Even before the long lines formed to see the controversial art work “COMEDIAN” by Maurizio Cattelan at Perrotin Gallery’s Art Basel Miami booth caught the headlines, it caught the eyes of this writer/photographer team…Nothing more than a banana duck taped to a display, it seemed to be trying to tell us something. Was it saying art is nothing more than a joke, like a slapstick slip on a banana? Was it trying to say that art can rot? Or, is it just a variation on the usual observation, that the value of art is just in the eye of the beholder???
Like Cattalan’s gold-plated toilet titled America, this art work was purchased for a pretty penny—allegedly US$120,000 (?!?).Yet, Comedian seemed almost sacrilegious, even to someone familiar with using Beethoven’s Ninth as background music for a Youtube video showcasing Art Basel of Switzerland earlier that year.
Here’s why---The biggest takeaway of viewing Art Basel Miami 2019 is how much time, money and effort many of these big name galleries were making to showcase the works of one, or a very small handful of artists, in their stable.
Galleries at Art Basel Miami 2019 Create Temples for Their Artists
This year—compared to prior Art Basel Miami events, or an earlier Art Basel Hong Kong reviewed by Picture This Post—this was particularly striking. Many—most?—of the most memorable booths were creating almost temple-sized homages to a very small number of artists whom they represent. This was true not just in the NOVA section, which is dedicated to showcasing emerging artists’ works. You saw it throughout the now wider walkways of the revamped Miami Convention Center unveiled to the world last year.
True, the real big –time buyers likely saw a wider array of back room treasures in private soirees apart from the press preview event. True, it’s not unusual to spot works by some of the artists whose work is exhibited at Art Basel Miami and other lesser cachet shows that comprise Miami Art Week.
Yet, the devotion the Art Basel Miami 2019 gallerists were showing for their artists in single flavor booths—or few flavor booths—was really quite extraordinary. In this writer’s view, the ability to soak up a particular artist’s lexicon, and where they resonate in the art world and wider world, was very much facilitated by these more laser-focused exhibits.
Art Miami 2019 and other Miami Art Week shows may be nipping at the heels of Art Basel Miami—in the caliber of the art as a whole that you get to see at the respective shows. Yet, no matter how much artists around the world might complain that Art Basel is too big to fail, it remains the kingmaker. Buyer or tourist, Art Basel Miami remains—in this writer’s view—the single best erector of altars to contemporary art and artists one can find in North America.