and collaboration. The artists were more than happy to chat with passers by, and a lot of really dope murals came out of those blissful daylight hours. The mood changed noticeably at night, however, in what some would call a sad sign of things to come.

BroBasel: The Fall of Wynwood

According to the Miami New Times, locals were the biggest losers at Art Basel this year, but the real truth isn’t quite that simple. With Basel’s skyrocketing popularity attracting big-name corporate sponsorship from the likes of Absolut Vodka, the streets of Wynwood last week were overrun by the bros, a rather uncultured segment of the local population whose members are more likely to take a piss on a piece of art than to try to appreciate it in any way.

Spawned in the unrefined depths of suburban Miami, bros lust for free drinks like zombies after brains. When the sun set, they came to Wynwood in droves – an unending horde of tasteless bros hunting open bars into near-extinction in sandals and cargo shorts. Their base of operations in Wynwood was Absolut Miami, an unholy temple to the gods of mediocrity curated by none other than the cultural antichrist himself: Mr. Brainwash.

Zen and the Art of Trolling

Mr. Brainwash. Photo by Rod Deal

Star of Exit Through The Gift Shopand this year’s most hip-to-hate artist, Mr. Brainwash’s success is a testament to the gullibility of both his fans and his detractors. While it’s apparently clever to “troll” a few people by defending his legitimacy as an artist, the real trolling is being done by someone else.

Mr. Brainwash is the ultimate inside joke: his real art lies in his ability to thrive in the face of such oblivious derision. He’s made millions by getting people to hate on his obviously-not-real-street-art. People still pay upwards of $2500 for a piece of his work, due in no small part to the much-hyped film Exit Through The Gift Shop and the global attention it brought him.

Are we really to believe that the likes of Banksy and Shepard Fairey, both having uncharacteristically agreed to appear in the movie, didn’t see that coming? Brainwash is their creation, and quite possibly a deliberate attempt to sew mayhem in the art scene by demonstrating just how fickle it is. Now that’s art.