One of the key events on the calendars of the world’s artistic elite is Art Basel Miami. It’s a four-day extravaganza that sees galleries and artists scrabbling for the attention of collectors and investors seeking out the latest works to hang in their living rooms or adorn their own exhibition halls. But in recent years the event itself has become as much a strange, post-modern art piece as the works the 1,566 dealers in attendance this year are peddling – a place to be seen and to be photographed, where celebrity is as much a focus of attention as the art lining the walls.
With gossip columnists lining up to report the drunken exploits of the A-listers in attendance, from the somewhat respectable DiCaprios to the more gauche Michael Bays, to those that have somehow flip-flopped from being cultural blind spots to becoming representatives of almost Warholian cool (DJ Paris Hilton behind the decks December 4!), it’s sometimes difficult to remember the central purpose for the show’s existence.
But this year’s show, which runs December 3 through 6, appears to be trying to turn a corner. While it’s still an undeniably velvet rope affair (tickets are $47 a pop), a more diverse line-up of artists has been announced and female representation arrives in the form of icons like Barbara Kruger and Petah Coyne, along with buzzy up-and-comers including Chloe Wise and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
Meanwhile, the significant increase in visibility for Latin art appears to be a direct response to the accusations that the event, held in Miami since 2002, sometimes forgets the artistic heritage of the city often dubbed the ‘capital of Latin America.’ While only two of this year’s 267 exhibitors are actually from the Miami area, artists including Brazil’s Nelson Leirner, the photographer Virginia de Medeiro, and Havana-based collective Los Carpinteros are all on display.
Art Basel Miami also means big business for local galleries and museums, many of which have launched new exhibits to coincide with the event, including a retrospective of Cuban sculptor Carlos Alfonzo at the Pérez Art Museum. The Cannonball Gallery is similarly using the neighbouring art hysteria to showcase local talent – its Open Studios event on December 4 grants visitors the opportunity to glimpse artistic works in progress and the processes of its artists in residence. An organisation devoted to granting legal and professional support to aspiring artists, it’s a breath of fresh air in an environment that deals in big bucks and capitalist extravagance.
There’s an element of the grotesque to much of what Art Basel represents, particularly its transparent catering to the uber-rich, but it’s also a neat encapsulation of the art world itself. A world you either despair of or admire for its shrewd, open indulgence, formed of socialites and pop stars, obscene wealth, and the pure currency of cool.
Art Basel Miami runs December 3-6 at venues across the city.