Arts & Culture

Blogging Basel – VIPop Surrealism

The art genre I work in has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Pop surrealism (sometimes called Lowbrow or New Contemporary) is the stuff in the magazine Juxtapoz. It’s the well-rendered, representational, pop culture inspired and exuberantly surreal … Read More

By / December 8, 2008

The art genre I work in has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Pop surrealism (sometimes called Lowbrow or New Contemporary) is the stuff in the magazine Juxtapoz. It’s the well-rendered, representational, pop culture inspired and exuberantly surreal art that started coming out of California fifteen years ago. Think Mark Ryden, The Clayton Brothers, Gary Baseman. The mainstream art world damns pop-surrealists as illustrator ho-bags. If pop-surrealists don’t envy high art’s pretense, they covet their cash.

Well, pop-surrealism has been gradually gaining mainstream acceptance. Mark Ryden sold a painting for a million dollars. His Tokyo gallery exhibited one of his massive canvases at the convention center (oh holy of holies) this year. Juxtapoz became the best selling art magazine in America. And during the election, Shepard Fairey’s Obama portrait was so damn recognizable he got a MAD cover in his honor. At Art Basel, Pop Surrealism owned Friday night. The evening began Scion Party at the Raleigh Hotel. Scion does touring pop-surrealist/graffiti art shows, giving the profits to charity. This year, the theme was self-portraits, and included Ron English’s disturbingly realistic tribute to Uncle Sam.

After we had drunk our champagne and grabbed our swag bags, we went to GenArt’s Vanguard Art Fair, the first art fair devoted exclusively to New Contemporary. Curated by Francesco LoCastro, a linchpin of the Miami art scene, Vanguard had a baffling array of sponsors. Think yogurt, cars, Citibank, and Bombay Sapphire vodka. Yogurt is a surprisingly good party food.
GenArt pulls off the super-luxe Babylon effect generally reserved for films about the death of disco. Models in vintage swimsuits bathed in a giant pool of gin. The chiseled shoulders of Venus Williams floated portrait-bust style over armies of handlers. There were graffiti light sabers and Todd Oldman, synchronized swimming, and that guy from Top Design. Seven damn fine galleries hung their work- including M Modern, Thinkspace, Yves Laroche and Mark Murphy, who was kind enough to hang a painting of mine. A Colin Christian statue towered over socialites like a pagan idol.

Post GenArt, Shepard Fairey took over the Shore Club. The night was enlivened when pickup-douche Mystery showed up, furry-vested posse in tow. Alas, Mystery’s charms were lost on Anna, the FSU art student in town with Carrie Ann Baade. However, she did steal his hat.
The next day, We went to Aqua Wynwood. If Wynwood last year was hot and desolate, this year it lived up to its hype. The massive warehouse that held Aqua Wynwood allowed for far more wall space than was available at Aqua’s South Beach sister. The Shooting Gallery boasted a Shepard Fairey Obama that took up one entire wall. Plus, Travis Louie painted yours truly. Jonathan Levine’s booth was devoted entirely to giant, aquatic Ray Caeser prints and dreamy Xiaoqing Ding.
Outside, a Dutch graffiti artist had made magic all over the walls. As you wandered around Wynwood, Fairey had thrown up art all over the neighborhood, sometimes right next to superman Obamas.
Post Wynwood, nearly every pop-surrealist painter in Miami converged on an overpriced German restaurant. We drew all over the placemats. Now, Basel is done. It’s time for a tally.
Total Fairs Visited: Six. Basel, Bridge, Aqua, Aqua Wynwood, Fountain, Vanguard. Best Fair: Vanguard. With Aqua Wynwood a close second. Total parties attended: Eight
Line That Most Embodies What America Hates About the Art World: "Also cooking? The Station, a fully functioning meth lab that has the whole art world tweaking"- from Basel’s internal newspaper.
Did Depression 2.0 Destroy Everything: No.