05 December, 2011

5 Dec - Art Basel Miami Beach

Last week was the 10th anniversary of Art Basel Miami Beach. In what amounts to a week-long art viewing, hobnobbing, party-hopping bender, the international art glitterati descend upon Miami Beach to see, be seen, schmooze, acquire, revel, gossip, and generally carouse. In addition to Art Basel Miami Beach there are 16 satellite fairs scattered throughout the city, museum exhibitions, gallery openings, private collection tours, concerts, performances, brunches, and VIP events in a timeline better suited to a month-long endeavor than a five-day art event.

Art Basel originated in Basel, Switzerland and came to Miami in 2002. Over the years, the fair has profoundly transformed the city while it is there. Hotel rooms, flights, restaurants, stores, galleries, museums are teeming, and Miami garners the focus of international publicity on a previously unprecedented scale.

The week is a testament to the unassailable and unnerving fact that money and art are inextricably bound. This week lays bare and unabashedly celebrates the fact of their interdependence.  The art world is an amalgamation of pretense and brilliance – breathtaking imagination alongside gilded Gucci-clad lemmings. Miami invites that dichotomy in its most extreme – amazing works by little known and experimental artists at the fringes of art making presented simultaneously with the insecurity, boredom, and keeping up with the Joneses that is the “dark side” of the art world.

While in Miami I received an editorial by the infamous (and notorious) art collector Charles Saatchi. No stranger to controversy and criticism, Saatchi seemed to have had a massive art epiphany. Or – more likely - his wealth paled in comparison to the “artigarchs” of Brazil, Russia, India, and China who are out buying all of the traditional “major players.” Saatchi seethed that “being an art buyer these days is comprehensively and indisputably vulgar…do any of these people actually enjoy looking at art? Or do they simply enjoy having easily recognised, big-brand name pictures…In the fervour of peacock excess, it's not even considered necessary to waste one's time looking at the works on display. At the world's mega-art blowouts, it's only the pictures that end up as wallflowers.”

Beyond the madness and excess, the vulgarity of VIP swagger and “peacock excess,” Miami has gained an increasingly prominent position as a destination for art, culture, and design. The fair and all of its adjacent events have bolstered the Miami economy in profound and quantifiable ways. The fair’s continued success has encouraged the development of formerly dilapidated neighborhoods such as the Design and the Wynwood Art District that are now comprised of major private collections, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and a major influx of galleries - 4 to 45 over the past 8 years.

Another benefit, as described by Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times is that “as Miami’s cultural profile has grown, so too has the government’s willingness to invest. Local museums, including the well-respected Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, are expanding, partly with government money. The Miami Art Museum is in the midst of constructing a new building designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the architects who reimagined the Tate Modern in London.”

The fact that “trendy” and “chic” is often not (ever?) a sustainable model is an issue that major players in the Miami art world must address in order to maintain Miami’s current cultural growth trajectory. Every “cool” event has its expiration date, and for Miami to bank on the past decade of cultural success it will have to make real-time infrastructural and practical investments. As Rosa de la Cruz, patron of the arts and Miami-based collector explains, “Miami universities need to create graduate programs that will act as springboards for talented young artists.” Other ideas include Miami museums building major permanent collections…Art Basel has been wonderful to Miami, but for the rest of the year we need to start building an infrastructure,” Mrs. de la Cruz said. “We have to be very conscious of that, and we have to work very hard.”