Last night at the Mana Wynwood compound on the furthermost outskirts of the Design District, André 3000 revealed that this was his first time at Miami Basel. “I’ve always heard about it, but I’m the kind of person who’d rather be contributing something then just coming to a party,” he said in between posing for fan photos for the reception of “i feel ya.” “I’ve never been to Cannes,” he added. Wynwood is part of the growing culture empire in Miami of moving-truck millionaire Moishe Mana, the multi-building kunsthalle arrayed around a very commodious parking lot hemmed in by fences and lit up by towering arc lamps, imparting a supermax-ish feel to the environment.
Having crossed state lines, André 3000 is a loud-and-proud Georgian who has forged an artistic relationship with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where he, along with some of the school’s alumni, have put together for “i feel ya” 47 tailor-made jumpsuits emblazoned with mostly three- to five-word phrases meant to elicit a sort of knowing, nodding, smiling assent from the reader. “i love you … plural” read one. “i just wanna sleep,” read another. Lined up in a martial configuration on the showroom floor, the mannequins definitely seemed to be agreeing with each other, even if the only thing most attendees seemed to be interested in feeling was André himself.
Bucking the languid, kudzu-strewn reputation of its hometown, SCAD has demonstrated considerable energy over the last couple Basels with a series of programs launched amid the frenzy of the fair. “We’ve had several exhibitions,” noted the school’s founding president Paula Wallace. “Last year we had an exhibit at the M Building for one of our alums. In the past we did a designer show house” — part of 2007’s Casa Décor — and one of our graduates was president of NADA, so we did an exhibit with them.” Rare for an institution of its type, SCAD evidently has a particular penchant for finding ways to promote its alumni during the fair — and vice versa. “We love Miami!” adds Wallace. “What better place to be?”
Which explains how Mr. Benjamin was drawn into the project in the first place: working with two of SCAD’s most illustrious graduates, filmmaker Greg Brunkalla and artist Jimmy O’Neal. The latter’s contribution, enormous and slightly abstracted floral images, was set off by Brunkalla’s video triptych Trumpets, near-static cinematic portraits subtitled with elliptical phrases. The director, best known for his Screen Tests interview series for the New York Times, seemed happy to come aboard with his alma mater’s latest initiative, coinciding happily as it did with his own ambitions. “You know, it’s gotta kind of line up with what I want to do,” said Brunkalla, who’s been casting around to do more art-world-oriented work.
When the songwriter-producer-actor-designer was asked how he would compare Miami during the art-fair madness to, say, his beloved Atlanta, he was diplomatic: “It’s definitely cool. We landed, got in at 10 o’clock, and the first thing we saw was all these graffiti artists painting — awesome.” He didn’t mention how it measured up to Savannah. We’ll save that for when we’re in Cannes.