What's It All About, Basel?

Locals weigh in on the meaning of Miami's week in the artistic sun

Art Basel Miami Beach 2003 is over. But this year's fair and the events it generated were so multifaceted -- and there was so much -- that there's no way to summarize it within this space. We've decided to ask a group of art experts to contribute their perspectives as a way to create some kind of document to this amazing moment in Miami's cultural history. They are the Museum of Contemporary Art's director Bonnie Clearwater; Nina Arias, co-director of Rocket Projects; Cheryl Hartup, associate curator at Miami Art Museum; Robert Chambers, art activist and artist; and Brook Dorsch, director of the Dorsch Gallery.

New Times: What are your impressions about this year's Art Basel and how would you compare it with last year's?

Nina Arias: I was just as excited as last year. The fair itself impressed me more last year, but all the related events surpassed last year's experience. I definitely loved the energy. People that I see and talked to ... [all the] local people supporting each other.

Robert Chambers: World museums are acquiring artists' works with ties to South Florida. The city has become a center for the rings-on-the-pond after Basel. I think the event leads exponentially to great things for all. It seems like everyone I spoke to will be having a show in some alternative space or museum, a commission, or has had work purchased for collections all over the world. Isn't it great?

Cheryl Hartup: This year's Art Basel Miami Beach felt larger -- more people checking it out and buying, more galleries, more museum groups, more official Art Basel events, more things to see and do, more Spanish being spoken, more out-of-town artists wanting to come back for a longer period. It's like a huge wave that washes over Miami, and at times it can be overwhelming.

I particularly enjoyed the addition of the NADA art fair: great location, great space, good vibe, and interesting work. I also liked seeing more projects spring up spontaneously, such as the young guy outside the convention center making and selling baseball caps with graffiti-style lettering that read "Miami" and "Basel"... the presentation of local artists' work at the Free Spirits bar organized by Robert Chambers. I missed another set of trading cards by Julie Kahn and the Katzenjammer Kollection.

Bonnie Clearwater: This year was greater art ... more events, more people.

Brook Dorsch: Last year was the first time and we didn't know what to expect. This year people were more prepared. The event was much more enjoyable, the artists were better. ScopeMiami and NADA, for instance, were quite interesting. I'd say the whole thing stepped up another notch.

What was your favorite moment -- or place -- during this year's fair?

Dorsch: My favorite was at the Free Spirits lounge. It was 3:00 a.m., I was having a falafel sandwich, and Samuel Keller (Art Basel's director) walks in and he experienced the whole thing.... I liked the fact that he was there hanging out with the locals.... At that moment, I felt that something was being done by the artists' community.

Clearwater: So much was going on that it's difficult to choose a favorite moment. But perhaps it was at MoCA's opening on Tuesday evening, when our artists Richard Artschwager and Inka Essenhigh seemed to be floating on air with happiness, or the moment when some of our young Miami artists were filled with delight when they saw that they were included in our selections from the permanent collection exhibition.

Hartup: Sitting outside on the Cultural Plaza in downtown Miami on a beautiful night with Fabian Marcaccio, discussing the drawing he had just made for his installation next fall at MAM, or seeing Beatriz Monteavaro's drawings at Ambrosino Gallery.

Arias: For me, the opening at Rocket Projects was out of this world ... so many people from so many different places ... dealers I wanted to meet, artists I wanted to work with, it was amazing. I also liked Scope (it was super fun) and NADA. It was great, tiring, and I'm taking a couple of days to recoup.

Chambers: I can think of the Free Spirits lounge, when a group of artists worked the place into crescendos of creative energy. Even the furnishings would come and go. I can picture a queen-sized bed that Miguel Ovalle painted his Free Spirits GRAF on -- which has been taken back to the Swiss Alps (the co-curator will use it to rally together a whole new group of artists). Victor Muniz also left his mark (all over the place). I see this fair encouraging more of these free-thinking artist-generated happenings. And of course TransEAT, Antonio Miralda and Montse Guillen's phenomenal happening and exhibition, had the elusive World Famous Jay Jonny's installation, "The Little Long Shelf." TransEAT always has brilliant flavor even days after the food is "prepared." By the way, where's my bib?

How do you judge the public's perception of the event?

Clearwater: I think out-of-towners were very impressed by the extent and breadth of the Miami art scene and the amazing hospitality we all demonstrated. On the other hand, the residents were proud to know that so many people were in town to experience the excitement of the Miami art scene and Art Basel Miami Beach.

Do you think local artists benefit from this event?

Hartup: Yes, both tangibly and intangibly. Some sell work, get gallery representation, and are invited to participate in exhibitions. If Art Basel Miami Beach continues for the next five years, I think the benefits will be seen most strongly in the work of young artists living in Miami, who have seen the work in the fair and all the projects that take place around the fair.

Dorsch: I agree. Every artist I talked to had something being shown somewhere, whether in group shows or alternative spaces. The exposure benefits everybody, and the local community as well. Also, the community was more involved this year.

Arias: Of course. The fair has taken the level of our local artists to another level ... to an international audience. I just hope that our local collectors would buy more local art, now that the fair has brought attention to them.

Though it's a little early to say, what could be the immediate impact of this second installment of the fair?

Clearwater: We've all benefited. The enormous local, national, and international press will help contribute to the realization -- both here and elsewhere -- that there is a vibrant cultural community in Miami that exists year-round.

Dorsch: A very positive impact. I was able to get some museum shows for my artists [and] more sales. Art Basel has given more opportunities for local artists to exhibit in places other than Miami. That's in itself positive.

Hartup: It seemed to me the galleries -- especially Miami-based galleries -- fared as well if not better with sales this year. Next year's fair will likely be bigger. Other immediate impacts -- half the city seemed to be recovering on Monday ...

Chambers: Yeah, the word is out: [we have] The Movement and it's growing...

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