There was a mood of introspection at this year’s art week in Miami. Was it a pending sign of the times or a somber foreshadowing of a tragedy still unfolding? While horrific details of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California were slowly emerging over the weekend, the annual art party in Miami, Florida was in full swing.
Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 stoically went through the motions this year without the usual exuberance of a spoiled art world Jetset. An airplane towing a “Miami Lock and Load” banner circled overhead (Tripadvisor’s #1 activity in the “fun and games” category) while gallery goers discussed with apparent unease the impact of the US elections, fearing perhaps that they and their investments in the art world were now in the crosshairs of bad times to come. Maybe it was a slow realization that that the collector class itself is just part of a disappearing establishment bitterly holding on to a power hierarchy in which they are at the center of the cultural universe. While some gallerists insisted that they were as busy as ever, it just didn’t feel like the posh Art Basel Hongkong or the elegant mothership in Switzerland, which preceded Miami earlier in the year.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, beach combing fashionistas at SCOPE skirted past the sparsely populated art talks and crowded into the bling filled corridors and flashy art stalls with the helpful herding of zealous gallerists. Eager to please the crowd with “buy now” discounts and promises to undercut the competition, some gallery operators offered the same or similar artworks only a few booths away from each other. Dealers at the other fairs cringed upon hearing of such things. An art space director presenting at one of the other shows in town told me he wouldn’t accept an invitation to Scope even if they offered him a space for free. Such was his assessment of the crowd pleasing antics. That seems a bit of harsh considering that art fairs are commercial enterprises after all. Let’s not forget that Artists can’t live on bread and water alone, and the rent still has to be paid, even if your studio is in a run down warehouse.
Luckily, collector patience was rewarded with a refreshing show at Untitled. Nestled under the silent beats of the Wynwood Radio filled tent, the atmosphere at Untitled was notably more relaxed than at the other fairs. The booths were spacious and well designed and the conversation confident and relaxed. While gallery directors quietly opined about the previous years’ successes, they admitted to enjoying more time this year to engage interested collectors with backstories about the artists and their artworks in the hopes of building new client relationships which will reward them in the future. Together with Design Miami, Untitled offered perhaps the best evidence that the international art world is not just about the art parties.
The weekend ended with a mix of feelings after four days of highs and lows at the Miami art tents. Time will only tell what tide of new and evolving artists will wash up onto art shores in 2017. Despite all of the melancholy of Miami art week, though, one thing is for sure: there is no lacking of exuberance at the beach bars and block parties in Wynwood and on Ocean Drive. One can only pray that the artists living and working out of the warehouses and underground art spaces (as well as their friends and fans) in Miami and elsewhere around the world stay safe in the year ahead. Well heeled hipsters and financiers in the collector class would do well to remind themselves and their friends that it is the labor of these artists’ passion which feeds our intense interest and fascination. If we spent more time ensuring safe spaces for artists to create, we could spend more time enjoying the after party. You can find a list of reputable organizations to support the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire here.