February 7, 2017

Art Basel

I don’t know about you, but I know nothing about art. In fact, Art History was the subject I struggled with most in college (meanwhile my sister majored in it). That could be due to the fact the professor was a major biatch though. Anyway, I still know nothing, just what I like and don’t. I’m intimidated by it and too cheap for it. But I’ve always wanted to know more and been oddly fascinated with Art Basel, an international art fair that takes place four times a year in Switzerland and Miami. I know I’d be in over my head and totally out of my element but I always kind of wanted a bird’s eye view of what goes on there. And now I have one! Our friend, Katharine Earnhardt, of Mason Lane Art, took us along for the ride this past December in Miami. Below, she breaks it all down for us (love her honesty!) and shares some photos from her time there…

On a dark and rainy New York evening, I bid my family farewell and headed south for some Miami Baseling. Each year, the art world and those remotely interested in art, sun or fun head to Miami for Art Basel – an upscale art fair that has served as the cornerstone for an entire week of art and culture-related events.  These events include 15+ satellite fairs, private collection tours, museum shows, public art shows, lectures, workshops, panels, and networking.

My strategy for handling the week has evolved as I’ve gone from working for larger institutions to running my own business.  This year, I had two goals: 1. Broaden my knowledge of art that I can source for my clients; and 2. Solidify relationships with galleries so I get continued preferred access to the best art. This year came with an added dose of professional and personal realizations; as I hopped around the fairs and Citibiked to various events, I observed shifts in the entire scene that have implications well beyond the art market.

This Year’s Vibe

During this annual trip, I take a lot of time to think critically about the art world. The fairs, while valuable, are incredibly over saturated — with art, sponsors, celebrities, visitors and canapes — that you can’t possibly absorb it all.  In fact, this year, more than ever, I saw that many people don’t try. They come to the fairs to see art in person, then breeze through booths and take photos of the art so they can supposedly take it all in from their phone later. Gallerists, unfortunately, can be enablers of this approach; they expend extreme capital on this event but are on visual overdrive after seeing thousands of people under fluorescent lighting for 8+ hours/day. They disengage by chiming into their smart phones, appearing less available for human interaction. I often interrupt their phone session to ask questions that help me understand the art.  The way-too-common response of 2016: “I’ll send you information. Do you have an email?”…. WHAT!!?  Isn’t this why we’re all here!?

To me, art is all about communication. An artwork is an artist’s way of communicating something he/she can’t put into words. (Think about a novelist or musician, who writes or sings to convey a message…) Seeing the artwork in person is a window into the artist’s psyche. But the message is often not obvious. Gallerists exist to share this information with the public. When people stop experiencing art in person and when the dialogue about art stops, the experience becomes diluted and the connection between collector and artist dissolves (which is the basis for the entire art market).

These observations definitely informed this year’s trip. Rather than speeding around to see as much as possible and take Instagramable photos, I strove to see less and learn more.  In the end, I was successful. I left feeling more informed, had an appetite to learn more (and bought Erling Kagge’s A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art) and feel overall whole. I’m going to apply this knowledge to everyday life because being present facilitates learning, enables appreciation, and it is entirely more fulfilling.

Trip Details

Aside from my revelations, the logistical details of the trip are helpful to note.  Each year, I have a few logistical staples:

  1. Stay at the Marseilles Hotel, conveniently located in South Beach between various fairs, and the lowest cost Ocean Front rooms I have found (around $350/night during fair week).

The rooms are clean and simply decorated; everything is white except for an 80’s style red, orange, and pink corner chair. Every room I have seen has this chair. The pool area is filled with various cabanas, a jumbo-sized Jenga game and roped off suites that are always apparently “reserved” but rarely occupied. My only complaint this year was that the bed pillows were abnormally uncomfortable. I thought I could sleep on anything but their prison-like feel actually woke me up each night. I haven’t yet decided if this con outweighs the pros, but I’ll reassess in July when they reopen the Basel reservation window.

  1. Breakfast at La Provence: A little French bistro on Collins and Lincoln Road. The ciabatta bread has a blissful crusty-to-soft ratio and each breakfast sandwich comes with nicely dressed side salad – a refreshing and underappreciated breakfast side. Plus, I am anti-breakfast meetings so this is a nice quick solo fix.
  2. Jog on South Beach: The art fairs typically open at 11 and the South Beach boardwalk is filled with walkers, bikers, various not-filthy stray cats and jewelry vendors. My jogging shoes are always packed.

