Last week, before Art Basel Miami Beach, the art world’s annual, oversized art fair, St. Petersburg artist Donna Gordon packed up a rented U-Haul and took her sculptures and work by three other Florida artists to sell at Red Dot, one of the smaller satellite fairs that crops up around ABMB each year. What surprises about Gordon’s choice isn’t so much that she took the gamble, but that she’d never even been to the Miami confab as a spectator before, much less as a marketer of art.
“I didn’t just dip my toe in, I jumped,” Gordon says.
Returning home to St. Pete on Monday, Gordon was reasonably happy with her decision. On the upside, she had sold one of her own pieces — a figurative bronze sculpture for $35,000. On the downside, hopes of selling out the contents of her booth, which included paintings by Tallahassee artist Carrie Ann Baade and St. Pete-based Steven Kenny as well as photo collages by Jack Bond of Tampa, were dashed. The disappointments she chalked up to learning the ways of the fair circuit; the victories may propel her to fairs in Houston and Miami in 2014.
“We just realized we had to get out of town to have sales validation,” Gordon says. As artists trying to sell work above $5,000 in St. Pete, “we get lots of attaboys.”
Every December since 2002 Miami has served up a spectacle of the business of art. Two museum exhibitions and their attendant parties were the talk of the town: the re-opening of the Miami Art Museum as the Pérez Art Museum Miami in a new Herzon & de Meuron-designed building with an exhibition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and a Tracey Emin solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, devoted to the British artist’s neon signs. Both artists are deliciously notorious — Ai for repeatedly defying the Chinese government (after joining an effort to collect the names of child victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquakes, he was detained for 81 days and remains under pressure not to leave China) and Emin for her sexually and emotionally explicit confessionals (expressed as pithy neon statements, such as “You loved me like a distant star,” at MOCA NoMI).
Art Basel Miami Beach itself attracted 75,000 visitors to its assembly of 258 galleries from 31 countries inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. Along the beach, notable sights included artist Ry Rocklen’s design for the Absolut-sponsored art bar, with benches and game tables constructed from marble and kitschy sports trophies; artist Kate Gilmore’s choreography of gender-ambiguous performers banging metal cubes with sledgehammers outside the Bass Museum; and public appearances by a mobile vendor of blue-chip artist Olafur Eliasson’s “little sun” LED lamps, which were also sold inside the main fair, for $30. (Buying one helps fund their distribution in developing countries.)
Amid the hubbub, slower-paced, more thoughtful ventures could be found that served as a reminder that Miami is cultivating depth along with bling. The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation debuted “Permission to Be Global,” a selection from its collection of Latin American art curated by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. And the Bass Museum offered a project with artist Hernan Bas — “A Queer and Curious Cabinet,” a pink wunderkammer filled with taxidermy, vintage photographs and other objects from the 35-year-old painter’s personal collections including a Ghostbusters soundtrack on cassette tape.
But most attention revolved around the temporary fairs that swelled with out-of-town dealers, artists, collectors and art-oglers along Miami Beach and in Wynwood, the city’s arts district.
Two former St. Pete gallery owners, Lori Johns and Mindy Solomon, took on booths at SCOPE and Art Miami. Earlier this year, Johns vacated her bricks-and-mortar space on Central Avenue to pursue a fairs and online-only existence for C. Emerson Fine Arts. For a seventh time she joined SCOPE, which was situated in an enormous tent atop the sands of South Beach, representing Tampa Bay artists Justin Nelson and Kim Radatz among others. Chatting inside her booth, Johns said she was satisfied with the changes to C. Emerson, even if the effort involved in selling art online had turned out to be more time consuming than she'd anticipated.
“I feel like I’m working 10 times harder,” Johns says.
Solomon, promoting sculptures by Tampa-based Dominique Labauvie at Art Miami, was also in an onwards-and-upwards frame of mind. During the fair, her seven-week-old gallery in the heart of Wynwood was also open; an exhibition that includes ceramic sculptures by John Byrd served as the backdrop for a brunch with collectors on a Miami Basel tour organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. While her relocation to Miami hasn’t translated yet into increased traffic for the gallery, just being around other galleries already feels good, Solomon says.
“I’m happy to be in a more concentrated contemporary art community,” she says.
Vanessa Beecroft presented a new piece as part of the Flaunt Magazine group show “Affordable Care” at the Mana Production Village in Wynwood.
There’s always plenty of art to be seen at Art Basel, the world’s premier art event for modern and contemporary works — which always makes the first week of December a fun and memorable time. While I always make a list of the must-sees, there’s no way to lay eyes on everything. Here are a few of my favorite things from this year’s Art Basel extending from the street art in Wynwood, to art fairs such as Scope, Pulse, Context, Art Miami, Miami Project, and Design Miami, to the re-opening of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), along with stops at the Catalina Hotel for Select Fair, Aqua, and the Faile & Bast Deluxx Fluxx Arcade.