Miami Evaluation

by Rachel Cook December 2, 2006

After my third year of going to Miami, when the initial excitement of staying out till 3 am at the Karaoke Bar or at the infamous Duce bar wears off, I decided to take a step back and evaluate the situation. Each year thousands of art world viewers trek down to Florida to see new work, new galleries and new artists, and for what exactly?

the Miami skyline

In the last two and half years, I have been to various art fairs and they have progressively become less interesting to discuss. They also have unraveled a bit of the mystery of the machine for me. My impression of the fairs really started with Art Cologne. A friend of mine was helping install one of the booths and I remember getting this invigorating feeling watching all the dealers prepare for the big opening day. Similar to being part of a play or a band, the art fair dealers go through the motions over the weekend, talking up the collectors and guarding their booths like attack dogs, and then it all comes down together. In the end I felt I was a part of this adventure; watching the work being mounted and packed up again gave me a sense of connectedness.

Below is a series of composites from various artists, curators, collectors, patrons and other art world participants, answering some questions regarding their recent Miami adventure.

-Rachel Cook


What was the first art fair you remember going to and your first impressions of the whole experience?

It was probably the Chicago Art Fair. My memory is a bit fuzzy. From what I can remember, it was of a manageable size, intimate and cordial. There was a nice mix of galleries … from the US, Europe and Asia. It was a place where people came not only to purchase work, but to also learn about contemporary art, a particular artist, his or her practice and how that artist fit into the spectrum of history.

-Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator at the The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

If you are referring to any fair, my first one was Art Forum in Berlin in 2001. It was a young, small, vibrant fair with lots of young galleries. If you refer to Art Basel Miami, it was the first edition of the fair in 2001. It was a great fair also. Small, manageable, with good Latin American galleries, but it missed some of the freshness. The fact that it is so well-planned did not leave space for improvisation.

-Ursala Davila, Latin American curator at The Blanton Museum

A NY print fair that was very low-end market driven, and then, more significantly, the Chicago Art Fair on the Navy Piers, which was very much about the trade and sharing artists/networking, long before the commercial enterprise the fairs have become.

-Pamela Auchincloss, Artist Pension Trust

the big show

Attending the Chicago Art Fair from 1997 to 2000. This was a formal, academic, inspirational and digestible experience. The fervor to collect existed, but people maintained a level of respect in conducting business and negotiating with one another. I remember feeling excited to experience art on a personal level and having the time to truly dialog with, and become educated about, the work/artist. My experiences at Miami are increasingly about following a specified itinerary in an effort to attend as many fairs as possible.

-Julie Kinzelman, Kinzelman Art Consulting

The first fair I ever went to was the Art Cologne in the 1980s. I couldn't understand why such great works of art were being sold in a setting that reminded me of a trading card convention, and was even more surprised by the number of people there to buy work. Why didn't they just go to the galleries? What did I know?

-Matthew Drutt, executive director of Artpace

My first fair to attend was Portland's Affair @ The Jupiter. Inman Gallery had brought my work to fairs before, but Portland's was the first for me to attend. That fair is perfectly scaled. You have time to see the work, meet people, chat, hang out, party a little and see the work again. Although there are so many non-Jupiter events being scheduled simultaneously that it's getting harder to take it all in. I think that's just how these things work — the surrounding scenes spore and then we're in ""Miami"" before you know it!

Heyd Fontenot, Austin artist

I consider Miami my first 'true' fair. Art Basel and the satellite fairs are an interesting mix between a tremendous amount of energy and a state of being utterly overwhelmed. The fair does a good job, whether consciously or not, in reflecting the decentralized and multi-tiered aspects of the 'art world' today. While Art Basel, Aqua, Scope, etc., all bill themselves as separate events, I think it is impossible not to see them all as a single entity of sorts. The fairs, projects, collections, openings and even the visitors all converge to create a very specific type of art viewing environment. Grouping together these normally dispersed spaces, events and people within the boundaries of Miami has created a microcosm where art, money, celebrity and personalities are all exchanging hands. Miami is perhaps a reflection of the larger art world, but all happening in obscenely close proximity. Attending a fair, I think it is safe to presume a very specific sort of viewing environment and a very specific type of work. After all, Miami is not a biennial.

