Art Basel Miami 2021: a glancing collision with contexts of contexts.

Social networks are a special case of social context.
NFTs operationalize control of the social context of artifacts in general ways.
Just as the internet is a “network of networks,”
a blockchains is a “context of contexts.”
~V. Raoi 

Miami November 2021The “context of contexts” world landed in Miami this past week to join forces with the tradart behemoth known as Art Basel Miami. Having not attended a grown-up art fair before and eager to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of top-tier physical art collecting, I hopped on a plane with my lovely mother to investigate.

Landing on the Monday, the cosmic cocktail of energy was immediately palpable in the city. A newly revitalised municipality with a somewhat complicated history, in just the last decade, Miami has established itself as a safe, friendly, open-for-business kinda place, and one that’s already made the sine que non pivot to crypto/web3. With abundant sunshine,ii a walkable/cyclable urban layout, well maintained public infrastructure, strong police presence,iii and a positivity foundiv only in the scarce few western world citiesv that are doing better today than they were a decade ago, Miami is the brightest and most ascendant star I’ve had the priviledge of seeing up close in a very long time.vi Mixing liberal attitudes (in the classical sense)vii long associated with Florida, with the suaveness of Latin culture and the swagger of Caribbean culture, not to mention the proverbial jet fuel from two years worth of pent-up demand from the literal jet-set crowd, and the atmosphere was about as electric as it gets. It was pretty fucking addictive!viii But after a very full week, what was my take-home from it all? That our understanding of the hyper-connected digital world is just getting started… and that textiles are an integral but still underrated component of this. Yes, textiles.ix

Y’see, dear reader, textiles were the first machines that our great-great-great-ancestors-in-the-caves ever built. Out of the functional necessity to protect our frail, fleshy bodies from sun and cold, and latterly to protect our curiously universal sense of modesty and desire to signal status, we created clothing, which is really just human-adorned textiles. It’s therefore in this less dystopianly mechanistic and more romantically enveloping sense that we can reimagine Le Corbusier’s most famous quote that “Une maison est une machine à demurer.” It’s not that buildings are robots per se and that they should only be occupied by automatons, it’s that robots are buildings and buildings are clothing and clothing is a machine, and that our buildings should serve the same twin purposes of protecting us and elevating us. Y’know?x Is it any wonder, then, that in this “digital age” that probably never began nor could really end like an “age” is supposed to, that world-class artists like Dmitri Cherniakxi have based their most iconic projects on the permutations and combinations of wrapping a string around a grid of pegs as if setting up a weaving loom?

All of which brings us back to Miami, which is not only an incredibly fashionable city to begin withxii but was even moreso during the no-holds-barred flextravaganza that was the only North American Art Basel fair stop.xiii Beyond clothing, however, though not beyond textiles because what would that even mean, my curatorial and contextual crush of the fair(s)xiv was this tapestry, one I couldn’t help but add to my nascent collection of physical art: Still Life by Le Corbusier, 1950.xv

Le Corbusier Still Life Tapestry 1950 at Art Miami 2021

Le Corbuxvi considered tapestries such as this one to be “murals of the modern age” and he was particularly fond of not only the geometric purity of the medium, but also its portability, and if this latter point in particular doesn’t sound completely “digitally native” to you, then I’m sorry but I don’t know what does!xvii Indeed, it turns out everything has its context,xviii even contexts of contexts. And that stories aren’t the only thing we know how to program.

