As a neophyte, going to the largest art fair in the world now, was an eye opening experience. It requires preparation, stamina and fortitude. I had the advantage of traveling with seasoned veterans who had visited there six times and who run a company, art-collecting.com. There are numerous venues scattered around the Miami area, ranging from converted motels (AQUA) to the ponderous Miami Beach Convention Center, which was the main hub and the most prestigious venue for the exhibitions. For most of the venues, a gallery must apply to be accepted. Reported in the New York Times to cost $65,000 for a 800 square feet booth, for the four days. Seventy-five thousand visitors were reported to have attended. Each venue has its own special flavor of art direction, and geographic appeal. The entire world was well represented with the exception of Africa and India. This is the special appeal of this Fair.
One had to plan their schedule carefully in order to make the most of the four days of the Fair (December 1-4th). The splashy opening night, November 30th, at the Convention Center required a VIP ticket, which I procured. Not much in the way of free drinks or eats even with the VIP pass… quite a miserly presentation throughout given the haughty level of the event–anywhere! Then to the more gritty opening party at the motel cum gallery AQUA that was raucous and adorned with young energetic art.
Traveling between venues was a challenge in the eighty plus temperatures with high humidity. There were purported shuttles, which were hard to locate and infrequent. Uber was a mess with many cancellations and confusion; taxis were very expensive while tangled up in strangulating traffic–not for the faint of heart.
There were also several very impressive private collections available to visit during this period which were a must see. Each venue required a separate ticket. For the uninitiated in the art world this was a challenge, and for those in the know, it was a matter of visually screening the thousands of booths from galleries all over the world, to hone in on the work that was personally appealing. Given this, there were many new artists to view and to respond appreciatively. The folks manning the booths were for the most part informative and friendly. A colleague reported to me that one booth (Gagosian) responded when asked [of course no labels or prices posted] who the artist was, “if you don’t know this artist then you are in the wrong place.”
The first day was ambitious. Given the transportation challenge, one must commit to one side of the Intercoastal Waterway or the other. Beginning up north, PULSE was a strong contender of one of the best venues. A massive tent (football field size) perched on the beach, as were SCOPE and UNTITLED further south, opened with a preview brunch with very long lines. This site focuses on mid-career artists in the contemporary field. Later that morning we headed over to a private collection opening of the de la Cruz family, located in a modern building in the Wynwood neighborhood, which is a warehouse area. This collection concentrated on unknown artists, to me, and focused on ‘process exposed’ of art making and patterned work on three large floors.
Nearby is the renowned and flourishing ‘Miami Design District’ with the chi-chi stores and well designed buildings, even sporting a Buckminster Fuller sculpture. Nearby in a converted furniture four story building, the emperors of the art world, Deitch/Gagosian/Picasso Collaboration, ‘Desire’ exhibition focusing on erotic desire. It was quite the display of sexy stuff complete with a photo-shoot underway of nude models.
Actually finding a shuttle, we traveled to the second largest venue of the Fair, ART MIAMI. This venue was the original one, which kicked off the eventual creation of the Fair. It ‘s staged a gallery-like décor with furniture; and showcases some of the best contemporary work in the 125 international galleries represented here. This merits almost a half-day visit. Retreating afterward to the infamous Cuban eatery Versailles for local color and lively music, the place is more an event than a restaurant. (They also have several canteens at the airport which offer wonderful empanadas for the road)
If that were not enough art for one day, we attended the opening of the MIAMI RIVER ART FAIR in the financial district, attached to the Hyatt. The City of Miami sponsors this exhibit which features Latin American artists and galleries with a lively patronage attending. To conclude this epic day, the PEREZ MUSEUM sponsored a very fashion filled and rambunctious opening in a newly constructed building designed by architects no less than the darlings of the museum world, Pritzker Prize winning architects Herzog & de Meuron. I was not impressed by the wasted space in the design, the permanent collection was very thin, but the current exhibition of Julio de Parc was stunning with mostly kinetic art and too loud noises. A disappointing museum.
Now for the highlights of the trip. My most memorable sighting was the Margulies Collection. Anselm Kiefer’s work, the largest collection in the world, this collection hosts six amazing pieces including his most famous installation. I was breathless looking at his work and feeling the power of his creation. His recurring themes of death, renewal, and the holocaust reverberate here in individual rooms. This alone is worth the trip! There is other outstanding work by greats including: Richard Long, Noguchi, Philipsz, Segal, Serra, Tony Smith, and Franz West.
There are other venues within walking distance, like CONTEXT, including another private collection of the ex-Studio 54 maestro Rubell Family Collection. The current exhibition ‘High Anxiety’ was engaging and dramatic. Distress seems to be the theme in the contemporary art world today. It reflects the disjunctive nature of the conditions in the world from Syria to Trump. So it is appropriate that the art world reflect this chaos that we all now feel. Not to be missed are two other significant venues along the Miami Beach, SCOPE and UNTITLED, featuring more emerging global artists, but well worthwhile.
The ART BASEL Miami Beach Fair is well worth the effort to experience. Set in a such a lovely site and the opportunity to experience the range of work from all over the world, with surprisingly little ‘blue chip’ art work there, were pieces that ranged up to $2 million, but most of the work was under $100,000 and according to the ‘red dots,’ was selling briskly.
The people watching factor is high and entertaining with outrageous fashions and risque outfits. There were a respectable number of photographs, few in the traditional sense except for a number of well-selling shots of opulent interiors presented in large format, with the requisite glossy resin surfaces. Photography is still alive. The attendees were more from foreign countries than from the US. Many posed egotistically for their selfies in front of art, and were feverishly taking images of the work, for whatever purpose remains a mystery.