TFW it’s not even the weekend of Art Week and you’re already teetering, but there’s that one great Thursday party so you drag your wilted self to Little Haiti. Hosted by publisher Dovid Efune, the first annual Art Basel event of the revivified New York Sun took place in the made-for-Instagram studio of Miami artist Ron Agam.
In a country so argumentative that two guys in a room will have three different opinions, Israeli artist Yaakov Agam is unanimously revered in Israel, with many considering the 94 year old the country’s official national artist. New Yorkers know his work from the 32-foot menorah that Lubavitch erects at Fifth Avenue and 59th St around this time every year. But Agam is better known for his brightly colored shapes, which often have a three-dimensional vertical striping element to them to create optical effect.
Yaakov’s son, Ron Agam, is based in Miami, and has shown his father’s propensity for design-based art. I am personally too stupid and thickheaded to be moved by nonrepresentative art, but I have found Agam‘s photographs of Ground Zero, taken immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to be some of the most moving and comprehensive images of that incomprehensible event.
Efune is the publisher of Algemeiner, which has dutifully chronicled the Jewish community (and thoughtfully selected its “Journalists of the Year”), but could fairly be criticized for kind of making too big a deal every time a kid gets his yarmulke knocked off. On the other hand, its long doomsaying about the future of Jews in the diaspora seems to be coming true in a brutal way right before our eyes, so maybe their attention to tiny transgressions has been right all along.
In any case, Efune set his sights on a broader audience. The New York Sun has been around in one former since 1833, with a couple lengthy breaks and reimaginings. But the odds against launching a general interest publication that covers news and arts and culture did not seem to intimidate the chronically polite and quite brilliant British journalist. I remember telling him at a breakfast at B&H dairy in the East Village how difficult it was for the New York Observer, which I edited for five years, to earn general interest attention in a niche publication world.
Efune was undaunted. He put together whatever was needed to buy the domain and intellectual property and here we are a year later, and the thing’s a pretty good read. And it’s clearly earned enough buzz that its Art Basel party in Little Haiti had a great audience, including Miami’s up-and-coming young mayor, Francis X Suarez. In his remarks, he alluded to a feeling the Fine Art Globe has mentioned experiencing as “art” becomes increasingly tech-focused. “I’ve been to a lot of Basel events and this is the first where I actually see physical art as opposed to digital art.”
Suarez worked the crowd hard, shaking every hand, and he seems to be the only guy in town who hasn’t paid a PR price for strong advocacy of crypto. That could’ve been awkward, with the local arena fighting to get “FTX” removed from the stadium where the Heat play in the wake of Sam Bankman-Fried’s colossal fraud. In one of the idiosyncrasies of local politics, the arena in downtown Miami is somehow the county’s problem, and the handsome, energetic mayor’s star seems undimmed by it.
Efune gave a stemwinder of a speech focusing on the importance of trust to a well-functioning democracy.
“Trust in media and journalism is the lowest it has ever been since record keeping began in 1972. Today, only 16% of Americans trust the press,” Efune roared. “There was another study that came out, ironically by the New York Times, on the greatest threats to democracy. Guess what ranked No. 1? 84% of Americans see the mainstream media as the greatest threat to democracy. And that, dear friends, is why The New York Sun has returned to the fore of the national political conversation.”
You don’t hear that kind of principled ideology at many Art Basel events. But perhaps you should. The creation of art doesn’t happen without freedom. Tyrants understand that. Often the first thing a new regime will do is topple a society’s sculptures. Because what it displays is what it values. To me, that’s the lesson of September 11th, which Ron Agam captured so beautifully. The freedom to publish unpopular opinions and the freedom to create art aren’t unrelated. They’re exactly the same thing.
Mayor Suarez said it beautifully.
“What’s happening here in Miami is special. Because our origin story is special. And not too different from many of yours. My family was exiled from its country of birth. Where a leader there tried to convince everybody that if they just give him all of their property and all of their businesses, all would be equal. And you know what? He delivered. Equal misery, equal poverty for all. It’s incredibly tragic.”