Last weekend, Miami held Art Basel, the international art event that takes over the city for the better part of a week. Artists, art dealers, and art fans attend in droves, making for a weekend full of exhibitions, parties, and traffic.
A LOT of traffic.
It’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to see such a large collection of creativity from all over the world. One could easily get lost for hours in an exhibition center and not even scratch the surface of what is on display. However, if you know the right people, you can attend the after-hours parties, where the velvet rope may as well be an iron gate, and where rappers, socialites, and artists can all be seen rubbing elbows.
On Saturday night at the SLS South Beach Hotel, one of these very parties was held for the artist Alec Monopoly. I assume that Monopoly, a contemporary artist in the vein of Banksy and Andy Warhol, must feel as though he’s found a second home in Miami.
In Miami, graffiti is part of a cultural movement. Certain neighborhoods of the city have every building in sight covered with ever-changing facade of patterns, characters, and color. Wynwood, where this explosion of urban imagery has created a sort of cultural resurgence in this area of Miami, has become a sort of safe haven for graffiti artists, a title Monopoly applies to himself.
“I love Wynwood because graffiti is what inspires me” says Monopoly.
When we meet, the artist sits on a couch in front of the SLS Hotel’s signature duck, which he has given a face-lift for the event. The usually all-silver sculpture now bears Monopoly’s signature style, with marker and spray-paint transforming the piece into a sort of oversized cartoon rubber duckie. Stray drops of paint and streaks of ink drip down the sculpture, giving the sense that the work was done quickly and impulsively. Indeed, Monopoly goes on to tell me that all of his art on display at the event was created that very week.
These paintings all follow a similar process to striking results. Appropriating pop-culture figures with a urban graffiti aesthetic, Monopoly’s work is meant to be cultural commentary with a capital C. He prefers busy, loud images in favor of subtlety, making for pieces that make a big impression right away. He even got his name from working with one of the most enduring pop-culture characters of the last century, Mr. Monopoly. In many of the works displayed at the party show, Mr. Monopoly can be seen in various situations and positions. Some of them show the board game icon with bags of money, but the innocent fun of the Parker Brothers game has been replaced by a sinister tone. In other pieces, Mr. Monopoly is hanging from a cross.
“After this, I’m heading to Thailand,” he tells me. “I want to bring this style of art to other parts of the world. I’m having a show at the Contemporary Museum of Art in Bangkok.”
I’m surprised to learn that Monopoly is from New York City, considering the city’s attitude towards graffiti. Just this year, 5 Pointz, the famous building in Queens that for years had been one of the only displays for urban graffiti art in New York, was demolished in favor of a high-rise condominium. However, it also seems to make perfect sense that Monopoly would be from the Big Apple, considering the rebellious tone of his work.
Monopoly sits at a table right up near the front of the party rather than being buried behind further ropes in the secretive VIP in the back. He wears what appears to be a black snakeskin suit, a top hat, and a surgeon’s mask. Like his art, Monopoly sticks out, especially in this crowd. However, the thing that strikes me is his demeanor. Here, at a party thrown for him, where everyone in attendance seems to want to see and be seen, Monopoly looks totally at ease. As I approach him, I am expecting the reclusive, tortured stereotype of the artist. But as I reach out to introduce myself, he pulls down his surgeon’s mask, shakes my hand, and give me a huge smile. This guy is having a great time, and it’s not hard to see why.