Justyna Kantor

Robbed Blind at ArtBasel 2018

A report on the pitfalls of a legit arts practice

from our reporter in the field


Justyna Kantor





As an art world “ newbie “ – like my cycling partner enjoys calling me – I’ve been immersing myself a lot lately in the contemporary art scene, locally and in other cities I visit… and eventually it came high time to get down to Miami for my first time ever visiting a proper art fair to see what all the hullaballoo was about.  I’ve been reading about art a lot, looking at paintings constantly and seeking tips on great art through a number of close friends and advisors whom I view as experts. While I’ve never really had to consider budget that often when im buying art, I was surprised to see that other people in my financial position frequently employ an art consultant or an interior designer to find art for them. I find this idea so pathetic.


I describe my interests as ranging from contemporary blue chip art all the way thru to self taught and so-called outsider art.  I also have a particular soft spot for art by living artists and historical ones from my own homeland of Poland. Eventually, I tend to agree with an artist friend of mine the most whose position is that you should never use an art consultant or designer to buy art for you… only buy based on your own gut reaction to looking at and loving pictures… and ideally not from a point of preconceived  financial limitations. Only the talentless and filthy rich would stoop so low as to hire such “ professionals “ , according to him…and I think he’s right. Moreover, those who buy pictures for investment purposes usually have no soul anyway… and no time for looking at the works, actually.


The challenge is to buy only works which deeply move my heart – at any price – and to never buy a piece for any other reason;  Not ever because I half-way love it or because a dealer needs to make a sale ( I can tell when ) and not just when an artist needs money or when I see a good deal.  So going to Miami for me was a leap into the void, a la Yves Klein… as it were….my own highly – staged plunge into an apparently aquatic world that awaited me down below which appeared flat from up above as I stared down at it from my penthouse at the Fontainebleau…while the swimming pool that is the art world was in fact, four dimensional.  It suggested that if I went ahead and jumped…surely the oasis below would catch my fall. So I jumped.





SO I had to hit the ground running after my leap…I only had a few days off of my job in San Francisco to be in Miami but I was prepared to go all out… I’d freed up some extra resources recently and one of my favorite things to blow money on is a great painting.  But I also don’t really need any new art and part of me was just going for the experiences…to take it all in and just add to my burgeoning art lexicon of references, people and the images they leave behind in my mind. Meanwhile, I didnt know any one else going to Miami for the fairs to hook up with or any one to call other than one local artist named Richard Haden, whose trompe l’oeile carvings had caught my eye in a small gallery ( @fixgalsf )  back in San Francisco . But I was ready for impulse buying should any irresistible unicorns fly my way.


To recount the tidal wave of imagery that fell before my eyes, inside and out of the fairs, would take more words and time than we have here today.  I diligently sought out every artist on my list whose work I had researched beforehand …starting with the main Art Basel show and eventually going through 5 other satellite fairs, as well.    Sure I really wanted the Kounellis drawing of skulls from Lelong that was maybe a tad outside my budget or the lovely little Etel Adnan from Barbara Mathes…but I found the smaller fairs to be a little bit more accessible and also I felt less profiled at the other fairs as I perused their wares, genuinely interested AND shopping, having never really stopped to consider whether I was in fact a target of any of the dealers.  I quite liked James Ulmer at Marvin Gardens ( untitled art fair ) and really fell for Nathan Wong at Joseph Gross ( Scope ) …but this has another whole back story I wont get into here. I only took a few pics while out and about at the fairs…including this one of Nathan Wong’s work in the booth at Joseph Gross ( Scope ).









I definitely never paused for a moment to think about how I should dress or what kind of jewelry I would wear or hide in the safe back at the penthouse;  Quite to the contrary, I headed out Friday night dressed to the nines to go meet a few of my newly found artworld pilgrim friends at Scope and then on to a warehouse party where the legendary DJ Soulslinger was booming. We were all giddy with excitement and definitely a little buzzed on some really good Billecart Salmon. Leaving Scope, we wobbled out of the hall and out into the steamy night onto the street to huff it to the next event a few blocks away.  As we walked we laughed loudly and confessed to our miscellaneous scores at the various fair booths… and we were probably pretty obvious as the kinds of people who may actually have had the resources to buy rare art objects. We joked about how some of the prices of works that we had enquired about buying had amounted to highway robbery, or the beachfront version, whatever that would be called.


