Miami, 7-10 December, the heavyweights of the art world are in town. At the heart of this ultra-contemporary ecosystem is a fair of excess, which continues to expand. Welcome to Art Basel and its 16th year in Florida.
Could the highly acclaimed Art Basel Miami Beach be to contemporary art what the Cannes Film Festival is to cinema? Is this hotspot with its slightly overrated decorum really the place to be? The perfect way to conclude a series of events including Art Basel (mid-season edition), London’s autumnal Frieze Art Fair and Paris’ FIAC, for four days only, the best galleries from Europe, Asia, and the Americas have taken their places on America’s East Coast.
When one thinks of Miami Beach, one often thinks of sun, palm trees and sandy beaches stretching alongside a series of skyscrapers on Ocean Drive or Collins Avenue- or maybe of its myriad luxury boutiques, with airbrushed starlets and shapely models spilling out- or even of its plethora of yachts and swanky clubs. Not so long ago, this Latin-American crossroads was better known for its corruption and rough neighborhoods ruled by fierce gangs, than for its galleries and ultra-cool culture. Then Craig Robins came along, followed by Tony Goldman- a businessmen who transformed a sulfurous swamp into the place to be for designers, artists, ‘starchitects’ and street artists. It’s dark side forgotten, Miami restored itself. Old warehouses became luxury showrooms in the aptly named Design District and graffiti on the walls in Wynwood transformed the district into a maze of street art, which is updated each year. Within a few decades, Miami has become cosmopolitan city and a cultural mecca, sitting alongside New York, London and Hong Kong.
So what is this prestigious event really about? In 2017, Art Basel, Miami Beach brought together 268 galleries from 32 countries. In terms of concentration of artists and artwork per meter squared, it is higher than both the 193 names in attendance at the last FIAC and the 15th edition of the Frieze Art Fair, with its 160 stands. While Miami Beach may not touch the 291 exhibitors of the original Art Basel, it has attracted key traders since 2002. The endless European big names are too numerous to list here, but for the first time this year the fair also attracted the Applicat-Prazan gallery, a specialist in post-war French art, Cesson & Bénétière, ardent defenders of the Support/Surfaces movement and even Takuro Someya Contemporary Art and Taro Nasu, from Tokyo.
From 303 Gallery to David Zwirner, many of the major players from New York are here, but also a few newcomers, such as David Lewis Gallery and Chapter NY. The South and Central American market is also well represented, with over 30 names in attendance from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia. In short, after Bâle, Miami brings together the biggest international ‘brands’ in the art market, from the USA, South Africa, Japan, and Greece, to China and Korea, creating a kind of ‘arty’ advent calendar, a tantalizing showcase of modern and contemporary, against a blissfully calm backdrop.
Eclecticism and the Latin Art Scene
In the aisles of Miami Beach Convention Centre, you will find artwork created using all types of media – painting, sculpture, photography, drawings, engravings, video, installation- including historic pieces, by historic artists as well as artwork from the emerging artists scene.
As with all Mecca-like destinations of the art world, there’s something for every taste and wallet- though better still if the wallet is well-lined! From small masterpieces, such as Nude on a chair (Wilfredo Lam, 1942) which awaits visitors at Applicat-Prazan to a handsome Hans Hartung hung at Emmanuel Perrotin, there are also pieces scattered throughout from mainstays Hirst, Basquiat, Warhol, Koons, Kapoor, Ufan, Kentridge, to name but a few… With the globalization of the market (in both capital and aesthetic) in full swing, we are seeing the same names here that crop up at the European art fairs. In short, all the well-established artists who appear at upper market art fairs and typically have a defined style and produce a lot of work are here! It is important to note, however, the effort that is made by traders to adjust their works on offer to appeal to the cultural sensibilities of the host country- and Miami is no exception. Art from Regina José Galindo of Guatemala, Teresa Margolles of Mexico, Rosângela Rennó of Brazil and Flavio Garciandía of Cuba, shed some light on the Latin American art scene, which has arguably less presence in Europe. Everything is here; from extreme subtlety to strong style, to beauty and vulgarity, from engaged work- or not, to politically correct work – or not, the revisited classic to the passé visionary, from virtual reality to crafty, touching on do-it-yourself.
Is this a fair of know-how? Or is it more about dissemination of knowledge; regional and international, but also compartmentalized. This year the fair will satisfy Nova fans, or those on a quest for adventure, and should happily fill up bank accounts and warm up World Elite cards, as well as please first time buyers and seasoned collectors alike, not to mention please the great patrons in search of hidden gems- or the simply curious.
