If you’re like me and make a yearly habit of saving all emails, try keying the word “miami” into the small Inbox search window. Hundreds, if not thousands, of results will appear. Confusion sets in. What are you looking for – an art fair? – art gallery? – a circuit? – the next wave of artists? – Miami vice? No one is here to assist you. Phone some friends and find that they all have different itineraries for 5 action-packed days.
While speaking by phone to a friend of mine last night, I was reminded that we are still living in tough times. That’s right. Only a month ago the beaches along New Jersey, Brooklyn and Queens were destroyed. A decrepit roller coaster now stands proudly in the water off the shoreline of Atlantic City while buildings and homes bearing the number 5 in any of these areas signify that they will be razed, if not already. All forms of water in these areas are polluted and unusable. People working repairs wear masks since the wind carries heavy dust particles like asbestos.
So – why the art fairs known as Art Basel Miami? It has been fun to look back on artists like Thomas Kinkade who have cornered the market of artifice since the late 1990s. But since 2002 it has been interesting to observe a similar mimesis at Art Basel Miami. Year after year artists have boasted about countless parties and people they meet. But what has happened beyond that? The display of modern and contemporary art in the setting of a large convention center smacks of the postmodern shopping mall with an endless food court, highlighted with the faux, kitsch architectural details that claim authenticity but offer nothing of the kind.
When I left the suburbs for college, I left for good. The city has offered more risk and struggle, providing a slate for new context. Moreover when I was two years into writing reviews of art exhibitions, I had a daytime job with an academic administration that regularly reviewed about 13 programs each year. The process was elaborate. We had to measure how donor funds were being spent, so departments were asked to submit their statistics, and we set up interviews with some of those students and alums to hear more about their experiences. The aim was to find out how useful each program was, how many students found jobs in their field and how many did not in relation to the number of students that were admitted each year. The most entertaining aspect of all this was the myriad numbers of colorful personalities that appeared throughout the body of the professorate.
Every year artists speak with ambition about traveling to Miami for contacts and opportunities. Does anything ever truly result from Art Basel and its affiliated fairs? The art world still hasn’t changed. Artists are still struggling to move ahead and be recognized. I have yet to hear conclusively positive results emerging from the art fairs known as Art Basel Miami that occurs each December, but I hope to be surprised one day.