December in Miami can mean only one thing – Art Basel. Yes indeed all the fun of the fair, or should I say fairs as every year there seems to be more and more of them popping up, let alone all the other gallery openings, happenings and events taking place all over South Beach and in the super trendy Design District.
There is so much to see and do that one is left reeling overwhelmed by the choice, like staring vacantly at an American restaurant menu.
My main question is that of supply and demand. There is just so much art here, ranging from a multi-million dollar Rothko in the main fair to some pop faux naïve work in a small fair like Aqua for a few hundred bucks. Are there enough punters to go round? A dealer, dead on their feet at Scope art fair might be asking the very same question and for the International galleries, the costs involved of shipping, booth hire, flights, accommodation and expenses means that they have go some to cover the costs of participation. But participate they do and on mass. Who wants to miss out on the art party and you never know that collector, who hasn’t spent a small fortune at the main fair may, just may be passing your booth and maybe their weary eyes alight on your wares and they just might commit to a purchase. Here everyone is hoping, talking up business and wearing smiles that by day three are on the verge of cracking with breaking down defiantly having a double meaning.
By sundown everyone ventures out, out to the numerous parties, the bars are jostling with people drinking measures that would floor an elephant. The hotels along Collins are hopping, the wealthy and beautiful people glide in and out of The Delano, The Raleigh and The Shore Club, it’s a scene and everybody wants to be seen.
The cool kids are here too bustling around the Design District, struggling to get into the N.E.R.D gig hosted by Paper magazine. Then there was the Mr. Brainwash Pop-Up by Collins Park.
Where he and his team had taken over a disused building to fill with a post-Pop, postmodern urban collection with staggering price tags to boot. A large collage of Madonna made up from her broken records was sold at $120K.
Storm troopers where luckily on guard by the windows in case someone made off with a prized Homer or pastiche of a classical work. All good fun and you would like to think Warhol would say something like ‘gee, wow, kinda cool.’
Back to the serious business of the main fair and in the main it was first rate, with galleries bringing out their best wares for the occasion. There was even a Rothko on sale, albeit not a particularly good one. A Russian gallery had their booth designed by Zaha Hadid, which was effective and refreshing change to the pick and mix art you normally find at the fair. The emerging galleries were to be found at Art Positions and Art Nova, but slightly sidelined by the behemoth galleries.
Down on Collins Park, just by the Mr. Brainwash Pop Up was the Oceanfront music and performance events. The evening we went down was devoted to the artistic talents coming out of Glasgow. The music wasn’t great, but we did see a beautiful performance piece involving a girl singing and recording a loop, building up the piece into layers, all quite haunting.
Art Basel is much more than the sum of it parts, the whole town is jumping and everyone wants to get in on the action. The hotels and the top restaurants are all booked out and the queues tail back to get into the ‘hottest’ party. There is a definite art to be able get past the security guys with earpieces and the door dolly with guest list.
For those with a more delicate disposition and do not have the stamina for partying until the early hours, there are plenty of more contemplative pursuits to enjoy, such as the ‘Conversations’ organised by Art Basel or even the morning openings of private collections, such as the not to be missed Rubell Collection. The public galleries also offer comprehensive exhibitions such as the Bass Museum, which has an acclaimed show by Isaac Julien and MOCA, where there is an exhibition of photography by Bruce Webber and sculptures by Jonathan Messe.
It is easy to be ‘arted out’ in Miami and the draw of the beach, with the knowledge that it was sub-zero in the UK is very tempting. A morning spent soaked up the rays, blowing away the cobwebs of the cocktails from the night before by running into the clear blue sea definitely sooths the soul, followed by a delicious lunch on Ocean Drive. I do love the fact that in America you can order food exactly the way you want it and everything is super-sized. A sandwich at a Deli is a towering mass of meat, an impossible feat to eat the whole thing in one go.
So, fully recharged and refreshed one is able to take on the fairs, but after a fashion they all start to blur into one with everyone dashing from the main fair at the Convention Center to the Design District and back again. Who is buying what? Who’s hot and who’s not. The super rich who are ferried around in their sleek black UBS sponsored VIP BMW’s, hotly followed by a gaggle of art consultants, clutching their copies of the Art Newspaper sniffing out the new money collectors. Is it Russian? No, it is the Asians that are here, or is it the Latin Americans cattle ranchers and oil exploiters coming up from Brazil or Argentina? It matters little and taste even less, so long as they have the dollars to buy, buy and buy some more.
So, after four days of frenzy, the circus leaves town, everyone decamps. The super elite have their private jets on standby, the good and the great turn left on commercial planes, back up to New York, and over to LA. The Europeans may linger a while and some to pop over to the Caribbean for that extra bit of winter sunshine. The booths are dismantled, the artwork wrapped and packed, the dealers count up the pieces they ‘got away’ and the ones that sadly are destined to head back to the numerous gallery store rooms and artists studios throughout the world. An artwork, like a despondent child who hasn’t been picked to play a part in the school play, so all the comforting in the world by the locus parentis, all the reassurances that you are good and worthy, means nothing, nothing at all when you don’t appear in a collection, overlooked and unloved.
The cherished, the costly and the cast asides are loaded up onto trucks and rolled out of town. The art world lurches on, chasing cheques next at the Armory in New York in March, Basel proper in Switzerland in June and of course October at Frieze in London.
So back to London, where it is freezing and Christmas. Here normal people scurrying about shopping for regular things, toys for the children and a turkey for the oven. Art comes in the medium of a family comedy movie, something everyone can get for virtually nothing. Miami Basel is literally another world away, a glamorous and glittering universe where concepts comes with commerce, which makes perfect sense to those inside it and is a completely ridiculous to those looking in.