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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Art Basel Miami Beach 2006

By Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter

Walking through the Art Basel Miami beach fair within the Miami Convention Center, was a mind bending experience. There were thousands of people who spent 25.00 to enter this sprawling fair filled with 190 different galleries showing the works of hundreds of artists from much of the world. The galleries paid fifty thousand dollars and more for spaces to exhibit art of every media. Each owner chose works to snare the attention of collectors, curators, and the public at large. At one point I felt as if I was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, not in terms of the frenzy of activity (though from some accounts, the first day of art Basel Miami Beach would have been a perfect analogy), but the way in which art was being commodified.

Art, I was taught is a passion, a tool for societal change, a sensitivity, a symbol of civilization. The hard-core story of art as commodity is a story that is omitted form the education of most artists. Art Basel is a great introduction to the investment side of art. Art Basel Miami Beach takes place in the Miami Convention Center. A building which consumes at four city blocks, 500,000 gross square feet and 35 foot ceilings. It is massive. The crowd includes artists, curators, Hollywood jet setters, the curious, and multi-millionaires. Children of all ages attend, many in baby carriages. The crowds alone are breathtaking. The enormity of the market is tremendous. Between 200 million and 400 million dollars worth of art was sold in the 2006. Miami Art Basel weekend. For the first time in my life, I was able to grasp the vast expanses of what is called “the art world”. Though I heard the many languages around me, and met people from various parts of the world, Black people from throughout the Diaspora were blatantly omitted.

Art Basel was fascinating, interesting, and empty. The use of materials and the employment of techniques caused one to chuckle or gawk in awe. The use of materials was at times fantastic, but the lack of substance was soul numbing. It was disheartening to see that so much art had no other purpose than to hold “value” for the investor (as the value of the dollar shrinks some investors are unloading them into art), The excesses of our society were on view everywhere: pubic hair, violence, and in 2006, excrement was “IN”. There was a piece of sculpture with a man with his head between his legs devouring his excrement. Another piece which gained great attention was a pack of cigarettes moving in a large circular pattern seemingly on it’s own. I noticed that this piece was mentioned in several major art magazines and on You Tube. It was also sad to see that art created by Black artists was rare. There was one gallery that carried mostly African American art and, Basquiat’s work was exhibited by a couple galleries.

The presence of BADC (Black Artists of DC) was a tiny effort to correct the massive problems of a Eurocentric art world. It may be that Black artists can revive the heart and soul of what I call “the Art Industrial Complex”. Many Black artists from the Americas, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, choose to celebrate, educate, inspire, inform, reform as well as to intellectually and emotionally engage the human being through art. There is a need to move beyond Shock and Awe for the sake of Shock and Awe. It is important that artist of color takes both themselves and the art they produce seriously, by properly documenting the works for investment purposes. Too many times it is this level of seriousness that excludes us from the marketplace. Perhaps the real cutting edge lies with the artistic expressions of those excluded and shut out, because it is these artists that can add soul reviving qualities to humanize the Art market.

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