Art Basel Miami Beach returns, smaller but ready to party

MIAMI BEACH – It’s back. Canceled last year due to Covid-19, the annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair returns next week, taking place across the region. Starting Tuesday with invitation-only hours and open to the public Thursday through Saturday, it will feature 253 galleries displaying works inside the city’s convention center, as well as a dizzying number of satellite art fairs, pop-up and celebrity shows. – private studded dinners.

It’s a sprawling cultural circus now called “Miami Art Week”, with corporate branding exercises, from a sculptural forest by set designer Es Devlin (commissioned by a Chanel perfume) to a “Yacht the Basel ”organized by the Cheetos snack bar, with“ original and dynamic works of art created from the iconic orange dust of Cheetos ”.

The return of the Basel Fair to Miami could not have come soon enough for gallery owners about to converge on Florida from around the world. While contemporary art auctions are once again breaking records, overall gallery sales remain sluggish. A mid-year Art Basel and UBS report by economist Dr. Clare McAndrew found that nearly half of the 700 dealers surveyed saw continued sales declines in the first six months of 2021. Mega-dealers like Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner, with blue-chip lists and multiple outposts were bouncing quickly, according to the report. But many small merchants, who had relied on Art Basel to develop new customers and introduce emerging talent, had struggled.

Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel, can pinpoint when Miami’s rekindled artistic frenzy took off: September 20, when the US government said it would lift the Covid travel ban on most visitors Europe and Asia in November, making the Miami Fair the first truly international to the United States since the start of the pandemic.

Spiegler’s phone immediately began to ignite messages from merchants who had previously refused to participate: “As of the end of this week, more than 30 ‘uncancelled’ galleries,” he said, noting that despite all the growls of “faint fatigue,” there was still no digital substitute for buying and selling live art. Almost half of the show’s exhibitors will now arrive from overseas and Latin America. “I read all the predictions that the art fairs were over, that no one would travel anymore,” Spiegler continued. “We have a show barely smaller than the one in 2019.”

This is undoubtedly a relief for the owners of Art Basel, the Swiss MCH Group, whose shareholder reports show they have lost more than $ 109 million since the start of the pandemic. Still, if the return of the Miami Fair is any reason for MCH to rejoice, the future of its two other art fairs – Art Basel Hong Kong, scheduled for March 2022, and the flagship Art Basel in Switzerland, scheduled for June 2022 – remains uncertain. Even setting aside the growing wave of government repression and censorship in Hong Kong, there is a mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks for visitors entering the city. In March, if that quarantine persists, Spiegler said it was hard to imagine a full-fledged Basel Fair. And with Covid infections on the rise again across Europe, triggering further lockdowns, anyone can guess what June will bring.

These potential revenue losses for Art Basel make the smooth running of the Miami Fair all the more crucial. To avoid crowds, entrance tickets are now timed and proof of a Covid vaccination or a recent negative test is required, as is the wearing of a mask. These protocols may sound familiar – and reassuring – to visitors to New York or Los Angeles, but they are almost non-existent throughout Miami. Local officials found themselves overruled by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who tried to portray Republican opposition to the Biden administration’s virus policies. For Spiegler, however, the subject is not open to debate.

“When you bring together thousands of people from all over the world, wearing masks is the only thing that makes sense,” he said. What if a fair attendee, say, a billionaire art collector, refused to comply with the mask’s mandate? Would Basel security eject them physically from the Palais des Congrès? “That’s what it means to have a mask warrant,” Spiegler replied firmly.

Beyond Art Basel, the vibe within Miami’s year-round art scene is anything but timid. Superblue, a joint venture of Pace heavy-duty gallery and Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson collective, opened last spring in a renovated 31,000 square foot warehouse in the Allapattah neighborhood. Not to be outdone, Fotografiska, the private global chain of photography museums, has announced that it is moving into the 42,000 square foot warehouse just across the street next to the Rubell Museum, with its complex of buildings designed by David Rockwell. open in 2023.

And in the city’s preeminent galleries, business is strong. At the Fredric Snitzer Gallery, director Joshua Veasey said things were as busy now as at any time during his six-year tenure there. He gives credit to established collectors who fled northern or western cities, clearing the coronavirus at their new Miami residences, who have started visiting the gallery for the first time.

“After being stuck inside for so long there’s been a lot of redecorating,” Veasey joked. “These are the problems of the rich. Still, the gallery’s new faces haven’t emerged from the newly arrived Miami ‘tech brothers’, from budding new media mogul Bryan Goldberg to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has moved here in the middle of a wave of Silicon Valley cheerleaders from the city mayor. New low-key clients come with more typical finance and real estate development collector backgrounds.

What has escaped the tech industry is the love of all things NFT. Art Week hosts a bewildering array of NFT-themed gatherings, including the full-day NFT.BZL conference, featuring a large roster of NFT artists, tech figures and mayors city ​​and county. One of the many new NFT marketplaces, SuperRare, even asked SuperWorld engineers to install 20 3D sculptures throughout the Art Basel convention center, visible only on their app. fair conservation committees and exhibition fees of approximately $ 60,000 (and more).

“I was skeptical at first, I wanted to see if NFTs would have more than five minutes of life,” conceded Miami multimedia artist Carlos Betancourt, one of the few established local talents to embrace the new media based on the blockchain. He said the key to his comfort was finding a platform, Aorist, with a curator, Ximena Caminos, who already supported his long-standing work. That, and Aorist’s desire to produce an actual version of his NFT play “What Lies Beneath”, which highlights the rapid melting of the polar ice caps due to global warming. The result, the sale of which will benefit a local underwater sculpture park, is a pair of fake icebergs – one of which is 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide, wrapped in collages of photos of actual icebergs from Sven-Olof Lindblad, and floated in the oceanfront pool at the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach.

While room rates at the Faena – starting at $ 3,300 a night, $ 5,500 for an ocean view – may limit audiences to “What Lies Beneath”, it will always be difficult to avoid seeing the Betancourt works of art and its varied styles around Miami next week. “Into The Everglades,” its vibrant silhouettes of Florida wildlife, parade nightly across the 35-story downtown InterContinental Miami hotel; “Milagro! , A 38-foot-long chain of 245 hand-crafted charms, commissioned by the city of Miami Beach, will hang over a bustling city boulevard; and two of his photos – homoerotic portraits of himself and his longtime partner and collaborator, architect Alberto Latorre – will be featured in a group exhibition, “Skin in the Game”, inside a Beach storefront.

Its ubiquity, Betancourt said, is proof that Miami’s museums and collectors have finally embraced the city’s own artists, driven by the attention of Art Basel to work made in Miami. “People have had an inferiority complex here for many years,” he continued, recalling his arrival from Puerto Rico as a teenager in 1980, discovering an art scene that too often sought direction elsewhere. The change is evident next week as local institutions proudly display work that is steeped in Miami’s social fabric.

For starters, Anastasia Samoylova’s “FloodZone” photos at the HistoryMiami Museum capture an often surreal visual interaction of flora, fauna, and crumbling concrete; Gary Monroe’s “Refuseniks” photographs at Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios offer a poignant study of early 1980s Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union rebuilding new lives in then-crumbling South Beach ; and Jared McGriff’s otherworldly paintings at the NSU Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale depict visions of black life that are both troubled and incredibly beautiful.

This serious work of art is presented as part of a weeklong tropical party. If that sounds contradictory, Betancourt believes embracing that contradiction is precisely what made Miami a city of art: “We love partying and it shows in our work,” he said. “That’s what Miami brings to the equation – we do it with no apologies.”

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