Thursday, December 8, 2011


Every year, the biggest decision when attending the annual international Art Basel Exhibition in Miami Beach is whether to focus on the art or on the people. The cast of characters is feathered, tattooed, bejeweled, and otherwise sartorially splendid. The art fair offers one of the greatest shows on earth: more museum-quality art under one roof at one time than, probably, any time in history. Not to mention the city-wide satellite exhibitions. All of which draw thousands of artists, dealers, brokers, viewers, reporters, and party-goers. Last year I reveled in the great many exhibits of work by the 20th century American abstract landscape painter Milton Avery and a whole slew of Lucien Freud portraits. This year there were numerous 20th century female artists one seldom sees, like the ceramic artist and painter Beatrice Wood (who died at the age of 105 and lived on Hershey chocolate) and surrealist sculptor Leonore Tawney, as well as a few Alice Neel portraits. One year I discovered an gallery showing the work of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhove, the German-born Dadist and friend of Duchamp. Among my greatest discoveries this year was a Swiss gallery showing the work of Gitte Schafer whose small pristine framed assemblages moved me as much as the little Joseph Campbell box sculpture of five tiny wine goblets each holding a marble.

Among my favorite installations was a display of life-size, tunnel-headed costume sculptures by the Chicago artist Nick Cave made of thousands of iridescent buttons.  His work always combines high fashion, science fiction, and sheer beauty in startling ways.

Another of the crucial decisions  to be made each year about Art Basel is what shoes to wear. I’m known for being fascinated by my own feet — a childhood of running barefoot, decades of dance training in everything from ballroom slippers to tap shoes and jazz thongs, eras of wearing platforms and stilt-high heels, and, today, the omnipresent sandal (I do, after all, live in Miami). This year, by happy accident, I came upon the Croc store on Miami Beach’s famed Lincoln Road. There, aside from hideously wonderful signature slip-on that I do my gardening in, was, lo and behold, an entire selection of Crocs in an array of styles and all with the same springy, durable weightlessness that gives the brand its signature desirability. They resemble "jellies," the great plastic, candy-colored sandals of yore, and certain styles change color between shade and daylight. Enchanting! I chose a perforated ballet-slipper style with an open toe. Significant or not, I completed a series of paintings showing my feet in shoes — character shoes and ballroom open toes -- just before Art Basel opened,  The paintings, in gouache, were done over drawings I made in 1993 after photographs taken of me by the clothing designer and blues singer Judy Tampa in 1992. You can see them at: