Within the first hour of touring the show, he was immediately recognizable. A forced smile, hands that seemed to want the comfort of pockets, a back that seems to want to lean against the wall—he is an artist forcing a smile to a would-be patron flowing past in the thick stream of patron possibilities at CONTEXT MIAMI 2018. “Take me back to my atelier!” his body language screams, as he lays his soul and person bare. “What does selling art have to do with making it?” it’s easy to imagine him thinking.
This was the so-called private VIP and media opening for the CONTEXT MIAMI 2018 show held in a huge tent contiguous to the similarly sized ART MIAMI tent on the day before Miami Art Week’s anchor, the classy and cachet-filled Art Basel Miami, opened. It was quite apparent that, on that night at least, many of the artists whose works were being exhibited by galleries were there in person as well. Whether it was the full court press by a Ukrainian family (artist, husband, daughter) to talk about the historical context of the persecuted mother/grandmother that inspired the art, a Turkish man mingling with his risqué photographs of nymph-like nudes quietly sharing how his work was closed down by the vice police of Istanbul, or a somewhat famous sculptor mingling among his larger-than-life anthropomorphic forms whose body language seemed to telegraph his desire to be anywhere but here‑ these were all artists being pressed into service to find patrons for their work.
These patrons had to be fished from the sea of would-be art buyers streaming by at what seemed relatively fast-pace to take in this show, and perhaps also the adjoining Art Miami, at lightening speed inhale.
Before the doors opened, we had a chance to feel the temperature of the show attendees. The queue outside the doors was spirited and perhaps more local than at Art Basel Miami the next days. In one spot a middle-aged woman pushes her silver-haired mother in a wheel chair. In another, a woman in tight fitting dress whom central casting might have chosen as “trophy wife on vacation” poses repeatedly and seductively in front of a fountain for her adoring shutterbug husband while their 10 or so year-old son seems to be eyeing every corner looking for an escape route. Nobody is quite sure if they are in the right queue. It’s the kind of mild and merry chaos that defines CONTEXT as a happening event before we walk in.
It’s Obama who greets you— a youthful gunslinger version of Obama cloned into a throng. Amused, we walk onwards and in quick order begin to realize how fitting these pop art Obama cutouts are for the CONTEXT ART FAIR mise-en-scene. This is a stop-you-in-your-tracks image and it is the first of many. For this writer—a one-time reporter on a Point-of-Purchase trade show that so hyper-stimulated it seemed like a seizure prodrome experience, Many of the gallerists seemed to be channeling the famed Styne/Sondheim song from Gypsy—You Got to Have a Gimmick. (“…You're more than just a mimic, When you got a gimmick, Take a look how different we are..”). Here and there were what one might call quiet space galleries—oases, for this writer—but most gallerists exhibiting at CONTEXT ART FAIR seemed to be taking the task of standing out from the crowd as their #1 calling.
In some ways, this made the presence of so many of the artists whose work was being shown an added gift. You not only learn of the fascinating history of a Ukrainian grandmother heroically hiding religious icons in her petticoat similar to how her Jewish contemporaries hid monies in her knipple, you get to feel the artist and her family’s pride in her story. You not only get the inside track on what is and is not going down in terms of Turkish political oppression, but the clear appreciation of the artist for your knowledge and familiarity of the cultural scene in Istanbul. You not only get to see whimsical forms created by a talented sculptor, but also his kind smile when you acknowledge the standout quality of his work.
Another Meaning of CONTEXT Art Fair
“Connection”—that is one synonym for “context” you will find in the thesaurus and on the floor of CONTEXT MIAMI, both. Though our connections with exhibiting artists were akin to fleeting speed dates, they were nonetheless rich and many times suggesting a second date for longer linger was in order.