Eric Zimmerman, Austin artist

The Armory Show 2005 in New York. It reminded me of listening to some of my favorite songs on a crappy radio.

-C. Sean Horton, Sunday Gallery in NYC

The first fair I went to was Art Chicago in the late 1980s…. Couldn't believe that great art could be shown in those convention booths — the first sales convention I went to was a Home Show, then a Boat Show, so I had standards! Now, of course, this is a ritual, an important part of the art world and a tremendous way to see a ton of art, most of the important dealers, museum colleagues and collectors from all over the world, so it is a wonderful resource. You build relationships and start new ones. Even though the context is far from ideal, what's rich is the opportunity to stroll for a few hours and travel to galleries the world over. 
 With the addition of the ""hotel fairs"" or ""tent fairs,"" we get contact with a whole different level of the ecosystem and see the wide range of emerging artists who show with local or regional galleries. It changes the market considerably and is great for the education of curators and collectors. I often travel with AMOA collectors and encourage them to ask lots of questions and to build relationships with the gallerists with whom they click. (But I also say, ""Don't forget about supporting your local dealers! They need our attention, too!"") These art fairs are very valuable self-education opportunities.

-Dana Friis-Hansen, executive director of AMOA

My first art fair was Madrid's ARCO, which I attended several times in the early 1990s. At this time ARCO was wild and freewheeling. It was a big fair for its day, but it never seemed impersonal or pompous — and it never really seemed to stop. After the 'official' fair closed for the day, dealers, collectors and artists would adjourn to a late dinner, with many ending up trading transparencies over early AM drinks in the atrium of the Palace Hotel. One of my favorite memories is of watching gallerist Irving Blum holding court there. On the downside, I felt very sad for the Spanish artists, since many of the dealers made them stand beside their work for hours in their gallery's booth.

Christopher French, Houston artist and writer

The Miami Basel 2006 extravaganza was my very first exposure to the art fair frenzy. All I kept thinking about was, 'My god, the money.' Oh, yes, and the fact that unitards and heels are not just for the runway anymore. It was a rollercoaster ride, from being disparaged and made angry by the cavalier attitude toward enormous sums of money and how art was at the center of attention, but not really, to the awesomeness of seeing an Yves Klein body painting in true IKB ultra marine blue two inches away.

-Xochi Solis, director at Volitant Gallery

Navy Pier, 1995, Chicago … a zoo with many ambulance chasers.

-William Cordova, Core Fellow in Houston


Aerial view of the booths at the big fair

Name your favorite 3-5 booth / fair / artwork / artist discovery you saw this year in Miami.

There were lots of great works. Unfortunately, I don't have my books/guides with me, and so naming them all is difficult. Off the cuff, at Aqua: Lisa Dent, San Francisco; Joe: Philadelphia; a west coast gallery that presented new work from China; and our own Inman Gallery. At Basel: Sicardi was a standout, as was Luhring-Augustine, New York; Rhona Hoffman, Chicago; and Stephen Friedman, London. At NADA … really liked Oliver Kamm, New York, … and White Columns was a nice surprise…. The list goes on.

-Valerie Cassel Oliver

NADA was a good and very interesting and different fair. Gavin Brown's booth in Art Basel Miami was great for its simplicity, a joke on the market (in a way). The work (installation) by Allora and Calzadilla at The Moore Space was great (one of my favorites from all I saw in Miami!).

-Ursala Davila

I need my list and can only think in terms of artists, but the Indian-born, London-residing, Portland gallery (Elizabeth Leach) -showing artist Sutapa Biswa was a highlight.

-Pamela Auchincloss

Priska Juschka Fine Art = work by Deborah Hampton and Aaron Johnson. Monique Meloche = work by Todd Pavlisko. Mark Moore = work by Kim Rugg. Rare Art = Kira Wager.

-Julie Kinzelman

Casey Kaplan, Art Basel Miami; Jonathan Monk, Klosterfelde, Art Basel Miami; John Bock, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, Art Basel Miami; Urs Fischer.

