Photography (L) Taylor “Awqua” McKie and (R) Amanda Demme. Images courtesy of Michèle Lamy

See Art Basel Miami Beach through the eyes of Michèle Lamy

The living legend talks us through her time at the prestigious art week, from NFTs to parties with Offset and Virgil Abloh's final Louis Vuitton show.

by Mahoro Seward
14 December 2021, 6:08pm

Photography (L) Taylor “Awqua” McKie and (R) Amanda Demme. Images courtesy of Michèle Lamy

Typically the raucous crescendo of the global art fair circuit, the tone of the latest edition of Art Basel Miami Beach was notably subdued, Michèle Lamy — a habitual attendee — tells us. Of course, there’s the ongoing global pandemic to factor in, but this year, it was the news of the sudden passing of Virgil Abloh — who was set to be in town for the opening of a standalone Louis Vuitton Men’s store, the revealing of his latest Mercedes-Benz collaboration, and, most significantly, to stage a show — that cast the week with melancholy.

Solemn as the circumstances were, Michèle tells of the fortifying spirit of togetherness that defined this year’s Basel. Cause for grief was coupled by a desire to celebrate life, as well as the joy and comfort to be found in seeing the faces of friends one hadn’t seen for far too long — at a time when that felt needed most. “In some respects, it was as if nothing changed,” Lamy, the Co-Founding Partner and Director of Art/Furniture at Owenscorp tells us. “There was a real understanding of how important it is to physically be together – it was a very, very warm sensation.”

As she attended the first physical iteration of the art fair in two years, we asked Michèle to document her experience through the lens of Amanda Demme. Here, she shares her visual diary of her time in Miami, and fills us on everything that went down — from attempts at Bitcoin book purchases to partying with Offset, haute furniture to Virgil’s final Louis Vuitton show.

Michele Lamy in front of a mammoth's skeleton
​Photography Amanda Demme. Image courtesy of Michèle Lamy

Hi Michèle! How are you doing? And where are you at the moment?

I'm good! I’m in LA. Last night we went to see Kanye’s performance at the Larry Hoover benefit concert. It was so incredible, so I'm really pumped this morning!

Ah, what brought you to LA?

Well, from Art Basel, I went to New York, and then on to Chicago for Virgil's memorial. And then I came here to LA. I'm always in the air it seems!

Well, let's talk about Art Basel – it looks like you had a great time from the pictures you’ve shared. How did it feel to be back in Miami after so long?

Well, Art Basel Miami is always like Las Vegas on acid! So that energy was definitely back. There was a sense of people being back with a vengeance. That said, the atmosphere was of course different this year, because of Virgil's passing. That doesn't mean that things stopped entirely, but there was real sense of pain that lingered over the week. One thing that I really liked about this edition was the sense of togetherness. You know, I did a performance with Ryoji Ikeda at the Basel edition in September, but then in Miami, people were coming up to me and saying they'd attended it. It was really nice – almost like being at the aftershow! And then I saw people that had been on my the first barge I did during Frieze in London, and others that had been on the one in Venice.

Michele Lamy and friends and her booth at Design Miami
​Photography Amanda Demme. Images courtesy of Michèle Lamy

You were also exhibiting your furniture work at Design Miami, right?

Yes! That was very important. We installed this huge Glade. It always takes a lot of guys to assemble those pieces - they're not really furniture, they're more like architecture. And what’s funny is that I only ever do the blueprint for how it should be installed when I'm there on the spot. I always need to be around smoking a few cigarettes, saying yes or no to how it should be. Anyway, it's made up of different architectural elements that together create a kind of cocoon – or even a sort of house! There are even all of these technical features - you can charge your phone, for example – and it's crafted from wood, but covered with army blankets and mattresses, so it's very soft. It’s difficult to put into words, but with something like this, it's not like installing a chair or a table - it's more like you're building a cabana!

It sounds quite cozy!

