Art Basel Miami The Black Friday Of All Art Fairs

Art Basel Miami Beach

What’s the difference between the art fairs of Miami Beach and Black Friday/Cyber Monday? The answer is, both are enormous shopping centres growing in size each year as new ‘retailers’ join the bandwagon, though while the latter is upfront about offering bargains and rockbottom prices, those that attend the former are also out to find a bargain (anyone else seen the huge rush on opening night? Wildebeest rampage) but heaven forbid anyone admit as much. They’re equally shiny, polished and sparkly enough to capture the pre-Christmas pressie market. 

This year the largest of the fairs, Art Basel, features 267 galleries and over 500,000 square feet of exhibition space. Unlike smaller fairs such as Frieze or the like, it seems the focus here is contemporary art, and lots and lots of it, with no real focus. What is the draw here other than to pick out something among the vast displays of excessive, superfluous choice? How many punters will really be examining the booths carefully in turn with a mind to pick out the next artist to watch, when most of what’s on offer is like huge amounts of junk food: bright, colourful and not particularly meaningful, all package and no nutrition. 

Over in the auction house world we see equally frantic selling. Take a glance at Christie’s upcoming auctions and it’s like the primetime ads that come on this time of year: Handbag shop; Watch shop; Ancient Jewellery, more Jewels and Watches, more bags. Oh and a ton of wine. I wonder if the appeal of bidding for Christmas pressies makes one’s gifting more ‘worthy’. That one really is paying well over the odds so some other poor sucker doesn’t get that rare Warhol print for his secretary or something. Added stress and anxiety over non-obtaining. Christmas shopping only for the most masochistic.

In other news, in protest at BP’s sponsorship of Tate (does no one remember when Tate published its figures and everyone could see that actually, BP pays relatively little?) several members of Liberate Tate sat in its galleries tattooing each other with the figures representing parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the year of their births. I have yet to decipher how this is supposed to express protest. They’re marking themselves for life, right? In this sense it’s hardly on a par with Quang Duc’s self immolation. Someone explain this to me as right now it just seems so hipster. © 2015