It’s ABMB week and the early notices are anything but good. Not because of the art on offer but because this is the fair’s 10th anniversary which has become the occasion for much stock-taking. It ranges from prominent collector Adam Lindemann’s decision to take a pass this year to the New York Times’s estimation that the fair has been good for Miami but yet to make it the art capital it hopes to be:
“Art Basel gave Miami the power to believe in itself, and that’s always a problem with regional art places,” said Mera Rubell, a Miami collector who, along with her husband, Don, owns the Rubell Family Collection. “The impact that it has all year round is really quite profound.”
Art Basel’s imprint has little to do, at this point, with a local gallery or artist’s ability to get through the fair’s famously rigorous vetting process. Just 3 of the 260 galleries invited this year are from Miami, and only a handful of homegrown artists are showing in the fair, which begins on Thursday.
But since Art Basel’s debut 10 years ago, dozens of new galleries have opened, and scores of artists have relocated here, lured by the relatively low rents and, partly, by Art Basel itself. The fair gives artists, collectors and gallery owners a rare opportunity to see world-class art but, more important, to hobnob with the leading players of the international art world.
For Lindemann, the problem with ABMB is less the fair itself than the overgrowth of art fairs as the main event of art market:
International art fairs blossomed over the past decade, and I’ve attended every single one; I’ve witnessed their decline first hand. In the early days galleries would compete and bring great material—not just to sell, but also to gain credibility and prestige relative to their peers. At a time when the auction houses were laying out large guarantees on mega masterpieces and pouring lots of money into flashy catalogs and pumped-up marketing budgets, the art fair was an auction-style environment where small and mid-size galleries could take booths just as big as those of bigger galleries, creating a level playing field from which to launch their artists. Collectors could feel they were getting a full survey of what was available that year in the art market; comparing values and tastes was made easy since you could value-shop different galleries and end up comparing a million-dollar Neo Rauch in one booth with a million-dollar Mark Tansey in another.
But today, the freshness of new discoveries has mostly evaporated because there are so many international fairs in a single year and the galleries send out the list of the available works they’ll be showing a week or two in advance, so people like me get to see what’s on view in Art Singapore, Paris’s FIAC, Italy’s Artissima or the Abu Dhabi art fair. What’s worse, the galleries aggressively pre-sell everything they can before the fair opens. Why does that matter? Because I regularly receive the email blast of works for sale from several galleries, and twice, for instance, I’ve “put on reserve” the fair’s choice Karen Kilimnik painting only to get an email from her gallery stating that someone else will buy it sight unseen so I must “shit or get off the pot.” I refuse to buy an artwork I haven’t seen in person, especially in this fragile environment, so in the end the gallery runs me over, selling it to the guy who’s willing to commit to it blind. I can’t really blame these galleries, because this has become the new status quo, but I’m not enjoying this game of pre-selling the best pieces—it’s worn me out. There are no longer any civilized rules of protocol in the email blasts other than “sell, sell, sell” and do it as fast as you can. As with most serious art collectors, I’ve been to too many fairs, I’ve seen the same stuff over and over again for years. It has lost its luster and much of its purpose, so why should I bother?
Miami, City of Sun and Beaches, Is Now About Art (New York Times)
Occupy Art Basel Miami Beach Now (Observer.com)