Last month I had the pleasure of venturing to Miami Beach for Monocle. There I took a peek into the culture scene slightly ahead of the rush of visitors who would soon be visiting for Art Basel and Design Miami. It was a quieter experience back then than what I am in for this week during those fairs. As I head back to Miami, I can’t help but feel a tad anxious.
A few weeks ago my inbox began to fill with invitations: VIP brunches, parties, pop-up shops and, of course, let’s not forget – exhibitions. Not a soul in New York wants to miss the action that Miami has to offer. It’s not just gallery owners and art lovers but some of New York’s prime nightlife spots, too, such as Paul’s Baby Grand and Mother’s Ruin who are transporting themselves south for the occasion. Art Basel and Design Miami are not just fun in the sun: they’re about a buzz of activity (and commerce) for the city.
There is part of me that wants to entirely dislike this commercial side but truthfully I don’t. The excitement of Art Basel has put Miami’s cultural scene on the map and does wonders for the local economy. However, I do find the production excessive and I am surely not the first person to be wary of it. I have a fear that hype might overshadow and influence the artwork. What’s more; when it does, I wonder if I’ll be able to tell the difference.
But however much we want to separate money from art, the reality is that we can’t. As long-time Miami gallery-owner Fredric Snitzer explained to me during my early visit – everyone has to eat. Another thing I learned was that when it comes to what is or what isn’t great work, I should trust my gut. The art, Snitzer explained, will of course be influenced by the drive to sell. How the money influences the work is a measure of the artist. “At the end of the day, it is about what it looks like and it will only sell if it’s good.”
So rather than greeting Miami and being prematurely overwhelmed by the puffery of this week, I’m looking forward to trusting my instincts instead. When Art Basel Miami’s inauguration was cancelled in 2001, private collectors such as Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and Donald and Mera Rubell opened up their homes to showcase their recent acquisitions. From the outset, Art Basel Miami has felt personal. And even as the event grows larger and ever more commercial, I think individuality might still be at the heart of what is happening in Miami Beach.
Megan Billings is a researcher for Monocle's New York bureau.