Art Basel Miami Beach 2017 News

This Is Our Fair: Mac McCaughan and Merge Records Have a Booth at NADA Miami

Mac McCaughan at NADA Miami.


“We actually haven’t played in Miami since 1993,” said Mac McCaughan, holding an acoustic guitar on a makeshift stage outside NADA Miami on Thursday. “But we’re Superchunk, or some version of it.”

McCaughan is the lead singer of the seminal indie-punk outfit Superchunk, founder of the influential label Merge Records, and a hero of his home state, North Carolina. Yesterday, he became an art fair exhibitor. Merge has a booth at NADA, hawking cassettes and 7-inch vinyl singles from bands like the Clientele, Waxahatchee, and Lambchop, as well as a new zine tied to the furious new Superchunk single “What a Time to Be Alive.”

But they are also fielding bids for an auction that McCaughan put together on Paddle8 to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nonprofit that supports civil rights and fights extremist groups through legal action. With the help of Canada gallery’s Phil Gruaer and other dealers, McCaughan reached out to artists such as Katherine Bernhardt, Matt Connors, Marcel Dzama, and Eddie Martinez and asked them to make work the size of an unfolded 7-inch record sleeve, to auction off for the cause.

The crossover to the art fair world makes sense for McCaughan: In addition to making records with Superchunk and running one of the country’s most beloved small record labels, McCaughan has been building up an art collection, snapping up work while visiting New York and supporting the practices of artists in North Carolina. But he had never experienced the vast fair landscape of Art Basel Miami Beach until last year.

“I came basically because I needed to think about something other than the election that just happened—literally, last minute, came down for 24 hours,” McCaughan said.

He had just stepped off the stage, where he played an acoustic set with Superchunk guitarist Jim Wilbur, and it was indeed the first Superchunk show in Magic City since the early 1990s. Dealers abandoned their booths to watch the two play songs from throughout their decades-long career.

“I met Sarah and Phil at NADA, and we were just talking about what a weird time it was,” McCaughan said, referring again to the fallout of the 2016 election. “We have a record label and a band—how can we put that to use beyond just like making songs? It got me thinking about how to partner with artists to do something that’s a little bit bigger than playing a benefit show.”

They planned a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood last year, where artists made work to be auctioned off on Paddle8 and Superchunk released a single that was printed on a limited number of vinyl. It raised $27,000. For the second go around, the online auction platform suggested that he go down to Miami to rally up support—and maybe collaborate with a fair.

“NADA was like, ‘You can have a booth!’ ” McCaughan said, laughing as he picked up his placard hanging from his neck that said “Mac McCaughan, Exhibitor.” “So here we are!”

The booth was as packed on the fair’s VIP preview, with people coming through to snag free stickers and pins or buy a record or a zine. There were iPads available to let collectors bid on the work, which will be on sale through Paddle8 until December 14. 

It’s not exactly his first foray into the art world—McCaughan reliably Instagrams from galleries he’s visiting in New York or elsewhere. A few weeks ago he gave followers a thorough tour of Prospect, the triennial in New Orleans that was organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, a fellow resident of Durham, North Carolina, who is also the director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

“We have work by some of these artists,” McCaughan said of the cast recruited for the auction. “I only personally knew a few of them, so galleries like Canada were helpful. People in the art world, at least the people I know, they tend to be helpful in that way.”

Regardless, it’s a little strange for a record label to have a booth at an art fair—especially a record label run by someone who is, to many, a true rock star.

“Some people are like, ‘I’ve never heard of this record label or any of these bands, but this seems pretty cool,’ ” McCaughan said. “Other people who are like, ‘It’s so cool that you’re here, I’ve bought all your records!’ “

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