Saturday, November 23, 2013

Art Basel Changes

Sometime before or after 2005, my friend and local artist Teo Castellanos, told me about some big, strange tent with some art that had been set up in Wynwood in Roberto Clemente Park. So we went. The neighborhood felt a bit dodgy to an outsider, but after having parked and prayed, we checked the festivities out. If memory serves me, there was a shuttle running down NW 2nd Avenue  and a pop-up something or other on Miami Avenue somewhere. That was about it for what was to massively explode over the course of the next decade. Here were the humble beginnings as witnessed by the common local art buff. Things change.

These days, to write about Art Basel, as it morphs, contorts, mutates, and changes becomes harder. Some repeat the joke: no one goes anymore; it’s too crowded.
What is what has become more elusive; on the other hand, information about what is what and where it is, is bounteous. For the window shopper, Art Basel has never been more accessible. Yet for the critic, the fact that copious amounts of art are at your fingertips, may be more daunting than comforting. The sheer volume commodifies the Arts, turning rare, exceptional pieces into something more common, and laymen can barely tell the difference between them. It all becomes a bit like shopping for cereal, just not at any common Publix. We get deceived because it is art, yet option paralysis remains. We know that we are amongst creative impulses, but it overwhelms.

It seems that Miami Beach will be home for 8 events in 2013; Miami itself will host nine. In addition, there will be hundreds -- this is no exaggeration -- of peripheral activities. Art Centers, exhibits, galleries, walls, film, video, concerts, shows, meals, etc. No one will be able to navigate it all effectively. Like the banks, Art Basel is now too big too fail. Forgive me for what I’m about to suggest, but Art Basel is now a different, good massive thing. There’s money to be made out there y’all.

Big change #1 concerns the opening of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, aka PAMM (oy veh), aka South Florida’s premier waterfront event space, according to its own publicity materials. Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, they of the splendid 1111 Lincoln Road Parking Garage, it is located fancily in what has now been officially called downtown Miami’s Museum Park. All jokes aside, the grand opening will occur during Art Basel week with free admission and Chinese artist/sculptor/curator/photographer/critic/provocateur Ai Weiwei.

Big change #2 involves the move by Scope from Midtown to the soft white sands off of tacky Ocean Drive. Instead of a break at Sakaya Kitchen or Angelina’s Coffee & Juice, lucky tourists can now enjoy an exorbitantly priced mango mojito during a trashy respite at the Clevelander. This is how time moves on; Scope, perennially one of the finest satellite events, moves upscale like the Bal Harbor shops move to the Design District, simultaneously improving and destroying something, a hole in one and crater sized divot.

Big change #3 and Disappointment #1 is the Basel’s version of Where’s Waldo? Art Asia, after five years and a cult following, seems to have disappeared, left at Scope’s altar in favor of VH1. Goodbye zen; hello Miley. The internet, arguably the world’s most reliably unreliable source of all knowledge, seems to have been unable to shed any light on what has happened, but unless you have tickets booked to Hong Kong, Art Asia seems to have gone the belly up, Bridge On the River Kwai, sayonara route -- blown up and part of the artistic remains of the past.

Once upon a time in Miami -- 2002 to be precise, Art Basel began. Just for kicks research some of the primary resources from back then and read about its modest genesis. Walter Robinson, editor of the first online magazine artnet, wrote this: “ Miami is always good for Latin American material.” Contrast that naïveté with this: the economic stimulus from Art Basel to Miami is expected to be more than $500 million. Big change #4!

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