Renovated museums and private collections
While all this is going on, there’s also the issue of Hurricane Irma. Will she dampen the zeal of international and local collectors? At Miami Beach, traces of her path remain visible on the urban infrastructure. The Miami Beach Convention Center is carrying on with its three year renovation program as if nothing has happened. This year, guests to the fair will benefit from more spacious exhibition facilities and wider aisles, which should improve the comfort levels of the 90,000 expected to visit the fair over its four day run. Some of Florida’s major cultural institutions will also reopen during the event. After two and half years of renovation, the Bass Museum will reopen its doors, creating dialogue between the Old Masters and 21st century visual artists. Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, from Parisian stable Kamel Mennour designed the highly anticipated exhibition “Good evening beautiful blue”, while Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou welcomes guests into the entrance hall in different languages- at least those who have not been seduced by local sirens. With the retrospective “Perfect Stranger” from local artist Dara Friedman, does the Perez Art Museum in Miami hope to break its visitor numbers, currently held for the Julio Le Parc exhibition? The presence of the fair will certainly have a role to play.
Lastly, no element of the opening of the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami will be left to chance! On 2nd avenue, the ICA has just opened in a flamboyant new building alongside The Everywhere Studio, a “hang” which explores the evolution of the artist’s studio from pop-art to today. With so much cash injected into the aesthetic of the city and other costs relating to the city’s institutions, Miami knows how to attract attention- and in record time ahead of the fair. Not to mention the highly reputable private collections of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Ella Cisneros, Martin Margulies, Mera and Donal Rubell, whose work is once again on public display. This focus on art by certain financial powers might tempt others to invest in a similar way. Big-time collectors such as Eli Broad, David Geffen, Peter Brant and Steve Cohen are expected for the VIP day on December 6th.
In 2017 the contemporary art market continues expanding, boding well for the market as a whole. In this city of excess, it is unlikely that this year will prove to be any different. Contemporary art has never been as overexposed as it is today, from the art-world satire The Square at the Cannes film festival, to the explicit Domestikator from Atelier Van Lieshout at the FIAC, and not forgetting the bizarre performance at the Bank of France by Russian Piotr Pavlenski. With the scandal- political, ethical or sexual- that he regularly provokes, his taste for poor timing, his sometimes meaningless subversions, all of it often resulting in a sheer lack of comprehension from the public, a question remains in the eyes of many, buoyed by his irrational and reckless approach to money. “Best money is best art”, said Andy Warhol. In spite of everything, we must continue to love art – which means buying it – to really enjoy its vitality. So what are you waiting for? Get over to Florida!
Art Basel Miami Beach. From Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 December. Opening on Wednesday 6 December. Miami Beach Convention Center. 1901 Convention Center Drive. Miami, Florida (USA). www.artbasel.com/miamibeach
Politics in the Survey sector
This year, once again, Survey is pulling out all the stops with the best of modern art through 16 historical projects covering Europe, the Americas, and also Africa. See for yourself; in this sector, we are rediscovering the Italian avant-garde of Milan from the 1960s through pieces from Dadamaino, works from Mario Nigro at A arte Invernizzi, marveling at the efficient use of material by Claude Viallat and questioning the abstract approach of Noel Dolla at Ceysson and Benetier. The legendary Chilean surrealist and expressionist artist Roberto Matta is the star of the show at Robilant and Voena, through a focus on key works dealing with the Spanish civil war. Politics and criticism appear to be the creed of most projects, as shown by the work of Chilean artist Carlos Leppe at Espaivisor, as well as at Richard Saltoun Gallery through the work of Argentinean artist Edgardo Antonio Vigo, whose militant faith is illustrated through a variety of media. In short, the standard is very high, with Latin American art currently taking pride of place.
“In recent years, Art Basel Miami Beach has organized the Conversations sector as a space that goes far beyond simple informal discussions between participants. From Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 December, we are putting in place a platform for supporting artists, involving conferences and round table discussions on current issues with a variety of speakers. Discussions will be held every day not only with artists, but also collectors, museums and curators, on topics dealing with the issues of patronage, institutional collaboration and digital technology at the heart of museums and virtual audiences and more. We will also discuss art market issues such as the globalization of business models, innovation in middle market galleries and biennials, through round table discussion which will bring together gallery owners, critics, writers, eminent professors and curators. Artists and their influencers, the role of the Internet in curatorial practice, the relationship between artist and merchant are all topics that will open for discussion in these sessions which bring together many art industry professionals. Conversations has been conceived as a place for many voices to be heard, offering a global vision of the sector.”
Mari Spirito is founder and director of Protocinema (Istanbul, New York) and director of the Conversations program.
“We wanted to come to Art Basel Miami Beach in 2017 because this fair is basically the last stage of the Art Basel Hong Kong – Basel – Miami Beach triangle. This year it will be our seventh and final fair. So it’s a first in Miami and we are all the more satisfied that the US remains, year in year out, the primary art market in the world since the second World War. Latin America, still enjoying the accolades from the prestigious São Paulo Biennial, is also a great breeding ground for art traders. We have Francophile clients there who love post-war Parisian painting and have property in the capital. They come to Miami wanting to make significant investments. We also wanted to highlight our specialization on American soil because many American expressionist artists remain out of reach, while today, the demand for a high-quality Jean Fautrier or a Nicolas de Staël remains.”
Franck Prazan is director of the Applicat-Prazan gallery and specialist in the great post-war painters in Paris.