ArtBasel: Where Did It Come From? What Does It Want?

Miami Nice isn't the only attraction for Basel patrons. The mad party hook has become a favorite ploy to draw crowds. Last year Casa Casuarina on Ocean Drive (the Versace mansion) put on a Miami-style clinic on the art of partying. An unofficial Basel art-patron bash was themed after the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. It featured nude, snake-entwined Adam and Eve models serving canapés and decadent desserts, an aphrodisiac raw bar, and scantily clad dancers writhing to the tribal pounding of congas. Jaded South Beach revelers were snared with the promise that "they could aid and abet all their vices at the open bar."

At the Bass Museum's party the Gucci and Prada set jettisoned all propriety and muscled each other for free cocktails at the bar. Sweating like a shipload of sailors on leave, some snatched full bottles of vodka from overwhelmed bartenders, elbowing away from the bar through the crowd.

Don't expect quite the same Animal House atmosphere this week. Barbara Gillman, whose gallery recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and who is a member of Art Basel's host committee, explains that "this year's parties are not that lavish and have been toned down." Dewar's, however, may have not gotten the memo on party protocol. Kevin Bruk, whose gallery anchors the scene in the Design District, was contacted by the liquor company. He says they offered him "fourteen bars, twenty-eight bartenders, four bar backs, and a truck full of stock" for 1500 revelers during Saturday night's Art Loves Design street party. (Dewar's is also a sponsor of the sprawling Omniarts event near downtown's Performing Arts Center, where the spirits company will tend bar for crowds of up to 3000.)

Art from Mexico City
Art from Mexico City
Artwork by Victor Muniz
Artwork by Victor Muniz

Regarding Basel's impact on the city's cultural development, Bruk cuts through the hype with the sharp eye of an insider, providing some thought-provoking insight. "People overlook the fact that Basel, which is excellent for Miami, is still just a trade show in town for four days," he notes. "Don't get me wrong. I love Art Basel. For young artists and students who only get to read about the stuff that comes to town during the fair, it's a huge deal. But what about the rest of the year?

"When our captains of industry don't support our museums, when our major collectors fight over who has the best cookies, when we don't have a Tony Oursler, Mike Kelly, or Shirin Neshat teaching in our art schools, how can we take the next step?"

Bruk says that unlike New York City, the art capital of the world where the Museum of Modern Art recently raised more than $800 million, Miami's star collectors function more as private holding institutions than as supporters of museums whose collections could serve generations in the public interest. "We live in paradise," Bruk continues. "Everyone wants to come here, but we need to grow beyond the colloquial bullshit. With the Basel spotlight shining on Miami, my greatest hope is that we can rise to the occasion." -- Carlos Suarez de Jesus

You can explore London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, São Paulo, New York, and Los Angeles -- or you can see it all right here

For a few days in December, Miami is the undisputed vortex of the international art world, pulling gallerists out of their lofts in Chelsea and Berlin, collectors from their aeries in midtown Manhattan and Caracas, from their pieds-à-terre in Paris, their villas in Tuscany or Bahia. Barely clinging to the southern edge of the United States, wedged conveniently between Europe and Latin America, and just a quick skip from culture capital New York, Miami is doing a brisk business in art -- import and export.

During Art Basel Miami Beach, the population attentive to art swells astronomically and embraces the city at large, exploring a vast menu of events scattered all over town. Now in its third year, Basel fears little competition from other art bonanzas, in part because Miami is free of the constraints imposed by older cities with strong personalities and distinct agendas. It's a perfect hub for art-world transactions.

A foolhardy gallery in New York might schedule an opening on Friday, December 3, but no one will show up. They'll all be here.

Twenty-first-century transportation and communications technology have played a huge role in creating a vibrant, heterogeneous international art scene. Lightning-fast Internet connections permit artists and dealers to check out each others' stylish Websites instantaneously. Artists, gallery dealers, and collectors can jet all over the map for studio visits and exhibitions. Many artists live, work, and are represented in two or more locations, sometimes reflecting their own mixed ethnicity and cultural heritage. At Art Basel Miami Beach all this coalesces in one place, face-to-face, under one big, marvelously messy, cultural tent.

The Basel fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center is the main stage for the weekend and covers all imaginable territory on the art pyramid, from small works by fearless neophytes to blue chip modernist masterworks. Younger, highly regarded galleries like Espacio Minimo from Madrid and Meyer Riegger from Karlsruhe, Germany, can vie for the attention of collectors who normally target established dealers like Gagosian Gallery (New York, London, Los Angeles) and Galeria Joan Prats (Barcelona).

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