A Tropical Garden of Art
The Art Basel
was never meant to be exclusively European. Now, in Miami, it opens up
to a globalized art world once and for all. By Hans-Joachim Müller
Miami Beach. Courtesy Art Basel Miami Beach
has acquired a beach - in
Miami, playground of the most influential collectors, the very best
galleries and, even more evident this year than last year, the
creme-de-la-creme of the Latin American art scene. The second Art
Basel in Miami Beach closed on December 7 after captivating the
press from the Miami Herald to the Süddeutsche Zeitung
, the Neue Zürcher and the New York Times. The art
market has rallied. Here an "enchanting de Kooning", in the words of the
Neue Zürcher, went to a collector for a mere 4 million dollars. The
gallery owners are ecstatic; nearly all are planning to return next year
- if there is room for them. This year alone 500 galleries applied to
participate in the new art fair, and only 175 were admitted, "making it
possible to pick and choose and improving the quality of the fair's
profile," as the Neue Zürcher noted.
Visitors at the Art Basel Miami Beach. Courtesy Art Basel Miami Beach
article in the New York Times started off somewhat snootily: "It
was already well known in cultural circles that a number of the world's
most aggressive contemporary collectors lived quietly within 10 miles of
the human silicone parade floats and steroid gargoyles of South Beach."
But even the leading newspaper from the most important art capital could
hardly deny that in only the second year of its existence the
Art Basel Miami has blossomed out into what is probably the most
important art fair in the United States. Its competition, the New York
Armory Fair "will have to work very hard to keep up", as the
triumphant Miami Herald
quoted the owner of a major New York gallery. The art world is looking to
the south, and in future the
Art Basel will probably have two offshoots, one in its home town and
one in Miami's Art Deco district.
What explains Art Basel's overwhelming success?
This summer it was Basel's thirty-fourth art fair, and everything still seems
as it always was. It still bursts dependably into blossom, this tropical
Garden of Eden burgeoning with art: an inexhaustible spectacle, it
seems, a fifth season in which art and its entourage conquer the city.
Visitors at the Art 34 Basel / Courtesy Art Basel
Of course, the excitement once sparked by the affronts
and provocations of contemporary art, by these baffling forms and
symbols, apparently devoid of meaning, at once fascinating and
disconcerting, has subsided tangibly over the years. That is Art
history, already somewhat mythical, like wild years whispered of by the
ancestors. Now the Art is routine, exalted routine, nothing more.
And art fair visitors, with or without expert qualifications, have long
since learned to be prepared for everything. So when an aspiring artist
spends an hour cooped up in a plastic cage with chirping crickets for
the sake of art, it may result in a lovely image of creation's harmony,
but is unlikely to make fair-goers' pulses race.
Pedro Reyes: Chemical Architecture XVI, 2003, Process photo.
Courtesy Galeria Enrique Guerrero, Mexico / Art Basel Miami Beach
Back then - in antediluvian 1970 - we stood somewhat
helplessly among all the people and in front of all the pictures, the
black and red catalogue tucked under our arm. Art on the market? Art as
the product traded at a trade fair? Wouldn't it lose its mystery, its
magic, if it were so baldly reduced to its commodity character? Was that
permissible? How did contemporary art's claim to social criticism accord
with the countless price tags and the bazaar atmosphere and all the big
and small sums of money that would determine the success or failure of