Art Basel Miami Beach, the premier international art show that takes place annually, will again dominate the winter social scene in South Florida December 1-4. But will African-Americans have a place at the table?
Now in its tenth year, Art Basel Miami Beach has become a “must do” for anyone who has a serious interest in contemporary visual arts, and arguably the most important contemporary art show in the U.S.
Each year, museum directors, curators, the world’s most famous collectors, critics, educators, gallery owners, private art dealers, non-profits engaged in the visual arts and artists from all most every corner of the earth descend on Miami Beach for the international art show. Last year, the main show attracted over 46,000 visitors, and similar crowds are expected this year. The recession has not appeared to dampen the art market’s interest.
Stylecaster: 3 Killer Outfits To Rock At Art Basel In Miami
The main fair, which opened Wednesday, will present between $2 and $2.5 billion in insured art, according to Christiane Fischer, president and chief executive officer of AXA Art’s North American operations.
“Prices at the main fair include a $2.5 million Franz Kline abstract painting and Giacometti’s $1.5 million ‘Standing Woman’ sculpture from Richard Gray Gallery,” Fischer said. “New York’s Untitled gallery has paintings and assemblages by two Los Angeles artists: Matthew Chambers and Brendan Fowler, with prices ranging from $10,000 to $25,000.”
The setting for Basel is the Miami Beach Convention Center; located in one of the most glamorous and talked about beach communities in the world, South Beach. It’s a venue that as late as the 1960s, was off limits to people of African descent. Today, South Beach has become the playground of the black entertainment and sport elite and in some ways the Mecca of the black glitterati, black super models, the college spring breakers and the hippest hip hoppers. Black folk have a strong interest in film, music, fashion and culinary arts worldwide, but are still somewhat intimidated by the visual arts world.
Last year’s main showcase, called the Vernissage, was jammed like Grand Central Station in New York during rush hour, yet one could literally count the number of African descendants in the mix on one hand.
Art Basel Miami Beach holds no apparent interest for the local black community, though it does attract the black Hollywood elite and international celebrities from the African World. Danny Glover was seen at Art Basel in 2010, and last year, supermodel Naomi Campbell was spotted with her three body guards at the opening of black British artist Isaac Julien’s “Ten thousand waves” at the Bass Museum.
Over the last ten years, Art Basel has morphed into a major art carnival with over twenty satellite shows, including Art Miami, Red Dot, NADA (new art dealers association), Art Asia, Scope and others.
Because of those satellites, and the presence of a handful of major artists like Julien, the black art Presence in the main show has grown, though it in no way represents the range, quality, diversity or volume of work being produced by artists of African descent.
The main show has never had any black participating galleries, although it is fair to say that some of the galleries representing black artists have done extremely well.
New York gallerist, Jack Shainman, for example, seems to have cornered the market on African Diaspora Fine Art. Rumor has it that Mr. Shainman had sold the majority of his black art inventory on day two of last year’s show. Shainman had work by El Antasui, Kerry James Marshall, Nick Cave, Lynnette Boakye and Carrie Mae Weems.
Shainman is back again this year. His stable of artists is pretty much the same. As of the eve of the official opening, he had already sold two significant pieces: a Lynette Boyake and a Barkley Hendricks for $160,000.
Dennis Scholl, a major Miami Collector, says he believes African Diaspora artists are rising in investment value because they are really doing some “smart art projects and that the quality of the work is reflected in the fact that many of the leading African Diaspora artists are pursuing graduate training in the visual arts.”
Scholl is a major supporter of African-American female artist Leslie Hewitt, and is confident that her work will increase in value significantly over the next decade.
Contemporary Africana art has come into vogue from time to time in the art world. Last year, the director of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, said that Isaac Julien’s “Ten Thousand Waves” was by far the best piece of work in last year’s show.
Two year ago, the Rubell’s exhibition of “30 Americans” was the main talk of the show.
This year, the consensus is that “no trend” seems to be the trend. And Black artists, on the whole, are still clamoring for attention.
To change that, a local architect, Neil Hall, proprietor of the Urban Collective, has organized a show called Art Africa, which includes some of Miami’s most important established and emerging artists.
The show is being staged in the black historic community of Overtown in the vicinity of the infamous Lyric Theater near downtown Miami. Other notables making an appearance at this year’s Art Basel:
- The University of Miami will host its 2nd Annual Panel Discussion on Contemporary African Diaspora Art.
- Thelma Golden, director and chief curator and the Studio Museum in Harlem will speak at Art Basel Conversations on “The evolution of Museum Missions.”
- Danny and Russell Simmons returned to Basel this year, managing the Bombay Sapphire Artisan awards and showcasing 15 artists from the Rush Philanthropic Foundation Collection.
- Merid Tafesse, an Ethiopian artist, whose work wowed Danny, is also visiting Art Basel for the first time. “I am so inspired and encouraged, this is a great experience for African artists,” he said, smiling. “I see myself here next year.”
- Ethiopian cultural writer/activist, Dr. Desta Meghoo also a Basel first timer, remarked, “Such an art event in Africa, if promoted well, could transform the art industry of Africa.”
- Sean Combs literally flew through the show Wednesday. He seemed distracted and admitted that this was his first time at Art Basel Miami. Naomi Campbell also returned to Basel this year.
Black Art in America founder Najee Dorsey was excited to see that there were more African-centered events in general in Basel 2011. He is also an artist and is part of an exhibition being staged at the Purvis Young House.
Related: Art Basel Miami