This year, I watched friends troop off to Miami Art Week with the sad faced realization that I wasn’t going… again. Every year going to Miami Art Basel is one of my New Year’s resolutions, and yet, I’ve never been. The bottom line is that I live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes paycheck to prayer, so I can’t afford to go without a paid invite. Usually this time of year brings about two things: 1.) me wildly eyeballing posts on FB and Instagram and mouthing, “I wish I was there! That party looks soooo good!” and 2.) me working harder on plans for next year thinking, “Next year I will be invited to perform in Miami! I’ll get paid and have to go.” This year was different because there was a stabbing at Basel, not one of the smaller, nearby, but still-good-to-be-seen-at fairs, but at BIG BASEL there was a stabbing. Glad I wasn’t there for that. Additionally, this year the parties just looked like the better parties I go to in NY, not the best party I have ever imagined in life. And the bragging posts were more sparse than ever, which made me wonder: Have I missed the “Basel Heyday” already? What do my friends really get out of going?
My first conclusion: if you make paintings and sculptures, live on this side of the world, AND are represented by a gallery showing there, it’s worth going. Basel is a chance to come face to face with collectors and network with curators you may not always run with. All of this can be accomplished at a much lower cost than it will be at the other international fairs, in say Germany or Hong Kong. Miami’s Art Basel is also a time to solidify that you are a hot emerging artist to be watched. This is accomplished by just being introduced as the hot emerging artist to watch. If people say it enough it becomes true. Please note that without the representation of a gallery or the help of an already famous artist to introduce you to the proper contacts, one is left to rely on the fake it until you make it strategy of crashing with a friend and looking like Bill Cunningham or the Satorialist should photograph you AT ALL TIMES. A stylish look will allow you to get photographed, which is low grade press and at that stage in the game you just want to play with the in-crowd. You also need to crash a couple parties you were not invited to.
(Above: Music Producer/art collector Swizz Beat at his art fair No Commission)
Social media is the secret star of Miami’s art week. Interestingly enough, certain works look better than others on social media. Through the lens of social media Sanford Biggers’s Fat Albert, Nari Ward’s self portraits, Firelei Baez’s paintings, and Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s Toiletpaper Lounge stood out on my IG feed from Miami last weekend as what I deeply wished I could have seen in person. Biggers had a video of his face down Fat Albert sculpture deflating that really was ripe pickings for a Vine. Nari Ward whose work ALWAYS photographs beautifully in my opinion put on a show at the Perez Art Museum Miami that included, among other things, him photographed in semi tropical environments. Sounds simple; looked amazing. Firelei Baez was at PAMM for first solo exhibition. It is well earned. Her work is at it’s peak and that showed in photos online. Meanwhile the Toiletpaper lounge at Untitled fair was busting with brash images from Cattelan and Pierpalo Ferrari (two of my favs). It proved to be the perfect spot for taking a selfie. Of course this is the pure super star buzz. All the cool kids reblogged/retweeted/Facebooked their work because it looked cool. Part of why this work was so impactful online is because it is large, colorful, well lit, and looks hard to make. That all requires grant money and solid backing. This is not the broke artists marketing game plan.
Now for performance artists the whole Basel game is different for a myriad of reasons. Performers aren’t making something that is for sale, so many galleries will not sink money into them. At the same time, performance is an extremely trendy in art now. Thus, leaving curators reaching for ‘performance spice’ and often offering zero or next to nothing in payment to the artist. Why pay the artist they cannot see how they will directly recoup the money? Performers have to be savvy enough to use those using them. For instance, get a host organization to: provide better documentation of a performance than you could afford on your own, add you as the plus one to top tier Miami events, and promote you via their PR machine, if you’re into that sort of thing. The irony is a lot of performers are not into that sort of thing at all, which is a whole other article. If the performer is lucky enough to have airfare (not room and board, just airfare) covered in exchange for a Basel performance, he/she should complete additional site specific public interventions that fuel artistic criticism or provide increased social awareness. This creates buzz at Basel. Basically, leverage one semi-paid performance to fund a full outreach. The ideal situation is to be beholden to no-one at the fairs and find outside grant funding after being booked for a Miami show. This yields the most creative freedom. The superstar performers like Marina Abramovic, or Vanessa Beecroft will be paid in full and well taken care of. They bring in money so they are courted accordingly at art fairs worldwide. But there are only about five performance artists living at that level, so the previously mentioned game plan is what most performance artists need to consider.
Finally, if you’re a smart art watcher or wannabe collector go to Miami Art Week to meet artists. Buy directly from the artist when the whirlwind week is over. For this strategy you should spend a lot of time at the hipster/blipster parties and visit the fairs Untitled and Satellite. One might want to sift through PULSE Contemporary Art Fair, which will be the cheapest to buy at and the most hit or miss in terms of quality art. Art Basel and New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) are for trend spotting. Although, I find that art-world folk don’t embrace this term as openly as fashion folk, it is useful when applied to art. If buying or selling is the goal, trend spotting is helpful. It is important to know if you are buying someone who is truly innovative or if there are ten million people making it. Just like with clothing, know your knock-offs.
That said my final conclusion is that Miami Art Week still has its perks. The days of it being good to just show up and easy to find the best party of the night are done. Now there is lots of junk and strategy to sift through to get to the diamonds.