Art Letter


12/11/06

Let me preface my remarks about visiting the myriad art fairs in Miami the past few days by saying that I've been privy to the Chicago 'Merchandise Mart's presentations about what they have been doing and will do to revitalize ArtChicago. Clearly the Mart has very deep pockets, an army of caring, quality event organizers and a passion for substance. In a nutshell, it would not surprise me to see ArtChicago win a World Series long before the Cubs do.

Despite being immersed in the art world for over thirty years now, I'm perpetually asking new questions, or at least considering new answers to old questions. I've been in Miami for a few days participating in the extended extravaganza generated by the booming success that is Art Basel Miami, a highfalutin fair of exorbitant proportions and the near dozen satellite fairs that have sprung up around it. All of which makes me think about the relationship of art to commerce; how it is necessary for an artist to be commercial savvy to survive and how the potency of art is diminished by some sense that it must be able to be consumed monetarily.

I attended the VIP opening of the big fair and was bombarded by hyperbole. So much money. So many high prices. So much commerce. Some great art - lost in a sea of bling. Like looking for Timex at Tiffany. There are so many injustices in the art world; so many imbalances and false directions where deviance now seems - at least at this fair - to be the mean.

To some extent the Basel Miami show wants to be about art. But it can't help itself. It is about commerce. And commerce was happening. The days following the opening I went to the satellite fairs. And when I returned to the Big Show a couple of days later a whole lot of art I'd seen two days earlier was gone, replaced by something different to sell. People were snapping up 6 and 7 figure art.

But the stories weren't about the art, or its quality, or its message. The stories were about the pursuit, the competition for the perceived choice pieces. These people could have been buying anything, and some bought obviously covetable pieces. But mostly it didn't matter. Art for most them is just a way to keep score - yup, Pokemon Cards for the jet set.

On the whole, the other fairs, the satellite fairs, were much better. Well, at least they felt like they were more about substance. At them I tended to see a belief structure where the purveyors genuinely cared about the artists whose work they were showing, where they endeavored to explain the arts' content, where they were interested in a discussion and relationship with the viewer. I thought this was good.

And of all the art fairs I've seen all over the world I saw more art, good art, by Chicago artists than I've ever seen anywhere else before. Nice going gang. You are making it better for all of us.

Each of these satellite fairs has their own personality, though the differences are often extremely subtle. Some were in hotel rooms where the entire hotel is given over to dealers have removed the beds and an all available space is consumed by art (Yes, technology now allows a painting to hang on a mirror.) And some are in huge, interlocking tents with a nice overall translucent light emanating from above, and a few are in commandeered buildings.

Where one fair has a proclivity for new media, electronic, digital art, another will be more coarse. Where a second fair thinks itself filed with relatively higher end galleries and the commensurate snooty attitude, yet another tries to defy categorization by being inconsistent, apparently by intent.

There is something for just about everyone, especially if you are after contemporary art, but I overheard one woman frustrated with going from fair to fair, booth to booth, piece to piece, comparing it all to trying to find the perfect pair of shoes.

All Miami has been energized by the Basel Miami Fair and its coterie of smaller fairs. Museums put on special shows with early morning receptions. Collectors show off their acquisitions (I think Marty Margulies trumps them all with vast holdings of quality art that reveal his passion, preferences and personality).

The Big Show, the Satellite Fairs, the Art on the Beach, the Collections, separate and together do precisely what an exemplary work of art does. They challenge convention. They stimulate our senses. They raise questions. And they satisfy our desire to be something greater than ourselves - even if we can't quite quantify or comprehend it.

Now to get ready for ArtChicago and satellite shows here. It's going to be good.

Thank you,
Paul Klein