Art Basel has returned to Miami Beach with the entire team: the international galleries, the best collectors on the continent, the artists and curators of the moment, the dozens of exhibitions, parties and side activities throughout the city and an orgy of commercial brands eager to to get close to the ember of creation. It had been two years since the Miami Art Ween, a great American event on the art market, had been held in person. And it seems like an eternity since artist Maurizio Cattelan made the headlines of that edition by taping a banana to a wall and selling the joke for $ 120,000 to the outrage of some and the amusement of others. But it has not been an eternity, but a pandemic.
It exploded shortly after that, and to make it long, the industry had to go inside and expand its vocabulary of three-letter words. This year there is a VIP program, as always, but also a parallel OVR digital infrastructure, those online viewing rooms, virtual exhibition halls, which flourished during confinement (and are seen by most with relief as they fall into disuse), as well as distant echoes of the latest cry; the famous NFTs, which, to sum it up again a lot, are to a Picasso painting what a bitcoin is to a briefcase full of bills.
And then there are the PCRs. Visitors, some 80,000, according to calculations by the newly re-elected Miami Beach mayor, Dan Gelber, have to provide one of those negative coronavirus tests or a vaccination certificate in order to enter the Convention Center, where masks are mandatory ( in a city that only recommends its use in closed spaces). This Tuesday, the first visitors, collectors and professionals, also had to reserve the time of their visit to avoid crowds. The general public will access from Thursday to Saturday.
Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel, has assured the press in the morning that the design of the fair, which brings together 253 galleries, half of them international, has been done “in the safest way possible”. They had to delay and hold the original meeting in Basel in September in a shortened version due to travel restrictions. And then they were waiting for Miami as to when the United States was planning to reopen the borders. “The day it was announced [20 de septiembre], the cell phone fumed, and at the end of that week, 30 galleries that had been canceled were canceled ”, Spiegler recalled. So that’s why he has advocated forging ahead despite worrying news of the new omicron variant. “These days we have joked a lot with the idea that it is better to enjoy this historic reunion before they lock us up again.”
At the last Art Basel Miami, another word, this time with nine letters, was the fashionable neologism: fairtig, which came out of adding “fair” and “fatigue” in English, described what the incessant succession of appointments that, from Mexico to Hong Kong, were held all over the world caused in art professionals. But this week, with the return of that, the fatigue has turned to enthusiasm. For discovering this or that painter, for seeing those hallway neighbors again, but, above all, for selling and buying art. Well, the twenty exhibitors consulted by EL PAÍS during the first day have confirmed that the expectations, which were high due to the good results of the last auctions in New York, have been fulfilled. One of them, Martin Aguilera, from the Brazilian gallery Mendes Wood, explained in the middle of the afternoon that he had almost sold all the pieces in the space, “half Brazilian artists, and half foreigners”, and that on Wednesday he had to “put it back together. from zero “
The collectors had risen early to lead their consultants with their tongues out in search of the most prized pieces. And the galleries, above all, the most powerful, which do not take their eyes off each other around the two squares that organize the route, were waiting for them with heavy artillery, with a payroll envied by many museums. On the walls hung works by Keith Haring for between 7.5 and 8 million euros, a piece by David Hockney (6.5 million), a barceló for 2.5 million and two paintings by Joan Mitchell and Ad Reinhardt that, with 2.5 and 7 million respectively, topped the list of parts sold provided by the organization at the end of the day.
From that list it can be concluded that the classics never fail, and that painting, with an overwhelming presence here (with exceptions such as the Colombian spaces Instituto de Visión or mor carpenter), dedicated to a less kind and more combative art) is living a new golden age. Also among new artists, such as those represented by the Berlin-based Peres Project, whose founder, Javier Peres, pointed out that he had a choice: “The artists have had very little social life in these two years and a long time to work.” Marc Payot, president of the almighty Hauser & Wirth, confirmed that some of its artists “also knew how to take productive advantage of that.” Few works, yes, refer directly to the trauma of the pandemic. And among those few, the one that attracts the most attention is Snowman (2021), three boxes carved in bronze from Amazon, like those that crowded the doors of the inmates in the year of the plague.
Very close to the ironic sculpture, Belén Valbuena, by Maisterra Valbuena, slipped another ingredient that makes this edition different from others: the new logistical order, which has seized the global supply chain, has also “made things very complicated to get here ”. The Madrid gallery is one of the Spanish representatives along with Travesía Cuatro, which, with offices in Mexico and Guadalajara, also counts as Mexican (and participated in a brave spin off of Art Basel last year in the Mexican capital), Mira Madrid (premieres this year with a monograph by Argentine conceptual Jaime Davidovich), Fernando Pradilla (with an interesting set by Colombian Alberto Baraya, including an ironic review of the ironic review of the Cattelan’s banana) or veteran Elvira González.
The route also draws attention to the greater presence of African-American artists, whose strength is underlined by a hotel neon by the American artist and filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary, which says: “There is no more bad luck in the world than white people” ( is a quote from a novel by Toni Morrison). It is intended to be a reflection of the social changes that have affected the United States in a year that was also the assassination of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Spiegler has explained that it was something sought after, and that in order to get “some very good spaces opened by black women” to enter, they have skipped some of its classic demands.
To access this year, the galleries did not need a minimum number of years in operation nor, as before, that they had a physical space in operation, since many had to close their establishments during the pandemic. “It is also the first time that we have welcomed four new African galleries: from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa. We know that it is only the beginning, and that we have much more to do on that front; making the fairs more diverse will also make them more interesting ”, added Spiegler.
One of them, called Smac, has brought from Cape Town a reflection on the colonization of the young South African Bonolo Kavula. To be in Miami, its director, Jean Butler had to catch five planes. He arrived in Miami on Sunday. And that night the borders were closed.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.