Artforum Finds Racism at Art Basel Miami Beach

by Corinna Kirsch on December 9, 2014 Art Fair

Klaus Biesenbach next to Ryan Trecartin, surrounded by a bunch of white-covered people. Photo courtesy of DIS.

Klaus Biesenbach next to Ryan Trecartin, surrounded by a bunch of white-covered people. Photo courtesy of DIS.

In one of the unlikelier places you’d expect to find a Tom Wolfe-style, sarcastic romp through the Art Basel Miami art fairs, Artforum contributor Sarah Nicole Prickett picks the parties apart, then leaves the art-world figures to suffer from the fate brought to them by their own words. Perhaps the most incredulous moment, though I’m still not sure how to quantify all of the strangeness Prickett finds, comes at the end of her piece. Mykki Blanco, the queer rapper and performer, called out MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Biesenbach.“He doesn’t like black people,” Blanco said. “He likes black culture.” An excerpt of the rest:

At first I thought Mykki Blanco, the New York rapper and performance artist, was starting a food fight, because he was throwing bits of a sandwich in Biesenbach’s face, and because Miami is a place where a food fight might be positioned as an experience. I thought nervously of my discount Jil Sander, a white dress I’d just had dry-cleaned. Then Blanco was yelling. Biesenbach was mumbling (an apology, someone said later). “My legacy will outlive your curatorial bullshit,” Blanco was saying. Everyone sat up straight. Blanco got up on a table.

What Blanco did may or may not have been rehearsed, and it may or may not have been a “stunt,” as some said, and it may or may not have been, as many speculated, “justifiable” in the particular. What he said, however, was that Biesenbach doesn’t care about black people unless they’re famous. What he said, and the demandingness with which he said it, was in the general so just—so urgent—that the wish for it to be justified is disgusting. “He wants to hug Mickalene Thomas, he wants to hug Kehinde Wiley,” said Blanco, three or four times. “I’m not Mickalene Thomas, I’m not Kehinde Wiley,” he said, twice. The second time I caught that he was saying, “I’m not your Mickalene Thomas.” He talked about being black in America. He talked about being hated. When he said your, I didn’t think he was talking to Biesenbach, and when he called him a German and a bad word for gay, I thought “German” sounded more like the slur. “He doesn’t like black people,” said Blanco, just once. “He likes black culture.” I felt a little bad for Mickalene Thomas, but mostly I just felt bad. Blanco went out to dance, and Biesenbach said, of the queer black artist’s performance, “That’s entertainment.”

Time to renew my Artforum subscription.

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