Miami Basel Ben Austin Rounds Off The Big Art Week

Miami Basel

The booths have all been dismantled, the artwork packed up, crated and carted off in trucks to planes to be dispersed all over the cultural globe. The dealers count their sales and curse the ones that got away. The hordes of international art world people have all left town, exhausted and partied out. The art road show has moved on.

Miami Basel has become greater than its’ parts. What started as the sister fair to the civil and polite by comparison Swiss edition, Miami Basel has become a glimmering light in the social calendar. A bright shiny thing set in a tropical playground.

Anthony Haden-Guest once said to me that ‘art is the new disco’, well he would, but to my mind art is now the new Hip-Hop. Miami is a beacon for ‘bling’ and it is the super star rappers who are ones browsing the booths, I mean after the Bentleys and boats what else can be on the shopping list, but name check artwork.  I saw Kayne West being shown around the fair by an advisor, Jay Z and Beyonce were also spotted and have serious buying power between them.  Last year it was more Hollywood, when I saw Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christian Slater (who recently hosted a party here) and Val Kilmer, this time we have Demi Moore and Hip Hop royalty in da house (as they say).

So, with all this status it comes as no surprised that the party set are not really the art crowd.  Miami Basel is fashion. The Design District will soon boast a LVMH shopping mall (Arnault the art collector and magnate knows a thing or two about prime retail spots), other lesser brands have a keen eye on Wynwood, for where the cool kids lead the way, the corporations follow, we have seen this happening over the years in Shoreditch, whereby galleries and artists studios are forced out by ever increasing rents. Here, things move pretty quickly too, the developers are moving in and recently no-go areas are being gentrified into ‘ghetto glamour’.

Back in South Beach, the parties are about product placement, sponsored by whatever make of vodka happen to fuel the festivities, who cares as long as it is free, right? Some you can just walk into with the right attitude, others you will be lucky to get a look in, that pretty girl with the list and the big security guy making any kind of  ‘blag’ or ‘bullshit’ entrance extremely unlikely.

French club promoters, the epitome of style and Gallic ‘savoir faire’ were in town with a series of hot nights. Silencio, the chic Parisian spot designed by David Lynch found a temporary home at the Delano and the mercurial Le Baron popped up a few locations before settling on the suitably Euro-trashy Nikki Beach. I went one night to the later and it was indeed bustling with beautiful people, it was like walking into some kind advertising campaign for a fancy perfume – ‘Le Baron – L’Esprit de Basel’. I did actually spot hipsters wearing T-shirts with words  ‘Who is Le Baron?’  A cultivated mystery always gets people going.

So, what can we take from the whole Miami Basel experience? Is it just a brash and vulgar excuse for an excessive display of wealth and self-indulgence? Or does it serve a higher purpose, the sharp end of the market, which gives artists at all levels an opportunity to find collectors and develop their practice? The numerous satellite fairs, the museum shows and fund raisers all to some degree help to cultivate culture and that can be no bad thing.  In Miami they are hungry for it with a voracious appetite for art. A new building for the Miami Art Museum is currently under construction on the MacArthur Causeway, which of course is not without controversy, as one of the main benefactors is Latin American therefore some of the white middle-class population are concerned that the art shown will only reflect this genre.  Art is political, especially in a city with such marked divides within society. There are whole area, like Hialeah, which is actually not on the main Miami-Dade grid, the Cuban exiles there do not speak English and do not really consider themselves as part of Miami or Florida or even the rest of country.

We are talking cultural heritage here and in a rapidly changing city, the curators at the MOCA and the BASS have their work cut out to cater for this dramatic diversity.  The major private collections are free to show works that speak to the collector’s sensibilities. The De La Cruz Collection is very different to that say of the Rubells’.  Both are very fine, yet have their own aesthetic and agenda. When it comes to public art, the lines are very definitely being drawn.

If one is looking for an entertaining insight into many facets of Miami life then I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Tom Wolfe’s ‘Back to Blood’. Wolfe’s high-pitched exclamatory style and vivid characterisation are perfectly suited for this high-octane satirical tale based on the ethnicity and excess of Miami, much in the same way he did for New York in ‘Bonfire of the Vanties’. A good poolside read, especially being here and learning about the make up of the place.

Miami Basel may be over for another year, yet the art commercial machine marches on next year, to New York for the Armory in March and in the month following there is the New York Edition of Frieze and later in May, there will be the first edition of Basel Hong Kong (no surprise there).

Miami Basel may not be the best fair or even the most comprehensive, but for sheer exuberance and shameless extravagance one cannot beat it.

 Ben Austin – Artlyst – 11th Dec 2012

Photo: Art Basel Miami Beach Opening Party At The Raleigh Hotel © ArtLyst 2012