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The dealer acknowledges that his affiliation with Art Basel was good for business, but in the end he thought the environment was too restrictive.
"The amount of art I sold at Basel in four days exceeded the amount of work I sold during the other 361 days of the year. But if you factor that I am paying $15,000 for a booth now against the $35,000 it cost me to show at Basel, it makes more sense for me to move to Pulse. I think that the reason we are seeing so many new fairs [is that they] are part of a counter-reaction to Basel."
The dealer asserts that the notion of being surrounded by peers has invigorated him. "Even some of the galleries that take a container on the beach become snobs," he cracks.
Many believe that the sensory-jarring blitz of events and parties bubbling out of Art Basel not only focuses intense attention on Miami during the week of the fair but also raises the bar for local galleries and museums throughout the rest of the year.
"My perception of Miami before coming here was that it was one of the great cities of the Americas, but not necessarily a cultural center," says Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, director and chief curator of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CiFo), which opened last year to coincide with Art Basel.
Since moving here from Caracas in February 2003, the curator confesses that the city's cultural evolution has surprised her: "Miami is a fascinating place, and in a way the ideal place for this to happen. There is money, opportunity, the desire and space here, which in principle is a formula for the city to reach its potential. Basel has been a trigger for growth and evolution here since the stakes have become very high and raised a level of expectations our local museums and galleries here now work to maintain all year."
CiFo Art Space is exhibiting "The Sites of Latin Abstraction," curated by Juan Ledezma and featuring more than 100 works examining abstract-geometric art in Latin America from the Fifties through the Seventies; and "Forms of Classification: Alternative Knowledge and Contemporary Art," curated by Fajardo-Hill.
CiFo's director remarks that although the art world can be fickle in its pursuit of the fashionable, the transformation of the local scene is sustainable. "I can't compare it with anything else, but when change takes place in the art world, it happens really fast and snowballs from there. Miami is a city in the making, and I think many people feel an excitement to become a part of that. It results in a multiplying high-speed effect," says Fajardo-Hill.
Many others share the consensus that Art Basel is more than just a wham-bam affair fixated on moolah; the event puts the Big Orange, rather than just art, on display.
"Basel has turned into a platform for the city," independent curator Nina Arias asserts. "The fairs cause a big commotion, but now it's becoming about people who come here for this event and want to return during the rest of the year. The city is just a baby, but we're making history. People are getting excited and inspired and talking about moving or opening businesses here."
Arias, who has curated a show for Photo Miami and recently cofounded the Independent Cultural Access Society with Steve Pestana, has launched a fleet of rickshaws during Art Basel that will be shuttling people between the ancillary fairs in Wynwood, MoCA at Goldman Warehouse, and the Rubell and Margulies collections.
Most of the Wynwood spaces have saved their heavy artillery, hoping to dazzle collectors during Art Basel, and will be showcasing some of the city's finest talent.
"Destroy This City," a group show with works by Quisqueya Henríquez, Leyden Rodríguez-Casanova, and Wendy Wischer, will be on display at the David Castillo Gallery. "A Timely Response," at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, will feature more than twenty artists from its stable, including Elizabeth Cerejido, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Elsoca and Fabian, Robert Huff, Glexis Novoa, and Karen Rifas. The Fredric Snitzer Gallery will exhibit Naomi Fisher's solo show of large paintings depicting red-eyed, decadent, degraded women, as well as Bert Rodriguez's public performance of "A Bedtime Story (The Five Chinese Brothers)," in which the artist will be blaring the story from a bullhorn as he stands atop a billboard on the southeast corner of 29th Street and North Miami Avenue every night at 9:00 from December 7 through 9.
Perhaps the scrappiest fair attempting to piggyback on Basel is Zones, organized at the World Arts Building in Wynwood by Edge Zone director and local artist Charo Oquet. The do-it-yourself fair is exhibiting the work of more than 70 locals and hosting a few visiting galleries during the show.
Oquet says she was inspired to create a fair because she believes that South Florida talent gets lost in the shuffle during Art Basel. "Basel is the biggest platform we have, so we decided to put up a fight, since we are like little rowboats getting steamed over by a transatlantic," she explains. "So our only choice is to adapt, die, or leave."
She says she has visited Art Basel in Switzerland as well as the Venice Biennale, and both pale compared to the boil of activity in Miami. "Believe me, this has grown bigger. Nothing compares to us because none of those people put out like we do. That's why everybody keeps coming back. In the end we have to realize this all translates to money. People need to get ready for what's coming, or fade in the end."