The Florida art fairs that are like restaurants, bars, and hotel floors

There was a carnival vibe as we walked into the Penthouse Grand Ballroom at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Resort, where the Armory Week art fairs ended last weekend and fairs began again on Sunday with openings at the Park Hyatt. It was the end of Day Three at Project Miami Beach, one of the many, many groups of fairs that extend their lives every year.

Hitting the door, I sidled up next to a fuzzy chair with a particularly wonky pink cow dress on it. My cheeks were red. Had I pulled a prank? I wasn’t sure. With a bit of dialogue, I did have my foursome. But the show stopper arrived before we were seated. “Instead of looking very specific this year,” a local artist proudly informed us, “we wanted to bring new ideas that inspired us.” I nodded, intrigued. This was the curator’s point — along with his open display at Project Miami Beach, the curator was spinning some potentially tangential concepts around his exhibitors. Were there other fairs? Was Project Miami Beach introducing random new performers? Me and my crew didn’t know.

The art fairs are fluid spaces. As one hovers near the end of their duration, another springs into clear view. These fairs, like restaurants and bars and even some floors in hotel buildings, carry one proprietor for a while and then ascend into another person’s domain. Even if you don’t like one artists who exhibited in one fair, their shows can still be impressive.

At one of the first pieces we saw — a large painting on the wall with a fluorescent pink stripe — a brightly dressed man flipped through three channels: one dealing with oversized dandelions, one dealing with rhinoceros horns, and one addressing poop.

The next work was a wet/dry black painting of miniature human figures slumped over a bed. In between them sat an unmade bed or full ashtray. My table mate burst into hysterics.

We soon flipped over to an exhibition devoted to the three greatest things in life: life, death, and money. I spied two raw stripper poles suspended suspended on metal hooks. It was hard to decide whether it was crude or new.

Others managed to find areas of whimsy. I was floored by a life-size painting of a woman entirely covered in symbols of death, like some warped line drawing of a Victorian horror film.

Soon it was showtime and we arrived at a performance by a performance artist in a tank top and hair net, standing with a spray can for a wand — I don’t know, was she wielding fire and butterflies? At the back of the room was another room filled with hundreds of white styrofoam tubs. The room was darkened and filled with hundreds of tiny plastic objects that looked like things that might accidentally spill or become broken. Now we stood in the dark looking at each other, heads buried into coffee cups, as well as like animals coming out of themselves.

And then this: A pair of dancers in matching outfits took the stage. They sat on the floor, one balled up next to the other, and we watched them put each other in bear-hugs. Eventually a friend, on hand to ask questions, sat down on a rubber mattress and things started to go crazy. People pounced, laughed, wiped noses.

I didn’t think I had loved something so much. But after spending the weekend at art fairs, I understand.

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