P.S. Don’t forget the footnotes

___ ___ ___

  1. Archived.
  2. At the other end of the sunshine spectrum is, of course, New York. A city I find fascinating but quite unable to connect with.
  3. The city felt SAFE in a way that was almost surreal. Thanks to the business savviness of Mayor-cum-CEO Francis Suarez, we hardly saw any homelessness, which was a complete revelation compared to basically every other major urban centre on the continent.
  4. The service industry, in spite of the forced 20% gratuity with expected 5-10% top-up, is definitely not the highlight of Miami, at least during the zoo that is Art Basel. Also the fairs themselves really need to work on their catering game. It mostly sucked (and was way too heavy on the gluten). Only Scope, one of the smaller shows, actually had a proper menu, but it had the worst art. Maybe there’s an inverse correlation there?
  5. Like Vancouver, another emerging web3 hub (archived).
  6. Possibly since Shanghai in 2002, but I was also pretty young then and I have more of a RAM brain than an SSD brain so take that parallel with a grain of salt.
  7. Outside of the very Swiss-feeling conference centre housing the Art Basel show, masks were entirely optional, which made sense since it was 25C and air volumes were immense in the mostly open-air spaces of restaurants and after-show parties.
  8. Outside of the fairs, there was soooo much going on in town it was a bit nuts. And then there’s all the permanent stuff like the unreal fucking Design District, complete with “Dollar A Gallon III” sculpture by Virgil (RIP)

    Dollar A Gallon III, 2019, Virgil Abloh

    And then around the corner there was the larger-than-life installation of Virgil’s second-to-last-ever show as Menswear Design Director of LV…

    Louis Vuitton Men's SS22 Installation Miami Design District 2021

  9. Yes NFT art was in town and there were plenty of crypto people, crypto parties, and underwhelmingly displayed NFTs around (need more holograms fr), but it was still less than 1% of the overall scene. And these two scenes will only continue to collide and merge in the years to come. This year was but a first glancing blow, if a very fun one!
  10. For more on the incredible narrative arc of how computers were born from the Adamic rib of textiles, check out “Patchwork – How textile techniques generated the first enclosures, coded complex machines, and influence space, form, and structure in the digital age” by Alex Worden.
  11. Go Canada!
  12. In no small part thanks to yours truly! Seriously, I was expecting this small town boy from fly-over country to feel more out of place in Miami but the people I encountered on the street loooooved the crazy-coloured !vibes I was rocking. It was fun shit!

    Virgil Futura Fendi Miami Design District 2021

  13. The other two stops are in Hong Kong and, you guessed in, Switzerland.
  14. This piece wasn’t actually from Art Basel, but from Art Miami. We also went to Untitled (would recommend), Scope (wouldn’t), and Design Miami (mega-recommended).

    But if you need a proper guide around Art Basel (or any part of the art world) hit up my man Gabe (gabewise.eth). He has a legendary amount of art world information stored in that little head, he asks awesome questions, and he’s got the exact kind of chutzpah needed to bridge the divide between NFT world and tradart world!

  15. Handwoven wool tapestry from Aubusson – 250 x 350 cm ; 98 x 137 in. She’s a big one! Not only does it feature a couple of “Cherniakian” bullseyes, but it really has a depth and vividness of colour that only manifests in meatspace, which is what physical art should do: be a luxury that makes us question our physical environments and our roles within it. While we may never find answers to these questions, the practice of asking them has a very protective benefit to our fragile psyches. Is it any wonder that Virgil was such a fan of Le Corbu?
  16. Why is Le Corbu considered so fucking cool in the eyes of impressionable young architecture students the world over? Just think about how far ahead of his time he was — his work is still a reference point generations on! And y’know what’s cooler than being cool? BEING FUCKING PATIENT.* This is a big part of why the HODL meme was so powerful in the Bitcoin space back in the day, and still is to a large degree, even if it’s sadly been somewhat perverted into being passively patient. Like wtf to the active goes the agency yo!
    ___ ___
    *H/T Justin Paterno for the mind-expanding breakfast conversation in Miami that included this incredible nugget amidst dozens of others that my little sieve brain was mostly unable to grasp, though his concept of a post-business cycle world based on programmable incentives and infinite liquidity is one that I’m still wrestling with. Maybe I’ll get there eventually!).
  17. But you already knew that everything was connected, so news at 11, right?
  18. This is arguably what made Virgil Abloh the most important artist of the last decade, that he traversed the widest breadth of contexts. If there were ever a bull case for becoming a Renaissance/Degenaissance man/woman in the 21st century, it’s that the greatest cultural and financial capital seems to accrue to the agents with the broadest contexts, like Virgil.

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