The Quiet Lion:
Nate and I are in a taxi, slowly getting through Miami traffic. The mood just shifted due to a text on my cell phone from my mother. Pres Mandela died today at 95. Damn. Both Nate and I are attending Art Basel Miami to network and rub shoulders with some of the who's who in the art world. Basel is the premier art fair in the country. It launches careers for emerging artists; brings together over 50,000 gallery owners, collectors, artists, and buyers - and when it's all said and done, close to a billion dollars/yen/Euros or more will have been exchanged during the four-day culture quest.
But all of that's out the window for the moment. Nate sits next to me. I watch him reflect silently and introspectively on the news of the late South African President. Nate Young is young and influential. He is a black artist, gallery owner, and consultant. He is well admired and respected amongst many art circles. Nate has his finger on the pulse of not just the art world, but especially the Black Art world. His Twin Cities gallery space, The Bindery Projects, recently debuted works from Jacolby Satterwhite, one of the youngest selectees for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. If Art Basel is the American Music Awards, the Biennial is most certainly the Grammys. The other youngest buzzing Biennial selectee - Tony Lewis- is also Black and also an artist Nate has debuted at his Twin Cities.
As our taxi navigates the Miami traffic and our conversation shifts from mourning Mandela, back to art. Nate mentions seeing Pharrell Williams yesterday at one of the fairs. Pharrell is a regular Basel attendee, and is known to drop millions on whatever art tickles his fancy. Nate helps me connect the dots on certain buying trends with Black entertainers who buy art. Artists like Jay-Z and Pharrell buy the big names --Basquiats, Koons, Warhols-- but you don't hear them mentioning the young Black Biennial selectees; like Satterwhite and Lewis. Hopefully that will change.
Our taxi pulls up to one of the newer and more modern fairs, NADA (The New Art Dealers Alliance). Imagine if American Apparel started a non profit art organization that supported the rich celebs and talented hipster clientele all in the same space. As we exit the cab, Nate taps me on the shoulder. He subtly points out a well tailored, GQ-cover ready Black gent heading up the stairs to our right. With him, a stunning Vogue model lady who's a work of art herself. Nate schools me to Franklin Sirmans, chief curator for LACMA. I wanna know more about the work of art, Young stays focused on the work. Nate goes on to mention that someone in Sirmans' position can easily help raise awareness of the shadowed Black talent in the high end art scene, especially with celebrity buyers. As we enter NADA, Nate decides he will run over and introduce himself to the curator. I encourage him. When he returns, Nateʼs no different than if had he gone to the restroom to wash his hands. He humbly mentions that Sirmans was familiar with his name and work and was excited to put a name to the face- and hopefully he can come to Minneapolis to peep the Bindery space. I smile. Brothers in Basel.
Michelle Joan Papillion is buzzing around the Pulse Miami art fair while I lag behind; snapping pics on my iPhone of a $70,000 bronze sculpture titled "Ovum and Sperm". Similar to the sperm, Michelle is on a focused life mission. For the past three years, Papillion Institute of Art has been serving up talented emerging artists of all colors in downtown Los Angeles. Owned and curated by Papillion, the space has survived the recession - not to mention downtown LAʼs skyrocketing rent prices. She has collaborated and launched some interesting and innovative art collectives, bands, designers and filmmakers. 2014 will break new ground for Michelle; re-locating her space into the Leimert Park neighborhood and re-branding the name from P.I.A. to PAPILLION.
It's an exciting time for the young Black gallery owner. In just a few years, Michelle has partnered with big names in the art world and here at Basel she is networking and breaking new social ground. I mostly stay out of her way, until we get outside and hail a cab to the next fair. She brings along a friend from a well known art blog. The friend shares how her job has sent 70 people down to cover Basel and has only covered their lodging and flights, no meals and no cab rides. Michelle sympathizes with the art blog friend, referring to her treatment as ridiculous. I mention I am staying in a hostel and packed a cat fish lunch with my mom's sweet potato pie. The ladies laugh.
We pull up to our next fair, Miami Project. Similar to other fair set-ups, it's a massive white tent with the name printed all around the entrance. Most fairs require a badge, RSVP, or some sort of credential. I am guests of the blogger and gallery owner. Michelle zips away and is once again on her mission. When we later cross paths, we will be at the furthest corner of Project, surrounded by big neon glowing images - which vary in shape from Bart Simpson, to Pac Man, to Barack Obama. Iʼll soon learn that all of these pieces were inspired by ecstasy pills from around the world. The artist, Beverly Fishman, explains to Michelle and me that you can find ecstasy anywhere in the world in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The title of her exhibit "Pharmacopeia" challenges the viewer to think about medicine, cures, drugs, pills and art. She explains that we live in a time where a Lexus commercial, vitamin commercial, or a pharmaceutical commercial all look the same...they are selling us the same lifestyle. I smile. I nod my head. And I snap more photos.
ADDAM is a Minneapolis-based musician and creative artist.