-Matthew Drutt

I'm still thinking about some pieces that I have NO INFORMATION for … because I just had to keep moving, like an art shark. The whole Miami fair experience is like three hundred Golden Corral restaurants set end-to-end, and you can't possibly eat that much, but you keep grazing because you have an eating disorder. At Basel, some David Hockney drawings (can't remember who had them), and Mike Kelly's tearoom ducks (well, that's what I'm calling them), and the Eric Fischl paintings at Mary Boone. Everything else is a blur. I have to say, I really appreciate the booths that are simple and give you something to settle down and focus on.

-Hyed Fontenot

Rubell Collection, Doug Aitken's Diamond Sea, and Scope with manageable, beer guys pushing buckets with 2 x 4's and a giant inflatable arrow pointing you to the site. Alexa Horochowski from Argentina in the Monique Meloche booth at Pulse. A low-rider bed complete with hydraulics and a set of eloquent pinstripes to match. The Residents at Art Positions. Gavin Brown's booth at Basel; I have a soft spot for smart-asses.

-Eric Zimmerman

Mitsuhiro Ikeda's paintings at the Shugoarts booth at Art Nova, Wes Lang's new painting and bust of Lincoln at the Zieher-Smith at NADA, Aaron Spangler's new sculpture at Zach Feuer at Art Positions, Travis Somerville's installation at Nathan Larramendy Gallery at Impulse/Pulse, Lutz Bacher's photos at Taxter & Spengemann at Art Positions.

-C. Sean Horton

Deborah Grant at Dunn and Brown booth at Scope; fascinating narrative appropriation work by Graham Dolph at Seventeen (London) at Scope; LPs with lyrics scratched in Maya Lin Silver River multiple at Greg Kucera at Aqua; Joe Zane portraits of his favorite artists at Allston Skirt Company at Aqua; The Waves by Detanicot and Lain at Vermelho Gallery, São Paulo, at ABMB; conceptual text video Yasumasa Morimura's Mishima series at ABMB; Matt Mullican's vintage drawings from the '70s at Mai 36 Gallery at ABMB; Darren Almond's Full Moon photos at Matthew Marks at ABMB. I could go on and on!

-Dana Friis-Hansen

I liked the energy of Scope and Pulse, as well as the more laid-back Aqua. The main (convention center) hall was more heterodox, with no artist dominating like William Kentridge did last year. The best non-fair show was the Miami Art Central's show of videos from the collection of the Pompidou Center. I liked the DC-based Curator's Office in Scope, where I loved the video work of Nicolas and Sheila Pye. And it was great to see Kim Dingle painting again — Kim Light showed one of her large works on paper at her booth LightBox (Dingle will be showing in NY next spring at Sperone Westwater and in LA next fall). At Pulse PPOW showed photos and snow globes by the collaborative team Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz that take up where the tales of the Brothers Grimm left off.

-Christopher French

Gavin Brown. Corner booth, prime real estate for the selling at Basel, and what? A theatrical piece compiled of fishing line and a smushed cigarette pack.… It made me happy that someone had a sense of humor and that it was okay to laugh at ourselves. Mark Stockton at Acuna-Hansen Gallery at Aqua. His rendering of the many facades of Tom Cruise from all four of his 1983 films not only captured him in magnificent detail, but touched on the macho male in all of us. E.V Day's installation for Deitch Projects in the Design district. Her awesome glow-in-the-dark/black-lit sculptures made me think at any moment some alien was going to emerge from my chest. Stunning.

-Xochi Solis


Art Positions on the beach

How do you see the fairs shifting over time, particularly Miami?

It was my first visit to Miami.

-Valerie Cassel Oliver

Crazy. The market is ruling all types of transactions. Knowledgeable collectors are avoiding the fairs — especially Miami — and more and more you see people buying art for social status, without any real interest in the artists or the content of the work. What I find worrying in terms of the structure of the growing fair (especially Art Basel) is the efforts to incorporate an "academic" side to the fair. This year these efforts became terrible panels set up in the worst conditions. It was better when it was only about the market. But Miami is now linking everything that is remotely related to art. The cocktail of 'everything if valid' leaves no space to even enjoy some of the great artwork that was exhibited. I wish directors of art fairs would know when to stop and when enough is just perfect. By now this stage is long gone.

-Ursala Davila

I wonder that they can sustain the market share, though I think Miami has the best chance of capturing the broadest market. This is in part due to profile, the main fair being an enterprise of the old guard and the venue/location/energy of the peripheral fairs marking the new guard.

