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A Civilized Burning Man? The Gathering Places of Art Basel Miami

Over the weekend, Art Basel Miami came to an end. The week-long art event takes over South Beach showing some of the best painting, photography,...

Over the weekend, Art Basel Miami came to an end. The week-long art event takes over South Beach showing some of the best painting, photography, performance, design, and sculpture from artists working all over the world. The following is part of a series of wrap ups from the week by our tireless contributors.

Art Basel Miami Beach, the world's most garish art convention, offers an opening into the art world like no other. Art world people—gallerists, curators, journalists, academics, and everything in between—fly in from all over the world gather to discuss and view art together. It's a rare opportunity to get face time with some of the most important people in a multi-billion dollar industry. The key term is gather. The word is whispered all over Miami; it is definitely a buzzword this year. Maybe because Basel has become something akin to a civilized Burning Man.

One such gathering place was Güiro, an outdoor pavilion bar built by Cuban-born, Madrid-based artists Los Carpinteros. Los Carpinteros teamed up with Absolut Art Bureau to build a wooden dome bar, kitty-corner to the W Hotel on South Beach. It's called Güiro, after a gourd that is played as an instrument. A press type (a nice gentleman from the Guardian) tells me the artist Dagoberto Rodriguez said Güiro was based on Jeremy Bentham's panopticon prison—circular so a warden (and in this case, a bartender) can stand in the middle and survey the inmates from within a circle. Which is it?, I think. A prison? A bar? A musical instrument? Or an artwork?

After dinner, we move over to the panopticon to see. Reveler types crowd into the panopticon, which due to it's open air design offers no protection from the evening drizzle. The clouds drift to the south as I ponder the relationship between art and the bar atmosphere. Eduardo Sarabia, a Guadalajara-based artist, built Bar Aleman at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City during another one of art's benchmark events, the Whitney Biennial, in 2008. Bar Aleman was a beautiful thing, with traditional blue and white painted porcelain as an adornment, and Sarabia's own homemade tequila as the inebriant. And there's The Mandrake in the Culver City arts district of Los Angeles, run by Drew Heitzler and Flora Wiegmann. Though that's more of a real, permanent bar, the concept remains the same: artists inviting art world people to gather and imbibe.

I bump into Vadim Grigorian, the Global Project Leader at the Absolut Art Bureau, who selected Los Carpinteros for the project in Miami. Grigorian suggests that the Güiro is a Gesamkunstwerk, the German word for an all-encompassing artwork. An artwork, a bar, a gathering place—all things at once.

I learn later that there was a near-panopticon called Presidio Modelo in Cuba that influenced Los Carpinteros directly. It's apparently very famous, and held incarcerated journalists and other political dissidents. I wonder what it would be like to be a journalist political prisoner. I wonder what I would have to write.

The Güiro doesn't quite feel like a bar. It doesn't quite feel like an artwork either, nor a prison, for that matter. There are a few performances; tonight's is a 15-person orchestra piece by Mallorcan composer Joan Valent that sounds like a tango. I slip into a drunkness I reckon is like an absinthe stupor, and I dream of all the artists who have drank themselves to escape, or to forget. I'm not sure what we're forgetting tonight.

Photos courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York/Absolut Art Bureau © Los Carpinteros by Roberto Chamorro

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