All’s Fair: In Miami for the Art

This first posting of the "All's Fair" series is followed by eight others, all on line now. I've manipulated the posting dates so that the entries list sequentially to follow my narrative. J.M., December 17, 2006

So what if Miami was overcast and windy. We came for the art. And by "we" I mean 40,000 artists, dealers, collectors, critics, curators and art educators, each in search of visual ecstasy, a good buy or some useful artworld connections. My own personal heaven (or hell) was seven venues, 573 galleries and—figuring an average of 10 artists per gallery—almost 6000 artists in four days.
Blog about the art fairs in Miami
© Joanne Mattera, 2006

"I just flew in from Miami," goes the Henny Youngman joke, "and, boy, are my arms sore." All kidding aside, I did just fly in from Miami and my feet are killing me.

After four days, December 7-10, at the fairs— Art Basel Miami Beach and six (out of 12) satellite events—not only am I nursing a couple of blisters, my shoulders are still tight from lugging a heavy pack (the Basel Miami catalog alone weighs 5.5 pounds) and juggling notebook, pen and camera in a clumsy pas de trois for word-and-image reportage. At least I didn’t end up with a sore throat like most of the dealers, who by Saturday afternoon were frantically sucking on losenges in the hope of easing their laryngitic voices for one more day.

I had good reasons for being at the fair. The opportunity to see a world’s worth of art in a relatively small space and short time was the main draw, and I was there on a press pass for Geoform, an online curatorial project focused on geometric abstraction. Plus I had work with Kenise Barnes Fine Art who was exhibiting at Flow.

I could see the ocean from my hotel room, but that’s as close as I ever got to the beach. As for the hotel itself, a tape loop of Bette Davis ran through my head whenever I was there: "What a dump!" But the Setai was next door, and its lovely garden/outdoor bar was the perfect place to chill (until the winds kicked up) over a $20 bottle of Pellegrino. Hey, you pay for the ambience.

Birdseye-view of Basel Miami from the Skywalk. Imagine the camera panning to the left and right of this image, and you'll get a sense of the size of this event. The Paul Kasmin Gallery, with works by Warhol and Stella, is visible in the foreground

The folks seeming to have the most fun were the artists, many there for the first time; the let’s-see-what-the-fuss-is-all-about browsers; and the collectors for whom money was no object. "Honey, it’s three million," I heard one well-dressed woman whispering into her cell phone at the Convention Center, where Art Basel Miami Beach was taking place. "Unh huh. Unh Huh." Honey must have given the go-ahead, because the well-dressed woman then turned to the dealer and said, "We'll take it." I didn’t see the purchased art in question, but it sure was interesting to observe the art of the purchase.

This is the fifth year of Art Basel Miami Beach—a.k.a. ABMB, The Big Fair, The Mothership—around which everything else revolves. It’s the fourth year for NADA and Scope; the second year for Aqua and Pulse; the first

The Miami Convention Center, home of Basel Miami; the fair organizers have just signed a 10-year deal, so you can make your plans for next year

for Bridge and Flow. These are the ones I was able to cover in four days. There was also Diva, the digital fair on the beach, in its second year; plus Ink, the print fair, and Photo Miami, as well as three artist-run events: Fountain, Pool and Zone, all in their first year.

The seven venues I covered featured a total of 573 galleries and somewhere close to 6000 artists in two disparate locations: the Miami Convention Center, two blocks in from the beach, and the hotels clustered

Two fairs at the Catalina Hotel on Collins Avenue: Flow and Bridge. Furniture was removed to make room for the art (though some budget-minded dealers retained the bed and slept there at night)

around it; and the Wynwood Design District across the causeway in Miami proper, under tents and in warehouse-style buildings. Sales ranged from a reported $5.5 million for a secondary-market Basquiat at Jeffrey Deitch, to under-$1000 works by emerging artists at the smaller venues.

Starting with Art Basel Miami Beach, I’m writing about each venue in separate blog entries that will be posted over the next few days. Just so you know: I went to the fairs with an avid interest in painting and work on paper—the more abstract,

Pulse Fair, under the tent in the Wynwood Design District, above; Aqua Art, the best best venue for air and light--and the art wasn't bad, either

geometric and reductive the better; a healthy interest in sculpture; a moderate interest in photography and installation; and an utter lack of interest in video. This report reflects my preferences.

If you didn’t go yourself, I urge you to take a look at a few other websites—links below—to round out your vicarious view of things. I’ll be back shortly in another post with my report on The Big Fair, Art Basel Miami Beach.

In the meantime, take a look at:

. Art Info, which published excellent daily online coverage of the event
. Paul Klein’s Art Letter
(Miami report is at
. The Art Newspaper, which printed a special daily edition during the fair (see some writing online at )
. The New York Times on line: (
. The Miami Herald on line: (
. Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof’s Philly-based artblog which features a short piece as the current entry, and Tyler Green's Art Blog

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