-Pamela Auchincloss

The fairs originally served the purpose of providing a consolidated forum in which collectors could actually make contacts with galleries, dialog about the art and then purchase work. Currently, the majority of the art is pre-sold (via jpegs) before the opening of Miami, which leaves collectors to 'window-shop' in hopes of being placed on a list to buy when work becomes available. Since so many transactions continue to take place via the Internet, the concept of a 'virtual fair' seems not too far away. 'Experiencing' the art firsthand will unfortunately be replaced with the convenience of technology.

-Julie Kinzelman

I see older fairs (FIAC, ARCO) continuing to decline in quality and relevance, and Maastricht emerging as a real force for modern and classic contemporary art. Miami? The bottom has to drop out of 16+ fairs. ABM will surely survive, as likely will NADA, Scope and Pulse, but the umpteen others can't possibly develop a sustainable following.

-Matthew Drutt

I can't even imagine. They'll just get bigger and bigger until there's a murder/suicide with a public apology, then a tell-all book. How can this much money be in one place without a fatal disaster?

-Hyed Fontenot

Obviously, I think the fairs will shift, primarily based on shifts in the market. Scale, projects, etc., will all depend upon the presence of capital and if it is profitable for dealers to continue coming to fairs like Basel. I wonder if fairs are a sort of end condition, as they rely so much on cash. Their flexibility, and in a sense the work shown, is dependent upon the money. If the money dries up, so might the fairs, but then again the work might also get better. I guess the point I am trying to make is that the viability of fairs is determined by the strength of the market, rather than that of the work. This is a complicated question because fairs have their toes in so many different aspects of the art world. Shifts will come from a combination of factors, but the main one will still be the market.

-Eric Zimmerman

As long as there is a strong economy, I think the number and size of the fairs will continue to grow. It's the perfect excuse for dealers to have a working vacation in Paradise, for collectors to have an excellent selection of works by the best artists of our time in one location, and for artists to have income apart from their biannual solo shows. It's a great idea and I hope everyone involved continues to prosper.

-C. Sean Horton

The fairs are a great leveling device, bringing much more variety to the marketplace, … all in one place, great for developing your eye, understanding pricing and meeting lots of other dedicated art lovers.

-Dana Friis-Hansen

Miami has become too much of a muchness, an enormous pimple waiting to be popped. I loved the fact that the dealers were complaining about the hoteliers raising their rates while the collectors were complaining that the gallerists had done exactly the same thing.

-Christopher French

Hopefully, I would like to see some regrouping happening every once and a while and to remember why we sell art. It is not to decorate bathrooms the size of our galleries, but to share the joy that comes from seeing and loving an artwork enough to live with it forever. It is about feeding the desire for beauty (a completely subjective beauty, of course), and connecting to a bigger, different world than your own through the culture of art. Fairs in the long run need to not sever the connection between the art buyer and the artist.

-Xochi Solis

Art Basel, unlike any other art fair in the world, has gentrified most of Miami, displacing entire communities and creating more traffic and building congestion. It is a problem that many do not see because they were not raised nor live in Miami.

-William Cordova

The hierarchy of fairs was very apparent — in work, galleries and visitors. To me the hotel fairs were like peddlers outside the castle walls — sort of desperate-looking by comparison to the big fair. The other middle fairs (Scope, Pulse, NADA) were less this way, but still a bit off (ditto the containers, which seemed — with a few exceptions — like leftovers from the big fair applicant pool, relegated to the kiddie table). All of these venues were injurious to the art on view. When walking through all of these cramped venues, you felt that a numbness and sense of sameness set in quickly (even though there was some good work at all the venues). This was less so in the big fair, as the work had more room to be seen.

Seeing it all — especially the small fairs — I couldn't help but think of the art world as a crowd-sourcing machine. The word goes out regarding the shape and nature of the art that is needed/appropriate for the moment, and talented people in every city respond by way of their work. This works well as long as everyone stays where they are, providing the flavor of the moment in their own city. It gets problematic when everyone loads up the truck to rendezvous at the circus. Suddenly, what was strange and interesting in the singular grows less so when multiplied (duh). That's a bit of what I thought was happening to cause the numbing effect.

