So I walk into a relatively quiet booth at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, intrigued by the photographs on display there. A gallery director wanders over, we discuss the merits of the works (quite smart actually, in this case), and never one to be shy about asking prices, I inquire and he tells me the works are $25000 each or $35000 or whatever they were, and I nod my head in general agreement. Then another staff member interjects “but they should have been $3 million” (since they were selling well), or “$4 million” the other responds jovially, at which point the first says “and if you leave the booth now and come back later, the price will be $500K higher” and we all laugh ha ha ha with joyously unsettling art fair cynicism. As I walked back out into the packed corridors, I couldn’t help but wonder at what these tradeshows of art are becoming.
I’ve visited half a dozen art fairs this year in search of superlative photography, and after yet another mile of booths, it’s hard not to get a bit jaded by the whole process. I’ve decided that art fairs pass over me in waves: one minute I’m truly energized by something I’ve found tucked away in some booth, the next my feet hurt and I’m glazed over by the visual assault of mediocre merchandise; it’s hard not to lose track of the art itself. Back and forth I go, a Jekyll and Hyde of good and bad, amazement and boredom, giddiness and manic looking. I visited ABMB this year on a Thursday, where the river of 1%ers and aggressive laser-focused art consultants was augmented by the masses – wide eyed tour groups with matching headsets, husband and wife teams, and gaggles of teens in various stages of tittering and gawking (the photo diptych of news anchor Katie Couric matched with Britney Spears’ bare crotch needed a discrete lookout to ward off the throngs of gigglers and Instagrammers). I felt more of a sense of the surreal as a wandered the warren of booths, each singing its siren song of the shiny and the neon.
Photography-wise, what was primarily to be found at this year’s ABMB fair was new work by name brand contemporary photographers, with splashes of high quality vintage material and imagery from international photographers less well known in the US hidden on the sides. If your goal was to find something hot off the presses, then you could take your pick of Struth, Esser, Höfer, Tillmans, Demand, Muniz, Maier-Aichen, Casebere, McGinley and many others; they were all displayed front and center, ready for purchase. If you wanted to find something a little more off the beaten track, there were a few surprises to be unearthed, but you had to work a whole lot harder to sift them out.
This report is divided into three parts, each a slideshow containing photographic highlights. For each image, the caption contains the gallery name (and link to its website), along with artist, price information and a few comments. The order roughly follows my path through the fair, starting to the left from Entrance B.
Parts 2 of this report can be found here.