An Artist's Guide to Art Basel Miami Beach, With Ragnar Kjartansson

An Artist's Guide to Art Basel Miami Beach, With Ragnar Kjartansson
Ragnar Kjartansson, posing with the curtains from his 2007 work "God"

Whether crooning about God and money as a pomaded 50s-style singer or painting portrait after portrait of a semi-nude beer-swiller at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Ragnar Kjartansson is the rare kind of artist who can do whatever he wants—pretty much anything, really—and turn it into a masterwork of his absurdly Romantic worldview. This talent will be in evidence during Art Basel Miami Beach this year when a film of his award-winning 2011 Performa performance piece Bliss, a 12-hour loop of the final aria from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, is screened in its entirety from 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday outside Miami's New World Center. To find out how a celebrated artist like Kjartansson—whose work is on view at the I8 booth—navigates Art Basel Miami Beach, we spoke to him about his art-fair strategy.

As an artist, what do you hope to get out of an art fair?

I don't hope for anything... I like meeting the amigos I've made on the wide plains of the art world.

How do you navigate an art fair? Where do you go first? Who do you talk to?

Hmm. I always go to the gallery booth and say hello to those fantastic people I work with, though they are very busy and wearing power dresses. Then hopefully I meet some millionaire who takes me to the sleazy lounge where I get expensive cheese.

What kind of role do you play when your work is being offered at a fair? What is expected of you?

I play the role of pretending not to care. I think that is expected of me.

Have you ever bought anything at an art fair?

No. Wow, the idea has never occurred to me until now.

What was the strangest interaction you've ever had at a fair?

I once fell in love.

What kind of information are you most skeptical of at a fair? (I.e., reports of sales in the press, etc.)

I think the whole thing is very Rococo and in its essence very untrustworthy. I could never even start being skeptical—it is totally beyond that. One just has to look at this as Versailles, or just quit the business and become a Euro hippie.

How are you planning to tackle the array of fairs in Miami this week? In other words, how will you structure your time down there?

I was so lucky to have a show at Miami MOCA this year and got to spend some time with the artists and homies in the Miami scene. Such awesome, brilliant people. I am focused on seeing them.

What are you especially looking forward to?

I am especially looking forward to meeting Rodney Graham. We are doing an art talk together. Without him there would be less of me.

What kind of gear do you bring to an art fair? (E.g., a notebook, camera, bottle of water.)

I bring a business suit, sketchbook, telephone, and a pocketknife.

What is your opinion of art fairs, generally speaking?

I just love them. They are the bare-boned structure of the art world. There is no elegant museum or gallery frame—just stuff in booths. Art fairs reveal the situation in the art world, who makes who, et cetera. Every artist becomes so mediocre in them. I like the melancholy of that. Once I even saw a Francis Bacon loosing its mojo.

What is the worst art-fair faux pas?

Whining about the superficiality.


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