-Art Viewer


The Scope arrow points you in the right direction.

Where do we go from here and how much longer can Miami last?

Miami seemed to be a victim of its own success, especially in attracting the market. It felt large and unwieldy, a total market culture where the encounter was more about buying, less about learning.

-Valerie Cassel Oliver

Art Basel Miami still has a future (with and without Samuel Keller). The city is growing more than ever, and wealthy districts are getting bigger and stronger. I think that the question, 'Where do we from here,' depends on where each of us is standing. If the connection to the market is extremely intertwined, well, better play it smart and have a great eye for good art and interesting artists. As for my specific field, Latin America lives between the two worlds: you can enjoy Miami — as an observer, not as an active participant — but there is always that personal and strong connection that happens in different countries at the artists' studios, the galleries of São Paulo, Buenos Aires or Mexico City, and the collectors, which are different — with different interests — from country to country. This persists and exists regardless of art fairs and Miami.

-Ursala Davila

I believe we will see some retraction of fairs in established markets and some growth in emerging markets. While there are many biennials already, this platform is likely to grow as the means by which one can sample what is happening both regionally and internationally. The art fair showcases like Open and Statements are somewhere in the middle ground, a promising alternative to the scope and scale of the mainstream fairs.

-Pamela Auchincloss

I think that Miami will continue to persevere as long as quality art is exhibited and collectors chose to tolerate the fair capacity. The true benefit of Miami is that it provides us with the ability to view art from every corner of the earth in a consolidated fashion. The detriment of Miami is that we are redefining the gallery/museum experience and consolidating it into small cubes scattered with thousands of diverse works to been seen over a week's worth of time, and at some point hoping that we are still capable of discerning quality. Through this process we are asking a lot of the galleries, artists, collectors and ourselves.

-Julie Kinzelman

Miami will last as long as the Art Basel brand survives, complete with UBS sponsorship. That is one of the few enduring cross-branding strategies that I've seen in the past decade.

-Matthew Drutt

Since these fairs have become such a standard point of exchange for this industry, we can't go back to being without this global meeting place. It has to survive. The hope is it will add several days to its schedule so that it will become humanly possible to take it all in.

-Hyed Fontenot

Miami will last as long as the market survives. If the market grows, so will the fair; if the mythical bubble bursts, so then will the scale of the fair. I don't think it will ever disappear, just change in size and focus. Where do we go from here? The most interesting part of this question will be the answers you get, depending upon a person's role in the art market, i.e., dealer, artist, curator, paparazzi, etc. I can't really answer this question other than to say that I hope that fairs will start to trend more toward artists' projects and perhaps begin to address what role the curator has in the confines of the market. That may be the most idealistic thing I have ever said.

-Eric Zimmerman

I think it is still better than NY, but it needs to rethink a bit: what's it going to be next year — another doubling in the number of galleries?

-Christopher French

Where to go from here? Well, we all understand the reality of money playing a significant and controlling factor in the arts. Whereas we might like to see ourselves as being happy with art making and art sharing, the bills need to get paid. Thus, fairs are the perfect package to put out your wares and see if you can come back home with rent and the ability to take care of your artists. But with the enormity of an effort like Basel, it seems as if it can only go on in its current state for so long before artists and galleries alike get worn out. Even on the first day of attending, gallerists and artists seemed to have a glazed look about them. As if all the critical energy had been sucked away, and we were being force-fed information long after we were full.

-Xochi Solis

Much like the East Village scene in the early '80s will the Art Basel buying frenzy go. Those who will pay for this crash will be the people of Miami. Miami Beach in the '80s is a perfect example of the excesses in political and corporate corruption. Being a resident of Miami and understanding its short history, I find it easy to see where the smoke will come from.

-William Cordova

For the moment (for the first week in December anyway), Miami would seem to be the center of the commercial art world. If you are in the business (artist, gallerist, collector) and you're not there, you're invisible and probably losing ground.

There was some talk of the market being a bubble at the bursting point. This may be so — and from what I could see, the quantity and price point of sales were irrational, to say the least — but unless and until it bursts, Miami will remain huge. It's the perfect formula: critical mass (commercially at least) in a party scene with 'tropical flair.'

– Art Viewer

Rachel Cook is the editor of Glasstire.

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