The Art

  • The main fair, Art Basel, is filled with the highest quality art in the world, at the highest price point. It’s essentially an extremely high end trade show with billions of dollars of inventory. While seeing it is entertaining/educational/mind-blowing, my top priority fair has become Art Miami. It is located in the Wynwood design district and features modern and contemporary art that one can live with and potentially afford – beautiful, compelling pieces often priced between $10,000 and $100,000.  This is the sweet spot for my clients, and I go through the fair with their eyes scoping out options so I return to New York with an edited list of what works.
  • The other fairs on my hit list are: Untitled and Pulse (lower price point than Art Miami, more esoteric, emerging art), Design Miami (high-end, avant guard design) and Art Basel (the gold standard – see description above).   These are scattered around the city of Miami. I spend anywhere from 1-3 hours at each, and this year’s new favorite perk is the ability to Citibike between fairs, taking full advantage of my bike bell.
  • Beyond the fairs, the next priority is visiting private collections. Miami is home to a few of the world’s top art collectors. Some of them have separate facilities to showcase their art that are free and open to the public. As an advisor, I work to help my clients start collecting, so seeing what the world’s top tastemakers have amassed for decades is completely inspiring. Some of the collections to see are: The Margulies Collection, The Rubell Collection, and (my favorite) the De La Cruz Collection. Each has its own character, visual and conceptual diversity, and an array of work by the world’s top artists (purchased long before they made it to the top).

The Networking

It seems like every luxury industry is tapping into the Miami Art Fairs for branding purposes that the number of sponsors and entertainers may outweigh the number of actual art collectors. Real estate firms, car companies, insurance companies, private jet providers, wealth management groups and law firms are just a few non-art related industries that go all in and half the time they are entertaining each other since competition for collectors’ attention is fierce. BUT, there is no shortage of cocktails, either at rented out venues like the Versace Mansion, private showings of more affordable fairs like INK (a print fair in hotel rooms at the Dorchester Suites) or intimate dinners at local restaurants (my very favorite of which is Macaluso’s – a family-owned authentic Italian place with no substitutions and pasta better than what I’ve had in the homeland).

The Art Basel scene has become so much more than the single fair that started it all. While the surrounding activity is a ton of fun (and this working mama always welcomes a break in South Beach), it’s important to remember the purpose of it all — to connect with an artist, a gallery, and people — let them inspire you and let us appreciate the role culture plays in our lives.

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Ceremonial Space, 1984, acrylic and watercolor on canvas, 66 x 72 inches

Vallarino Fine Art (below)

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Kwangho Shin

Unix Gallery

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[Painting on left]

Cleve Gray
Honolulu (Hawaii Series), 1970
Acrylic on canvas
68 1/4 x 49

Taylor Graham

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Ugo Rondinone

Miami Mountain, 2016

The Bass Museum of Art

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Space with Blue, 1990

Acrylic on canvas

80×56 ¼”

Washburn Gallery

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Sean Newport

Gravity Waves, 2016

Acrylic on hand cut wood

42.5×42.5”

Cordesa Fine Art

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Robert Natkin

Untitled (Hitchcock), 1989

Acrylic on canvas, 78 x70”

Hirsch & Adler Modern

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Adrian Esparza

Sarape, wood, nails, enamel
4-parts
183,9 x 210,1 cm
72.4 x 82.7 inches

Taubert Contemporary

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Death Valley Mountain series, 2016

Jordan Sullivan

Digital C-Print

38″ × 26″

Edition of 10

Uprise Art

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Joe Black

Blink 2, 2016

6,570 hand-painted plastic toy soliders on aluminium with resin coating

D: 67.7”

Opera Gallery

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Roy Lichtenstein

Reflections: Red Frame, 1990

Oil and acrylic on canvas

35.8 x 35.8”

Galerie Terminus

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Heimo Zobernig

Untitled, 2016

Simon Lee Gallery

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Using the trellis 4, 2016
Acrylic and pastel on canvas
79 x 96 in

Denny Gallery

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Alex Israel

De La Cruz Collection

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Caris Reid
Water Warrior Day, 2016
Acrylic on wood
60 x 48 in

Denny Gallery

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Hans Hoffman

Setting Sun, 1957

Oil on canvas

52×60”

Waterhouse and Dodd

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Peter Halley

Condemned, 2015

Acrylic, day-glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas

72×60”

Galerie Forsblom

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To follow along more of Katharine’s art adventures, check out her Instagram!

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