As we rounded the corner of what I recall to be a fairly nondescript industrial area just blocks away from the fair itself,  I remember seeing a group of three males lurking in a doorway apparently smoking a blunt and I didn’t think much of it coming from San Francisco where everything smells like weed. As we got closer, they abruptly began walking towards us just fast enough for us all to get uncomfortable and for one of my buddys to say to us… “ hey, that guy has a knife in his hand “. Before any of the four of us – two guys and two girls – could realize what was happening the trio was upon us and had split up like a terrifying pyramid of evil, encircling us in what was immediately clear was going to become a robbery. The guy in the middle was maybe 18 or 19 and from his accent he sounded Puerto Rican …there was no time to ask. His two accomplices were a white guy in an Adidas track suit wearing a blue LA dodgers hat and a large black guy in flip flops who was wearing a Raiders hoodie.  


The guy in the middle produced an enormous pistol which looked to be a .45 semi automatic Glock, judging from the bore on the orifice of the thing. Im no stranger to firearms as I regularly practice at my local range and so I knew to do exactly what he said when he aimed that thing at us: nothing.  As he lifted the canon from beneath his loose fitting, over sized t-shirt which had an image of Tekashi69 on it I remembered thinking how skinny he was, how young he looked covered in Cyrillic cursive gangbanger tats.. He leveled the pistol down directly at me first and then waved it back and forth at my three friends telling us in barely a whisper…. “ give it up…all of it…or I’m gonna shoot ya’ll asses “.


Obviously, there was no where to run and also no one else on the block to witness what happened to us as we suddenly realized we may have wandered a little bit outside of our socio-economic demographic.  I truly believed that we were about to be shot and I was paralyzed with fear. As we emptied our pockets of phones, wallets, cash and even my friend’s medication… they looked us up and down and eventually demanded my Louboutins and also one of the guys leather jacket, as well. He then made us lay face down on the pavement and told us he would execute us if we looked up at them and then they proceeded to scamper off down the block laughing and disappeared around the corner out of sight.  


We were all in shock after standing back up a few minutes later – I quickly genuflected – and we all felt very thankful that no one had been shot or hurt.  Barefoot, I walked with my little crew of art lovers back to the Scope pavilion to try to borrow a phone to call 911. Eventually, the police came and took all of our accounts and we filed several police reports. On Saturday, we were able to get temporary I.D.’s so that travelling home would not be an issue.  One of my cohorts loaned me some cash he had back in the safe at his room so I could get thru the weekend without credit cards or ID.


The whole thing was definitely an eye opener and needless to say the only thing I ended up buying was a small Richard Haden trompe l’oile sculpture… but it wasn’t even from one the Miami fairs. I had called back home on Friday afternoon before we went out… to that little gallery in San Francisco and I went ahead and purchased that wonderful little wood carving of a damaged  bright red fire extinguisher just out of sheer impulse. It ends up kind of being a metaphor for the trip itself ; a perfectly useless though absurdly well-executed carving of a bright red fire extinguisher – which only looks like it can put out fires – that kind of reminds me of my lost Louboutin’s.





I had worked hard to get down here to Miami to pursue my own impressions of freedom, luxury and privilege and what great art was supposed to be… for me…And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let those three little wannabe gangbangers ruin my art pilgrimage…. Or screw up my great memories of Art Basel 2018…my first art fair ever.  I don’t regret a thing…and as it turns out I was pretty happy about one little hunch I had before leaving my hotel on Friday afternoon : I decided to leave my vintage Jaeger LeCoultre duetto reverso back in the hotel safe… an heirloom I’d been given by my grandmother. If anything, I came away even more sure about one particular thing… that great art is as much defined by the experiences that surround the things and the buying of the stuff…maybe even moreso than the stuff itself. And luckily my mother had raised me to never be a person defined by my possessions….or else I’d probably be really upset about the shoes.



The last picture I took before getting on the plane back to San Francisco pretty much said everything about the whole experience. I was standing behind this lady whose parting image crystallized the entire experience at Miami. I fully intend to go back down again next year, if only for the free gems like this one of the presumed art lover and her fluffed out pooch.