art basel miami beach 2012

I Almost Died at Art Basel Miami Beach

Hitting the wall; Q-Rage in the house

Here are some other things that, for whatever reason, stand out: The ubiquity of Damien Hirst. Everywhere you turned, there was Damien Hirst. Not the art, the artist. Damien Hirst at the White Cube party. Damien Hirst walking into Wall. Damien Hirst meandering down an aisle of the fair, between Gladstone and Gagosian. Damien Hirst hobnobbing at the art-filled home of Yankee hitter Alex Rodriguez.

A Barbara Kruger piece at the booth of L&M Arts that consisted of nothing more than the words, in tall block capital letters, “Greedy Schmuck.”

In the bedroom of Ms. Baibakova’s Setai penthouse apartment, directly above the bed, hung a photograph of her face, her expression quizzical. I happened to be observing this in the presence of an auction house specialist, who, without missing a beat, pegged it as a Roe Ethridge. At that party, I ran into the same curator with whom I’d had that broody poolside conversation the night before. “It’s dangerous to get introspective here,” he said of our talk. “You have to stay in the zone.”

But let us remember that our Art Basel’s house has many Miamis. Did you see Betty Tompkins’s show, “FUCK,” put on by Observer columnist Adam Lindemann in the Wynwood District? If not, too bad. Many of the pieces, from the early ’70s, had never been shown before. Here is something else that was great: finding out that a colleague had taken a fistful of hotel toiletries to Jonathan Horowitz’s aforementioned “Free Store” and traded them in for $300 designer sneakers. In a week of raging crowds, I will remember best standing outside room 845 in an empty hallway of the Deauville Hotel, which housed, on its ground floor, the NADA fair (someone had told me to go Room 845 for a “secret show” of lace paintings by Mark Flood), knocking tentatively on the wedged-open door, and calling out, “Is anybody there?” No one was, but there was art inside, propped on the floors and on the bed, and I sat down, and looked around, and stayed for a while.

Maybe it is dangerous to get introspective in Miami, but can we help ourselves? It is not, after all, a car show in the convention center. Something was teetering on the beach this year, something that those winds of change have started to dislodge. Time to step out of the zone.

sdouglas@observer.com