Yes, it is. It's a space to come together, it's a stage, a home… it brings a lot of things together. But it's also very inviting - you can get around 25 people in there! And that's just the one part of it that we were showing in the booth.

Michele Lamy sitting on a sunny rooftop
​Photography Giovanni Leonardo Bassan. Images courtesy of Michèle Lamy

Were there any things that you saw at the fairs that really stood out to you?

Hmm… I can't think of anything that really made me go 'WOW!' And nothing that made me jealous either! [chuckles] But if we want to talk about things that did, then Kanye's performance last night was just… Wow! It was like a flying saucer that had landed from space. But he's always been doing incredible things - like when he did that floating stage for the Saint Pablo tour, I said, "Oh my god, that's it!" And there's always a cause for it, a sense of purpose. That's also why in Miami, I always love the installations that find in the city around the fair, like Ugo Rondinone's colourful totem. It really belongs to the city – it couldn't be anywhere else. It's certainly something that you see more of than in Basel, for example. There are the famous exhibitions at the Fondation Beyeler or the Schaulager, but it is, how can I say it, more Swiss… whereas in Miami, there's a real sense that the city is open to creation.

What did you get up to outside of the fairs?

This year, it wasn't really as much about the fairs as before – we didn't see so many booths this time. It was more about meeting with galleries that we collaborate with and things like that. And then there were the parties! Which of course Art Basel Miami is famous for. There was one I went to with Offset for Flaunt Magazine, and it was the most fucked up party ever! It was the best!  All the usual suspects were there, and everyone was in the best outfits. Offset was only meant to do two songs - it wasn't really a concert, more just a stage. I ended up getting up there with him - I was supposed to do my laugh – but then the DJ started playing someone else's music, and everything went backwards. It was so friendly and lively, though. It just felt so spontaneous and joyful. We also went to this fantastic restaurant and a club away from the beach called Red Rooster - there's one in Harlem, too – and there was also a great event at the Pérez Museum, where Marco Brambilla's work is currently on show. It's like a projection of Dante's hell, but also another step into the video world. Another important layer to the whole week was the story about NFTs – there were so many tech people attending this year! I can't say I understand it, but everyone was talking about it! We actually had a signing at the Rick Owens store for Edward Bess' new book, and there were some young people who said they couldn't buy a copy because we didn't take Bitcoin! I thought it was fascinating. One day I'll understand it, though – Christie’s have even started doing NFT auctions, so it's something that’s here to stay.

Michele Lamy and a friend at the Louis Vuiitton Show in Miami
Photography Giovanni Leonardo Bassan. Image courtesy of Michèle Lamy

You and me both! As you mentioned earlier, though, a hugely significant moment of the week was the Louis Vuitton show that took place in the wake of Virgil’s passing. As a friend of his, what did that moment mean for you and how was the experience of attending?

It was deeply tragic. People had seen him just two weeks before, and he’d organised his show, but then he wasn't there. But it then became about so much more than a fashion show. It was really about reflecting on how he had opened all our eyes to so many new things. It was a time for everyone to come together and celebrate Virgil's life. Being there, you really realised that it was a message about life and creation – it’s difficult to find the words for it, but that was the feeling that floated in the air among everyone that was there taking part. It couldn't have been more beautiful - it was so faithful to what he had to say during his lifetime.

Is there a memory or moment that you think defines your experience of Miami this time around?

The feeling of togetherness, and the message of Virgil. It was humanity at its best - even if it could be a bit sloppy at times. But that just made it even better.

A statue of Virgil Abloh at the Louis Vuitton show in Miami
Photography Giovanni Leonardo Bassan. Image courtesy of Michèle Lamy
A photo of Michele Lamy
​Photography Amanda Demme. Image courtesy of Michèle Lamy
Michéle Lamy on the beach
​Photography Amanda Demme. Image courtesy of Michèle Lamy
Michele Lamy and a friend at the Rick Owens store in Miami
​Photography Amanda Demme. Image courtesy of Michèle Lamy

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