While America Burns...the 1% Gets a Tan


Miley Cyrus's concert during Art Basel in 2014. © Patrick McMullan, photo Paul Bruinooge/PatrickMcMullan.com


There is a grim irony surrounding the art extravaganza in Miami this past December. Ten or 12 international art fairs call this mecca of tit-jobs, rhinoplasty, and spray-on tans home for about seven days each year, and in those days they waltz along Collins Avenue surprising each other with great thoughts about the presence of Miley Cyrus, Jeffrey Deitch, and Jay-Z. Whoo Ha!

I followed all this on Twitter from Chicago, where it’s cold like it’s supposed to be. When one reporter breathlessly tweeted about being ‘tucked in’ at one fair’s nap station by Marina Abramovic, I thought, Oh Joy. Though I suppose it’s better to have her tuck you in than to wake up with her staring at you. That would give me the willies.

The hookers, male and female, must do a brisk trade, while the celebrity crowd zips everywhere in ‘courtesy’ cars furnished by Audi, or BMW, or whomever paid for the franchise. There are a lot of 70 year-olds there with 30 year old wives. I, for one, love rolling up on those guys and telling them how elegant their daughters are, just to make them get so pissed.

And in the booths? The big world turns: The Clueless Oaf pays the Stiff-jawed Fraud a fortune for a meaningless accoutrement.

It’s prom night for the swells, who dress to the nines just to watch their money fuck other money.

Meanwhile...back in civilization? The Midwest town of Ferguson, MO burned. A grand jury’s decision regarding a white policeman’s killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown tore the scab off of the illusory and non-existent ‘Post Racial’ America. 

In another part of the country, in New York City, five Staten Island policemen walked free after choking 34-year-old Eric Garner to death on the street for selling ‘loosies’, or loose cigarettes. 

The combined national outrage at these tragedies erupted onto American streets in a way I have not witnessed since the bloody protest era of the Vietnam War. Watching in Chicago I was oddly proud of those who stopped traffic and created snarls in order that the world pay some attention to the class war that has seemingly snuck up on them. That Michael Brown and Eric Garner were poor should surprise nobody. In America? Cops can ONLY get away with killing poor people.

I was reminded that these were the kind of events that used to motivate artists into civil discourse, civil disobedience, and dissent. There was a time when artists spoke to the county’s conscience and were part of the discourse, rather than another variety of mere ‘entertainment.’

This is where the marketplace mentality has led many of us. The conversation about what art is and does used to be the intellectual real estate that artists occupied.

Now? Every Jerk worth eight figures has the public hanging on their every idiotic word, including artists, and believing that dollar bills equal brain-cells. 

All over Miami Beach. Dopes, Dim-Wits, and Dullards are staring at their iPhones, passing by a full gorgeous view of the Atlantic ocean, with its schools of porpoises and flying fish, and they’re watching for the latest tweet, text, or e-mail to arrive with earth-shattering news of where the Gagosian party is, pondering which dinner can they insinuate themselves into?

Part of my own problem with this milieu is the worry that this is now how young artists think this is supposed to be done - art career via social-suction. It’s about who you know and all manner of horse-shit that has nothing to do with being an artist or making art. I want to shake them and tell them to wake the fuck up. The art fair circle-jerk is a celebration of the market, not the art. It is an environment where everyone knows the cost of everything and the definition of nothing.

Admittedly my last art trip to Miami was two years ago; while there were some glimmers of hope in the margins of this rolling goat-fuck, the news this year that there was a ‘nap-station’ for those who were tired from shopping and exchanging great thoughts made me think about just how twee and vacuous this whole enterprise is.

Wake up.


Tony Fitzpatrick is an independent artist, writer and actor living in Chicago. 

He is the author of This Train and the upcoming Dime Stories, to be published in June 2015 by Curbside Splendor.