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Impressions of Art Basel Miami Beach, 2012

(Joyce Edmondson)

For a brief moment, the cigarette butt became a kindred spirit to the smoker, sharing the same remnants of discarded anger, desire and regret…

If that doesn’t make sense to you, perhaps you weren’t able to attend the 11th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach this past weekend. After going, what I can tell you now is – I’ll never look at a collection of cigarette butts the same way again.

detail of installation
Detail of installation piece: "I Won't Give upon You," Jon Pylypchuk

The international art fair, arguably “one of the best in the world,” an art consultant told me over coffee, featured 257 galleries from 31 countries. Galleries presented artists from the 20th and 21st century. The fair spanned four days and featured art on many levels: high-end art for sale, public performance pieces, artist talks, art films and outdoor sculptures. And of course, in true South Beach style, there were parties galore.

This year, crowds felt thicker than last year. The older works – Léger, Miró, Picassos, Gris, Duchamp, Calder and so on - seemed in more abundance. Clearly, in spite of the global recession, the secondary art investment world is still flourishing.

A sampling of some artworks can be seen in the photo gallery above. Random observations are in italics below.

Grayson Perry's tapestry was a very uncomplimentary slice of family life.

This must have some heavy auto-biographical meaning. Perhaps there’s a clue in the name of the piece? Yes, "Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close," helps.

That makes me wonder, should an artwork stand alone, or does one need to know all about the artist, their milieu, the provenance, to enjoy it?

From Barbara Kruger’s "Greedy Schmuck," to the bejeweled bag of Ruffles, to a mummy made of money, one common theme was commerce.

Art is a commodity.

Like pork bellies.

Can they short-sell it?

Aisles at the Convention Center were mixed with serious collectors, students, casual tourists, art aficionados, interlopers, gallery representatives and artists. All ages, nearly all nations.

I believe I heard a dozen languages spoken. No, make that everything except Klingon.

On seeing Harry Dodge's sculptures that made up "Nine Mechanisms for the Deformation of Layers and the Subsequent Folding of Rock," I could envision them coming alive, walking, stumbling, slithering.

Every piece told a story. The experience was quite overwhelming. It made me recall friends who, when going to a museum, would contemplate two or three works, and after that, were so emotionally drained they had to leave. This type of art appreciation isn’t possible at Art Basel galleries, as it was too busy, too over the top for that.

I admire art such as Liza Lou's beaded Ruffles bag, because it dares to blur the line between craft and fine art. I bet that makes a lot of art experts uncomfortable.

So much angry art. Not much quiet art. More like BA-BAM, with lipstick on.

If you purchased one of these high-concept pieces, how long could you live with it – a few days, a month, a year?

In the end, I realized it doesn’t matter if you like a work or not, nor if you could live with it or not. The trick is - if you find it resonating in your head for a long time – bringing ideas and emotions along with it - then that is a great piece.