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Art Basel: What Is It?


by Brad Ford Smith 15 Dec 2008

What is Art Basel? That is a much more complex question than you would think. Even after doing lots of research before hand, I only had a rough idea of what to expect once I got to Miami. The Art Basel event has grown so large and so quickly that the information available on it […]

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What is Art Basel? That is a much more complex question than you would think. Even after doing lots of research before hand, I only had a rough idea of what to expect once I got to Miami. The Art Basel event has grown so large and so quickly that the information available on it is often jumbled and incomplete. So, it really wasn’t until after actually walking Art Basel that I understood what it was all about. Of course, understanding something and putting all that into words are two different things. So instead of writing one long blog post, I have broken it down into several smaller blog postings. In this posting, I will describe the physical make up of what Art Basel is.

Art Basel Miami is a fine art fair that started 6 years ago. It showcases 250 international art galleries that represent living or dead, blue chip artists and artists who have been on the covers of periodicals such as Art In America and Art Forum. It is called Art Basel Miami because it is the offspring to the extremely successful and prestigious fine art fair in Switzerland called Art Basel.

From its conception, Art Basel Miami was so powerful that several satellite art fairs sprang up around it. These satellite art fairs are run independently of Art Basel Miami, but they fall under the encompassing umbrella of Art Basel. This year the Art Basel umbrella included 26 separate but simultaneous art fairs. There is literally more art in a 10 mile radius of Art Basel Miami than is physically possible to see in the six-day run of the art fair.

Art Basel Miami is the hub, the king of Art Basel. From there you have a tiered system of art fairs based on gallery prestige and/or subject mater. For example, Art Miami, SCOPE and PULSE each hosted international galleries that focus on established living artists and young artists who are starting to create a buzz. Art Asia is very similar to these art fairs except it focuses exclusively on Asian artists.

The next plateau is Aqua and Bridge. These art fairs showcase up-and-coming artists. The galleries are actively trying to create or maintain a buzz around the artists that they represent. These fairs are a good place to see what the next hot art trend or philosophy will be.

After the top 10 Art Basel fairs you start getting into pay-to-play fairs. This is were there may be some level of qualifications that the galleries have to meet, but in general if you have the cash you can play. The galleries here are mostly from America, and they mostly display artists that are young and unknown.

There are also various groups of artists that rent out old musty warehouses to exhibit their artwork in. They hand out lots of flyers at the other art fairs asking people to drop by there space. These artists are trying to catch the eye of gallery owners and art curators while selling some art, too.

And, of course, the city of Miami has some really wonderful art galleries as well. These galleries typically try to put on something special for Art Basel. The end result of all of this gathering, bunching and categorizing is the largest art event in the United States.

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  • “The next hot trend” was the perfect phrase. Unfortunately great art seldom comes from a hot trend.

    Art Basel exemplifies the problems with Modern Art (that hasn’t been modern since 1940’s NYC). and the illustration illustrates them well. Here’s nine main ones:

    Modern art is
    cold / disjointed / non communicative / weird/ elitist/ technically poor when there is any technique at all / pompous and inflated / not functional / seldom has breadth or scope.

    Now look at that photo again with the list in mind.

  • I agree that hot trends seldom add up to great art. In todays fast pasted art world we have run out of “isms”. Even the term Modern art is old school. For some reason art today is not as easy to track as the numerous styles of music.

    I do like your list. It does make you look at the photo in a different light.

    Check out the list I made while walking around Art Basel. I think you’ll get a chuckle out of it.
    “Art Basel: The Been Done List”. It should be posted later today or tomorrow.