Dateline Miami: Urban Jungle of Art
By F Lennox Campello
How many times have you heard me preach: If you are an artist or a gallery in the 21st century, you have to do art fairs? Here we go again: over a decade ago, the founders and organizers of an European fine arts fair called Art Basel (which of course, takes place in Basel, Switzerland), gambled on trying out an American version of their successful European “art fair” model and started one in the gigantic Miami Beach Convention Center, and they called it Art Basel Miami Beach or ABMB for short.
In the decade plus since, that one mega international art fair radically revolutionized the way in which contemporary and secondary fine art is presented and sold as a commodity. It has spawned also multiple satellite art fairs in the Greater Miami area, all taking place at the same time during the first week of December each year. Because there are over a thousand galleries and tens of thousands of artists being presented all over the Miami area, art collectors, artists, celebrities, gallerists, actors, dealers, party animals, politicians, curators, and all the symbiots of the art world head to Miami during that week, and fine art rules the area (closely followed by dozens and dozens of private “art parties”). I’ve heard quotes where I have been told that about 20% of all the visual art sold on the planet each year (less auctions I assume) sell in Miami during that first week in December. This is the art world’s big dance!
And because there is so much art being presented and offered for sale, at some many levels of the economic scales, while most mega collectors, the Hollywood crowd and the rest of the 1% all focus on the top two or three fairs in the art fair food chain (ABMB itself being the crown jewel, followed by Art Miami and its sister fair Context, and third perhaps switching every year between Pulse, Miami Projects or Untitled), there is art somewhere in Miami for all tastes and budgets.
Because of that critical mass, the ABMB Week in Miami has become the big dance of the art world; the art salon of the 21st century, the one special place on the planet where art rules as a commodity.
And thus for this article, I’ve enlisted a set of very different eyes and perspective to help tell a story about Art Basel Week 2017. In this column, you’ll read Alysia Klein’s take on the art fair aptly known simply as “Fair.” with the period as a full part of the title – it’s not a typo!
This new fair is an all-female art fair focused on “gender inequality” with a show at a fancy Miami shopping mall. Ms. Klein is an artist and writer currently enrolled at Kent State University pursuing a MFA in Painting, where she happens to be a good friend of the amazing Audrey Wilson, one of the most innovative and hard-working MFA candidates on the planet and herself a pro with half a dozen Art Basel week fairs in the last decade. Klein received her BFA in 2D Studio Art with a minor in Art History, graduating summa cum laude, from Eastern Illinois University.
My idea was to offer the young female perspective of Klein, the contemporary MFA candidate in her very first ABMB week, to deliver a piece with a distinct set of eyes and sensibilities.
Klein takes over.
Fair. At Miami: Radical or Fence-Sitting?
“Fair. took place during Miami’s annual ultra-fair week and was a non-commercial alternative to the traditional art market scene one typically expects at venues such as Art Basel, Art Miami and other satellite fairs. Not seeing a price tag on artworks that most consumers cannot afford was a breath of fresh air in today’s over saturated high-priced art market. Even though this was the case when I was analyzing the monetary side of the exhibition I could not help but wonder if Fair. was indeed fair? Was it doing as much as it could to project its conceptual ideologies or did it simply fall short?
The statement We Are Here. (with a period) seemed to be true only for 16 center stage women artists who already carry significant weight within the art world. When first arriving to the space, located within a shopping mall for the elite of Miami, I was greeted by posters from the Guerrilla Girls addressing the upper-class shoppers and art collectors about the disparity of wealth and inequality in American society. There were good intentions but this is one instance where I wonder if “preaching to the choir” may have been more effective than speaking to the holders of the wealth themselves. Just by placing these posters in this setting inadvertently makes them capitalistic instead of non-commercial, which is contradictory to the show’s overall message.
Guerrilla Girls, Dear Collector, Fair., Miami
When finally arriving at the exhibition area, the first piece is a recreated participatory artwork Wish Tree Garden by Yoko Ono, obviously one of these most established female artists of the 20th century. The Wish Tree Garden has been shown recently at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and the Guggenheim Bilboa. At this point I am already wondering how fair can this be when the artwork being displayed is already melded within the framework of “blue chip” art? The exhibition catalogue quoted that “The outpouring of positive response from women in the art world—artists, curators, gallerists, and writers—affirms that this work is more necessary than ever.” They must not have polled very many responses because I myself as a woman must disagree to some extent. While, yes, this work is more necessary than ever before, I must criticize the half-hazard stance and poor utilization of space by co-curators Zoe Lukov and Anthony Spinello. Even though this show was non-commercial and not for sale, during the same week Spinello Projects was hosting a cocktail party in partnership with Gucci to promote the artworks Kris Knight, which were for sale.
When entering inside the space, you encounter the infamous Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? piece by the Guerrilla Girls. This poster utilized a space of roughly 40 feet of the entire exhibition. If the fair truly wanted to be fair, inclusive and address true inequality maybe they would have included a sleuth of women artists in this massive expanse of space versus one poster by a well-known art group, albeit a well-respected one.
Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Fair., Miami
I can think of a handful of under-represented female activist artists who were not included in this exhibition that could have been included. Perhaps instead of having it be “non-commercial” the show could have sold artworks and given the profits to the causes the Fair. exhibition seems so keen on promoting.
I am all for promoting females in an art world that is clearly more geared towards a patriarchal, hetero-normative outlook but also must question if we are using what little power we do have to the best of our abilities. Given the political situations that revolve around getting funded and represented for an exhibition space, I also wonder if the curators were doing the best they could without overstepping their allotted power. If this is the case, the art world is in even more dire situation than most would believe. Holistically, the artwork showcased was thought provoking but at the same time something felt off and not quite as engaging as I had hoped. Maybe things were not as fair as they appeared to be.
Cheryl Pope, A Silent I, Fair., Miami
And now read what caught Ardis Bartle’s experienced eyes as she visited several art fairs from the perspective of the experienced collector. She noted to me that the “common themes during Art Miami Week were guns – made of porcelain, made of water hoses and sprayers, made of typewriter parts, etc.” She also added “Words – Words are back. From the show at the Perez Art Museum to various works throughout the art fairs all focusing on words.”