Musings and Muses at Miami's Art Basel

For a few days, the Miami landscape becomes a vibrant confirmation that art and art lovers of all ages and nationalities play a critical role at home and on the global art scene. Art Basel is the popular name attributed to the festival that took place December 6-9th, but the origins lie with Art Miami.
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Photos by John Anderson

Tiny pencil studies so intricately drawn they’re indistinguishable from high school yearbook photos, snazzy BMW racecars painted by the likes of Frank Stella and Alexander Calder, a handful of unfamiliar Picasso’s, random Rothko’s that escaped the Museum of Modern Art, mind boggling Chinese installations, walls of graffiti painted on the spot by dreadlocked artists jiving to live boom-box music—it’s just a small sampling of artwork from Art Basel/Art Miami 2012.

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For a few days, the Miami landscape becomes a vibrant confirmation that art and art lovers of all ages and nationalities play a critical role at home and on the global art scene. Art Basel is the popular name attributed to the festival that took place December 6-9th, but the origins lie with Art Miami. The “Basel” part is held in the Miami Convention Center and is derived from the well-known art fairs of the same name in Switzerland and Hong Kong. These international shows feature established New York, Parisian, and London galleries such as the Pace and the Gagosian, and showcase the most well known artists, often at sky-high prices.

Originally established over 20 years ago, Art Miami occupies 125,000 square feet and features art from both established and emerging artists; the art tends to be more cutting edge and also more accessible price wise. There are also other fairs citywide with names like NADA, PULSE, Untitled, Red Dot and Art Asia, where young and relatively unknown artists delivering unconventional work vie for attention. When you include the hundreds of private galleries, installations that include film, plays, and music as well as an array of impromptu dining and drinking options, you have a non-stop urban festival that illuminates all of the senses.

Miami/Basel is just the kind of event that can take a city to its highest level proffering lively human theatre and new awakenings, a place of amazement and constant entertainment. During its six days of showcasing art, Miami, itself becomes a giant and magnificent art installation and the visitor becomes part of the work.

What the visitor to Miami/Basel can expect to find—whether a casual observer or a serious collector—is the full range of what can be considered art today including masterpieces that would make an important addition to any private or public collection. For instance, drawings by the established Richard Serra, completed just this past year, were on display.

In much of the newer art, one couldn’t help but notice the compulsion driving the work that suggested the intense role of the artist behind it. Often the fabrication techniques and use of materials were staggering in their complexity and composition. Hundreds or thousands of buttons, pencils, computer keys, slivers of paper, dots or reflections of light or neon, created the sum of the media in a work. Oil and acrylic paintings are still in evidence here and there, but digital work blurs the lines between the possible and the impossible. Paintings look like photographs, photographs look like paintings. With technology, comes an aura of illusion. One senses that the possibilities for expression are infinite.

Collectors with a good eye and a keen sense for the market can purchase this new work before it is discovered by the world at large. We witnessed the well heeled on the search with their advisors purchasing art for their homes and yachts. Sales appeared to be brisk. Of course, a good eye is important in huge fairs such as this one, for there is also a lot of work on display that is marginal in quality or won’t be around a year from now. Somehow the kaleidoscopic mix of the ridiculous and the sublime is part of what makes this event so intriguing.

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The crowd is perhaps the key medium in this animated and colorful canvas. Miami/ Basel draws people from around the world. The soundscape of the fair is a multi-lingual buzz of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese—a harmony of internationalism. The sartorial expression of the audience was as rich as the art they were looking at. And, the shoes! One could experience the show by just looking down at the ground plane. Heels up to 9 or 10 inches above sea level in a myriad of designs and materials make for a kinetic visual experience. Vivre Art Basel! Vivre Art!

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