MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Art Basel Miami Beach 2012’s grand opening on Wednesday, December 5, 2012, was truly a world affair. The Vernissage — Art Basel’s big, opening night event — was a ball. The scene was more like a midsummer night’s dream. The glitterati from Italy, German, Spain, Holland, Nigeria, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, India and France were there. The billionaire philanthropist and notorious art collector, Eli Broad, was in attendance, as was Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn (a formidable art collector himself). The peripatetic and global art collectors, Mera and Don Rubell and Martin Freiermuth of the Vontobel Swiss Investment Group were there. The convention center’s acoustics were painted with canvases of Spanish, French, Arabic, German, Yoruba, Chinese and Italian.
Rap stars P.Diddy, Pharell, Rick Ross and Hip Hop mogul Lyor Cohen were in the house. This year’s black presence was formidable.
The African Diaspora world’s leading artists, museums, collectors, critics and historians were represented in full force at the eleventh edition of Basel Miami Beach. Juanita Hardy, President of the Millennium Arts Salon, came with her entourage of collectors from Washington DC.
Smithsonian Museum Curator and American art specialist, Dr. Tuliza Fleming, was in attendance searching for works by both emerging and established artists to potentially populate the contemporary wing of the Visual Art Gallery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in Washington, DC in 2015.
Also in attendance: Jamaican American artists Peter Wayne Lewis and Albert Chong; Nigerian artists, Toyin Odula and Doba Afolabi; African-American artists Nick Cave, Radcliff Bailey, Hank Willis and the beautiful and talented Ghanaian Artist, Lynette Boakye.
Many African Diaspora artists were also represented in some of the most prestigious galleries in the show. The quality of the Africana artists this year was by far the best in Basel’s 11 year history.
Marion Goodman gallery had a master work by Ethiopian artist, Julie Mehetru, valued at over $1 million.
The Gagosian Gallery had several breathtaking works by Basquiat. Italian Gallery, Galleria Continua had several works by Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou. Both James Cohan and Stephen Friedman had outstanding pieces by Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare. Chicago Gallery Gavi Gupta represented the emerging super star artist, Theaster Gates. Sikkema Jenkins and Company showcased several exceptional works by African-American artist Kara Walker. New York Gallery, Two Palms, had a magnificent collection of vintage Chris Ofili (a Nigerian artist based in New York and Trinidad.)
However, Jack Shainman gallery again this year exhibited the most visible and sought after contemporary African Diaspora artists. Nick Cave, Hank Willis Thompson, Carrie Mae Weems, Lynette Boakye, Radcliffe Bailey, Toyin Odutola, Donald Odili and Barkley Hendricks were all part of the gallery’s showcase. It’s not clear why Mr. Shainman has become the leading broker of contemporary Africana art in the U.S., but he certainly has a keen sense for quality work. Most notably, Shainman’s cast of African Diaspora artists were mostly in attendance at this year’s fair. His booth felt more like the epicenter of the Basel universe and was visited by many leading contemporary collectors including Los Angeles’ renowned collector, Eli Broad and Hollywood art connoisseurs, Marti and Tony Oppenheimer. There were several museum groups that came by, including a group led by Bruce Hartman of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. At one stage, there was no way to enter Shainman’s booth as Nick Cave was holding court for a group of enthusiastic fans about a series of intriguing sculptures that he had in this year’s show.
First time attendee, Nigerian artist, Toyin Odutola (one of the youngest members of Shainman’s crew,) was moved by the overall quality of Basel. She said that she “was really pleased to see the number and quality of works represented by women of color,” like Julie Mehtru, Kara Walker and Lynette Boakye. Toyin’s ink drawings were unbelievably outstanding. Hank Willis, a veteran Art Basel, was excited to see the increased number of African-Americans coming from Washington, New York, San Francisco and Atlanta to attend Art Basel. He also said that “it is now fairly normal to see a large number of African Diaspora people in attendance at the main show.” Willis also noted that he was delighted to see the significant Nigerian presence at the eleventh edition of the show.
The satellite shows Art Africa and Global Caribbean also attracted significant audiences.
The Global Caribbean 1V, staged at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, was curated by Haitian American artist and curator, Eduard Duval Carrie and featured the works of 14 artists from the French Caribbean.
It was arguably one of the best curated shows off the main. This year’s Art Basel has finally taken root in the African Diaspora world.
Ludlow Bailey is a cultural writer, international art broker and Curator based in St. Thomas, USVI.