Barbara Kruger at Mary Boone Gallery, Art Basel Miami Beach
As the celebrity stories and the reports of who-sold-what-for-how-much flow out of Miami, I’d like to talk about the other side of things.
“I feel diminished,” is how one art dealer put it.
Yes, the art world is ridiculously hierarchical, but we lay a heavy burden on ourselves. Here’s how it goes: The dealer who can’t afford to do to an art fair feels diminished. The one who applies but doesn't get into any art fair feels just as bad. The dealer who gets into a second-choice venue feels grateful but still diminished. The dealer who gets into a first-choice fair but gets an out-of-the-way booth, or who doesn't sell as much as the dealer in the next booth feels diminished. The big name dealer who sells a big-name piece feels just a little bit less on top of things because her big sale was not as big as it might have been. And, of course, if the big seller doesn't get a chance to tout the sale to the business reporter, that sale is just a little less sweet.
The curator who doesn't get into the VIP event feels diminished. (“Finally, after three years of trying I got my VIP pass to Basel Miami!” exulted one curator.) The one who gets ignored by this or that other curator feels diminished. The one whose big effort is unrecognized by his colleagues at the fairs feels diminished. And god forbid you don't get your picture taken with P. Diddy.
Artists get sucked in, too, of course. You don't get invited to an art fair? You feel diminished, and all the talk about Miami just annoys you. ("My work is waaay better than what's there," is the typical comment. And, indeed, it may be.) You get invited but can’t afford to go? You feel diminished. The artist who gets invited to a small fair feels a little lower than the one who’s at a larger fair, who feels a little bit lower than the one who has work in two fairs, or with several galleries at the same fair, or who didn't get the solo show in the gallery booth, or who did all of those things and didn't sell out the booth, or who didn't sell anything at all.
I’m not saying this stuff doesn't matter—it does; there is a pecking order in the art world—but I think we are personally much more aware of our particular situation than anyone else.
My suggestion: Think of what's here as a snapshot of a particular moment, not what's engraved in art history. If you're in Miami, stop obsessing and have a good time. If you're desktop visiting, Artcritical, The Art Newspaper's Miami Edition, Huffington Post and Hyperallergic all have good coverage (though HuffPo is a bit heavy on who's wearing what).
And if you're waiting for my report, I'll start posting midweek next week.
Related: Mat Gleason: "There's nothing fair about the art world."