THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS

 

Porno-Capitalism at
Art Basel Miami Beach

 

The grotesquerie of economic inequality in our current Porno-Capitalism1 shrieked at a frightening register at this year’s 18th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach. It felt a little like the grand banquet at the President’s Mansion in The Hunger Games—where the ultra-elite , decked out in haute couture, are served crystal flutes of a bulimic elixir to allow them to continue to gorge while the starving masses illegally feed on rodents to survive and are forced to send their children off to a televised battle royal deathmatch for the entertainment of the ruling class—all for a wee bit of extra food.

The global cultural phenomenon of Art Basel Miami Beach is akin to the entirety of the Louvre being installed and deinstalled in a sinking bloated beach resort over a week’s span. With nearly 300 Art Basel exhibitors, no fewer than 20 satellite art fairs, and countless museum and gallery openings, performances, events, and parties, it almost seems irrelevant to speak of the specificity of artworks when dealing with the sheer scale and ramifications of the world’s premier and most important art fair—even more so in our post-Fordist, alternative fact-based, brand-obsessed, masturbatory, and lonely internet world.

At times, it seems the best an artist can hope for these days is a type of nihilistic humor that might allow for a moment of contemplation of just how utterly mad the world is. The Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan delivered this year’s best joke with Comedian (2019), a banana that had been duct-taped to a wall of Art Basel. The punchline? Comedian sold for $120,000 to $150,000 five times over.

Catalan’s banana exemplifies Porno-Capitalism—what Paul B. Preciado calls our current hyper-manic stage of late capitalism. According to Preciado, we are in the third stage of capitalism—the first being slavery, and the second the Industrial Revolution. We currently find ourselves in the “Pharmacopornographic” era, or, more simply, Porno-Capitalism: a world in which we have long moved past the relevance of commerce of actual objects, where sex and sexuality become the main object of political and economic control over the human body carried out through new dynamics of advanced technocapitalism, global media, and biotechnologies. Anything can be art, and everything and nothing are at stake, resulting in a smorgasbord of absurdities. The crux of Cattelan’s Comedian is the orchestration and channeling of economics. The banana is nothing more than a dumbbell for the bulging flex of capital.

In the normalized lunacy of our times, we need artists who can enact new visions of the world and create things we cannot currently imagine—who offer hope, biting criticism, mirrors that provide actual reflection and contemplation, and hammers that strike at necessary targets. With impending climate crisis and alienation from the natural world, perhaps Plant Sex Workshop (2019) is exactly what we need. Its creator, Hong Kong-based artist and professor Zheng Bo,  is “committed to human and multispecies equality. He investigates the past and imagines the future from the perspectives of marginalized communities and marginalized plants.” 2 His video Pteridophilia (2016-present), depicting young men tenderly making love to ferns, made waves at Art Basel. Zheng reflects on and challenges our current moral outlook that it is “natural” to eat plants but “unnatural” to make love to them.

Local law enforcement made a huge fuss and unsuccessfully attempted to shut down Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares' outdoor kinetic sculpture positioned at the entrance of UNTITLED Art Fair Miami because of disrespect for the American flag. “It is not down on any map; true places never are” (2019), in which the flags of the top 16 countries currently involved in the migrant crisis circularly rotate along two flagpoles and sequentially fly upside-down and, at times, drag across the ground, representing the ever-changing nature of power.

 

Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares, it is not down on any map; true places never are, 2019 (Luis De Jesus Los Angeles) Photo: Casey Kelbaugh. From the Medium.com website.

 

There were a large number of black and latinx artists represented at Art Basel and around town this year. An insert focusing on artists of the African diaspora was to be found in the official Art Basel guide. However, there is still a dearth of black owned galleries. Mariane Ibrahim, who recently relocated to Chicago from Seattle, is rumored to have been the only black owned gallery exhibiting at the official fair. The themes of racial equality along with a number of other pressing social and environmental issues are busy as hell in the art world, but to what end? The art industry believes that by exhibiting or purchasing artworks that deal with social issues, they are fighting to resolve these issues. The art industry is concerned with appearances of social progressivism, which is not the same as actual radical representation or inclusion. To quote the late Toni Morrison, “Racism will disappear when it’s no longer profitable and no longer psychologically useful. And when that happens, it’ll be gone. But at the moment, people make a lot of money off of it, pro and con.” 3 An important and often neglected meditation would be on the “pro and con.” “Who Owns Black Art?,” a three-day group exhibit held at Miami Urban Contemporary Experience that ran alongside Art Basel Miami Beach, poses such a question specifically in regard to the exploitation of black bodies and culture.

Art Basel Miami Beach was a strange return for me. Nearly 10 years ago, at the OG fair in Switzerland, I found myself over the course of an 8 hours span having gone from sipping champagne with a collector of mine who snuck me into the “First Choice VIP” opening  with the head of a major multinational pharmaceutical corporation and two Saudi princesses to sleeping with two homeless men at the Basel train station after pissing off a 19-year-old millionaire heiress for accidentally spilling a cocktail on her dress (she had her bodyguard dispose of my luggage). A lot of bad behavior goes unchecked in the art world.

I am far from being either wealthy or homeless, and so it is hard to hold those two images of myself simultaneously. However, it often seems that, as artists, we are tasked with embracing contradiction and paradox. I'm interested in how artists peddle in the spiritual while navigating the swamps of late capitalism—in how there is still truth there amongst all the shit.

Order of Importance by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich offers something like truth. It transforms the beautiful, sandy, champagne-colored beaches of Miami into a haunting stretch of six-lane highway. Made entirely of sand, more than five dozen life-sized cars of various makes and models are stuck in an eternal traffic jam. “Cars have been a symbol of autonomy and freedom, but we are not necessarily moving forward when we drive,” reflects the artist. As the sun set on this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, Erlich’s cars were left for the ocean to slowly take back. Perhaps this is a good place to end.

 

Stevie Hanley

 

Stevie Hanley is an artist based in Chicago and an adjunct lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is also a founding member of the artists collective Siblings.

 

1   The concept of the Pharmacopornographic era was laid out by the Spanish theorist Paul B. Preciado and is further discussed later in this article.

2   Taken from the artist’s website: http://zhengbo.org/info.html

3   “Toni Morrison on Human Bondage and a Post-Racial Age,” NPR interview, December 26, 2008.

Maurizio Cattelan, Comedian, 2019 at Perrotin booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Sarah Cascone. Source: artnet News.

Still from Zheng Bo's Pteridophilia 2, 2018. Video (4K, color, sound), 20 min.

Rendering of Order of Importance, 2019. Courtesy of Leandro Erlich Studio.

 

Make a MONTHLY DONATION or a ONE-TIME DONATION via PayPal

SUBSCRIBE to the print version of the New Art Examiner via PayPal