The Busiest Week of Miami: Art Basel Miami Beach


Tobias Rehberger's Pixellated work at Foundation Beyeler

Miami Art Week, the first week of December when Art Basel Miami Beach takes place has a very different feeling if you are actually residing in Miami than if you were coming here to visit. Living in Miami, you wait the whole year for this week, knowing you will be busy from morning till evening, on your feet, going from fairs to exhibitions and events all day long. You will be drinking, and not sleeping much, and run into people you know from all over the world. Additionally you know traffic is terrible. You can’t drive since there are no parking spaces left anyway, and that you will have many out of town visitors and wonder how to juggle everything.

Art Basel has been one of THE most important art fairs in the world since it first took place in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland. It takes place in the original location on June of each year and I think this is also a good time to correct some who still continue to mispronounce the name of the city: It is "Basel", pronounced “Bah-zel”. Not “basil” as I sometimes hear from some Anglophones, or “Bah-zelle” as some Francophones say. Basel is in Northwestern Switzerland, where Germany and France meet, and the last time I went was back in 2008 when you had to choose at the airport which side to exit: Switzerland or Germany. I think this has changed now, but what I do know is that you can drive in minutes from the city of Basel, Switzerland to Freiburg, Germany, or to Mulhouse, France, which is pronounced “Mule-ooze”, lest I forget correcting some Germanophones –or is it Teutophones?

When Art Basel, together with supporting collectors decided to bring the fair to North America, the city of Miami Beach was chosen in order to be closer to the South American market with its savvy art collectors. The choice of Miami Beach was also smart because putting the date of the American fair exactly half-year apart from the fair in Basel, Switzerland brought it to December, the perfect season to be in Miami. While it creates a great reason to escape from the colder climates elsewhere, it also is a good time for galleries to sell right before the year ends.

It was planned that Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) was to start in 2001 but due to September 11, the opening was postponed to 2002. I would say compared to all other fairs I have been to, this is the one where there is more partying, and that it’s not always about the art for many. It is also, as my niece Mina commented on her first ABMB, where one sees so many women in such high heels doing the fairs, a fact, which continues to amaze me year after year. (I have never been to Art Basel Hong Kong which takes place in March of each year since it inaugurated in May 2013).

Anish Kapoor

Here is an example of how much everything in Miami is geared towards this week: The Miami Beach Convention Center where ABMB takes place each year, closes this year immediately after the fair ends for renovations, and will finish all work done just before the fair opens in December 2016. Also, area museums open exhibitions in the weeks before ABMB. In fact the Pérez Art Museum Miami opening date was chosen to take place during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2013.

While the format of events –like museum events have changed over the years, it’s always that Design Miami across from the Convention Center opens to VIP on Tuesday. Wednesday used to be First Choice VIP in the morning, later the VIP Preview, and then the Vernissage, with the public opening on Thursday. This year, Wednesday was for First Choice opening at 11 AM, and the VIP Preview Started at 3PM. The tales of entry of the most important collectors pushing each other at the 11AM opening is legendary which I have failed to see every year. This year I was determined to be there on time and see this, and especially compare to the super-civilized single-file waiting lines of Frieze London this past October, but, alas, we made it there around 12. Yes, I did see some major collectors and some actors, but no fighting. I have heard that doesn’t happen anymore.

It is more interesting for me to see European galleries bringing their artists’ works to fairs to be able to sell to an international clientele while their countries’ economies are bad. And this is one of the reasons the art fairs are good. It brings galleries to the viewers –all in one large space, who would otherwise not go to galleries in those cities the galleries are from. And when you think about it, it works well for artists too. A gallery invests in an artist in such a way that it supports artists, promotes them. A small size booth in ABMB, which is quite selective in the galleries it admits, costs around $70,000. Add to that any extra design elements, construction as well as shipment, insurance, installation, staff, travel and lodging, I would think the total comes comes to $100,000. The gallery has to cover those costs from the sale, but the artist would be exposed to a larger audience and the works get sold too.

Art Basel Miami Beach 2015 consisted of 267 galleries from around the world. It’s newly appointed Director of the Americas, Noah Horowitz not only is the former Executive Director of New York’s Armory Show, he also is the writer of the book “Art of the Deal, Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market”, one of the must-read books for those who would want to learn about the global art market. In fact it is in this book I read that Art Basel does not take commission from sales, just the fee, therefore total sales volumes can’t be calculated. This year the sectors of the fair were: Survey, where galleries presented art historical works; Nova, with young galleries presented works created in the last three years; Positions, galleries presented single projects by emerging artists; Edition, publishers of editioned works exhibited their collaboration with renowned artists; Kabinett, with curated exhibitions; Film, with more than 50 works presented not only at the Convention Center but also at the SoundScape Park; and Public, with over 20 large-scale sculptures displayed at Collins Park in front of the Bass Museum of Art,

Hammer Galleries' "Picasso & Matisse" exhibition presented works by both artists and their relationship

This year I noticed as I usually do how many museum exhibitions influenced what was available for sale, for example while Nari Ward had an exhibition on view at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) Lehmann Maupin had his works available. While MoMA is running a major retrospective of Joaquín Torres-García, other works of his were presented here. The Whitney Museum of American Art has a wonderful Frank Stella retrospective and I saw many works by Frank Stella both at ABMB in the Convention Center as well as Art Miami in Midtown Miami.

Frank Stella's Damascus Gate, Stretch Variation II, Half Size, 1969. Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery

While I read somewhere that social and political themes were explored with works of Kara Walker, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, Keith Haring and Leon Golub, at the end of the day one did not leave as affected as one would be in a museum or gallery exhibition.

The thing is, this year felt different, sad and somber, as the San Bernardino shooting happened after the first day. While art was bringing so many together here in a fun atmosphere, at the other end of the country, innocent people were killed senselessly. Naturally, and appropriately, this year was not all about partying and I saw less pictures posted on social media sites.

Finally, I ended up not going to all of the breakfasts, lunches, and other events I had planned to go to, because it was raining like crazy. Now, it tends to get windy in Miami from time to time during the winter, but rain? That happens only in the summer! And while I was trying to open my umbrella as I was waiting for my Uber drive from one fair to another, with traffic blocked and people posing in front of the public works taking selfies, I couldn’t help think about the Climate Summit taking place in Paris at the same time, and wishing people would take notice of the change for real.

Other Highlights:

The Rubell Family Collection’s exhibition No Man’s Land, Women Artist from the Rubell Family Collection.

Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), A Public Character, by Shannon Ebner, and Alex Bag’s The Van (Redux). I also went to a performance by Shannon Ebner, Dylan Mira and Erika Vogt “A Piano is for Knife”, a textual version of the Performa piece “Lava plus knives”.

Galerie Perrotin presented JR’s “Ellis” a short film starring Robert de Niro.

UNREALISM and exhibition curated by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch with large canvases of figurative art at the Moore Building in Design District.

Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Nari Ward: Sun Splashed, and Bloodlines by Firelei Báez.

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