The Visiting Artist: Reimagined
by Eric Schroeder |Furniture Design Student
What do you think of when you hear the word “untitled?” You may remember being in an art gallery and seeing a work that the artist had chosen not to title, but there’s probably a good chance that you don’t draw a connection to the massive annual event that is Art Basel Miami.
Art Basel was originally based in Basel, Switzerland, and is one of the world’s premier art shows. Miami was added as a U.S. location in 2002, while the most recent satellite location in Beijing was added in 2013. Art Basel Miami is one of the most important opportunities for many of the leading galleries in North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa to show both historical and newly created modern and contemporary art from established and rising artists. UNTITLED. is one of many venues found throughout Art Basel Miami, located in a massive tent perched right on Miami Beach.
Untitled entrance the day before opening (credit: Eric Schroeder)
My name is Eric Schroeder and I’m a second year Furniture Design student at KCAD, but just because I study design doesn’t mean that I don’t wholly enjoy the realm of fine art. A group of five KCAD students (including myself) recently had the opportunity to travel to Art Basel Miami to work with local non-profit arts organization, SiTE:LAB, over the course of the winter semester. SiTE:LAB has been a repeat winner of the Best Venue award from ArtPrize and is co-directed by KCAD adjunct professor Paul Amenta.
Collaborating with SiTE:LAB has provided numerous opportunities to learn about the world of contemporary art and connect with people in our local community and in the wider art world. This learning experience continued this year, when we were able to assist with the installation of artist Blane De St. Croix’s piece “High Rise” at Art Basel Miami from initial planning through execution. Blane is the program chair of the MFA Sculpture program at Indiana University. He and a group of his grad students had visited KCAD in October of 2014.
The workspace on the beach where students helped prepare De St. Croix's installation (credit: Aaron Porter)
This visit also gave us insight into the work of his grad students, as they all gave short presentations of their current work. In a sort of exchange, we visited Indiana University in mid-November of 2014 to help make preparations for Art Basel Miami. Touring Indiana University’s sculpture program in Bloomington was a great opportunity to meet new people, see the facilities of other programs, and understand what graduate schools have to offer. We also had the opportunity to have our work critiqued at that time, which is always an important experience. It was at the sculpture wood and metals shop in Bloomington that the vast majority of the supports for the “High Rise” were finalized.
Structural supports used in De St. Croix's installation (credit: Aaron Porter)
Fast forward to late November, when our five-person KCAD team flew down to Miami to install the actual piece. We arrived in town, got a ride to our hotel, and I was immediately surprised with the culture and general feel there. I had been told to expect odd things, but little did I know that just about every cliché represented in the media about Miami was pretty much either spot on or came nowhere close to showing the extent of the general weirdness that goes on there. I won’t go into detail, but let me just say the sheer number of brightly colored lights, brightly dressed people, and simply bizarre club environments were unlike anything I had ever experienced.
A close up of "High Rise" (credit: Aaron Porter)
Over the course of the next couple of days, we worked on getting the installation ready for presentation, a process that included a great number of hours spent carefully picking small particles of styrofoam from the moss on the island portions of the piece, and repairing portions that were damaged in transit. Some of our other tasks were painting details, positioning and repositioning moss and sticks, and the occasional coffee run.
While the labor wasn’t exactly the most exciting, the team camaraderie that developed and the respect that Blane had for us and for the work that we were doing for him made it an honestly really enjoyable time. Even as we were positioning islands and supports high above our heads, weary, exhausted and stressed, jokes were still made and a light and happy disposition enveloped us. Working in such a friendly, almost family like group can make even the most tiring, tedious work become a good time.
Blane De St Croix and Paul Amenta on scaffolding, students Jessica Benson and Eric Schroeder below (credit: Aaron Porter)
What followed the installation process was yet another eye opening experience: the various VIP openings, including a charity vernissage and press opening, which combined the craziness of an art fair environment with the high end politics of gallery representation, the sales of fine art, and the importance of image in the greater art world. Fashion was certainly a concern with many of the VIP fairgoers, and there were people there who pushed it to its limits. Various performance pieces occurred, including one from a woman interacting with bales of recycled paper, and another featuring a man lounging in his booth with various political and social statements scattered around him drawn in black in on large sheets of paper.
An Art Basel Miami performance piece (credit: Aaron Porter)
Events such as these make you realize the true diversity of the art world. Living in Grand Rapids, we see ArtPrize, we have a number of galleries in town, we have an art museum, and yet many things in town seem to be fairly informal. It’s important to remember that this side does exist, a whole different world from what we see on a daily basis, a world of complex relationships between artists, galleries, and the ever-important fine art collector.
"High Rise" - the finished piece (credit: Aaron Porter)
I guess as a design student with generally very little exposure to the vast expanse of the art world, its pretty easy to not realize how important this other portion of artistic society really is, whether it directly affects us or not. I really have SiTE:LAB to thank for opening me up to this world, and KCAD to thank for sponsoring my travels. It’s been a rush, and I hope to continue working with both organizations in the future.