Meet Nicholas Baume, the Guy in Charge of Art Basel's Free Exhibits This Year
Photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya/Public Art Fund, NY
Art Basel Miami Beach gets bigger and bigger every year -- and while December may seem like a long way away, the days of art-speak study and Basel boozing will be here before you know it. And this month, the powers that be announced the appointment of the illustrious Nicholas Baume as the curator for the Public section of the fair.
Baume is the chief curator for the New York City-based Public Art Fund, and he's got big plans for Collins Park, this year's home for the public display. In past years, it's included sculpture, video art, and performance, among other mediums. We spoke to Baume about his new position, his take on Miami's evolving art scene -- and how public art is the new hotness.
New Times: How would you describe the evolution of Miami's art scene?
Nicholas Baume: I've been going to Miami actually even before the art fair was launched. I'm Australian originally and one of the exhibitions I curated at the first museum I worked at in the U.S. was an Andy Warhol portrait show, and that exhibition traveled to the Miami Art Museum. My first trip to Miami was to install that exhibition. I got to work with colleagues at MAM -- it was a really exciting thing to be part of. It was great for that exhibition to have another life beyond the original installation. Also, having just moved to the U.S., from Sydney to New England I was really excited to experience such a different city and context in geography that Miami had to offer. It almost felt like going to another country after being in New England for my first winter.
I really related to Miami coming from Sydney. It's a lot of outdoor activity and a public lifestyle and it's a very diverse, open, welcoming city. It was a place that I really enjoyed visiting as also a real contrast to that part of the States. Since my first visit the whole Art Basel Miami Beach developed and obviously the institutions in Miami have grown tremendously at the same time. MOCA North Miami, their expansion and really interesting programming, or of course MAM itself. I'm very excited to see the new building.
Obviously the private institutions have also grown tremendously -- all of the extraordinary private museums and foundations that have developed over the last ten years or so. It's become a center for contemporary art, not only as a marketplace but as a a place for artists to make art, to exhibit art, to engage the public and at the same time the development of South Beach and the Design District have been quite remarkable. It really feels like the whole ecology of the art scene has shifted exponentially over that period. I think it'll continue to flourish and grow and be a great place for artists to show their work.
What's your vision for Basel?
This is a very highly energized and creative moment for artists doing public art. I think that a lot of artists have really been excited to take on the challenge of creating work in public spaces outside of the traditional white cube of the museum space or the gallery space. Wonderful as those opportunities and contexts are, I think artists have yearned to connect more directly with the public and to, in a sense, cut through the institutional barriers that can sometimes stand between an artist's vision and a public response and engagement with that work. That kind of spontaneity; that kind of direct engagement and an ability to reach people who aren't only the privileged but really to reach people and communicate with them without those filters. I think for a lot of artists, working in the public sphere has become a very exciting challenge. So I think the fact that Art Basel Miami Beach is giving even more prominence and resources to the Art Public program reflects the way artists are thinking and the way galleries are getting behind their artists to make those projects possible.
How do you see it presenting differently from the last two years of exhibitions?
I'm always very interested in the specific character and qualities of a location. I'm not the kind of curator who just responds to a work as if it's in a vacuum and thinks about it as a very autonomous thing. I always like to think of how works will related to their physical location; the cultural context that they're going into; how they'll be able to speak to each other and create some kind of broader narrative or experience. I think inevitably that experience has to be a very open-ended one, because the curatorial process is a dialogue with the galleries who are participating rather than just me inviting any artist that I'm interested in. Of course it's great that the top galleries in the world participate in Art Basel, so the choice of artists is a wonderfully rich and layered one. I think it's great to have the exhibition focused on Collins Park and to really give a concentrated experience that really feels like an exhibition where works are in dialogue with each other -- where they relate to their location as much as possible. That could be through a kind of integration with that landscape, or it could be a complete contrast to it.
Over the coming months I'll be looking at specific works and sort of talking with artists and galleries to put that all together. I'm not coming into it with a fixed idea that it has to be a certain way. I think I'm coming into it with my own method, my own approach that's more about a dialogue with the artists to see what they're interested in and how that can be built into something that really provides a context that shows their work to advantage and creates a really beautiful and engaging experience for the public.
How do you see this as an opportunity to introduce art to people who might not otherwise have access or interest?
I think that's a wonderfully generous aspect of the fair. It is the public space of Art Basel -- you don't need a VIP pass or a ticket. It's there for everybody that has the time and inclination to check it out. So I think it's great that Art Basel wants to engage the Miami community in that way. And as I mentioned earlier, I think it responds to what artists are interested in doing right now. I think its a really good synergy on both of those levels.
And as far as public engagement goes, that's one reason why I also like the idea of it being concentrated in Collins Park. I think sometimes if you come across a single piece it could be hard to figure out what's going on, what is this? If you actually have a group of works in dialogue in a context where you can provide some information for visitors who might not be so savvy and experienced in terms of contemporary art -- it gives them a little bit more to work with, a bit more to get a handle on what the works about.
What are you most looking forward to about this new opportunity?
I'm excited to see what artists will come up with. In a way the wonderfully exciting part of the process of being a curator and working with contemporary art is where artists are always surprising you with new variations on the the kind of work they've done before or completely rethinking and coming up with something surprising. I think that'll be great. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work with a truly global selection of galleries collectively representing artists from all over the world. It's also really important to see Miami as sort of a center for global exchange and dialogue. It's a very multicultural, diverse place and I think that's a rich part of the opportunity and experience there.
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