Art Basel Miami Beach bigger, but is it better?
A major redesign has increased the space substantially and produced a radically different layout
By Ossian Ward. From Art Basel Miami Beach daily edition
Published online: 02 December 2009
The old adage about wearing comfortable shoes has never been so apt. Not only is Art Basel Miami Beach up from 385,200 sq. ft to 502,848 sq. ft, with five galleries more than last year’s 265, but all of the previous “satellite” add-ons—Art Nova (Supernova is no more), Art Positions and Art Kabinett—have all been brought under one roof for the first time.
Even though increasing the size means more room for most galleries—with a large booth now measuring the same as an extra large from previous editions—for some dealers all the added floor space and new elements are proving to be nearly as headache-inducing as the hot-pink design of the fair’s show guide. A quick glance at its map reveals what a beast this year’s fair has become.
Corridor of power
A new central “cube”, designed by Dutch veteran of fair architecture Tom Postma, features two restaurants, the magazine stalls and the conversations parlour, Art Salon, but there’s no art at its heart. Instead, the fair radiates out into four discretely different experiences. To the left is the blue-chip and moderns quadrant, to the right the big contemporaries; then there is the “shooting gallery” of single artist projects (Art Nova) all cramped down the farthest right-hand side, and a smattering of young things (Art Positions) peppered around the 11,500 sq. ft cube. Oh, and there’s a spa too.
While getting more and more lost on a first walk round, albeit mid-installation with walkways jammed with packing crates and forklift trucks, Stuart Shave of Modern Art (H11) said: “I don’t know where I am yet” and Victoria Miro (F10) agreed that “it feels huge this year”. Andrew Hamilton of the Modern Institute (F11) said: “It’s quite overwhelming and feels confusing. I don’t really know where the main entrance is,” but he was happy with the additional yardage and with his position, on what is clearly the “corridor of power”, beginning at one end with Deitch (F1), Zwirner (F3), Marian Goodman (F4), White Cube (F5) and Marks (F7); ending with Lisson (F9), Miro (F10), Gladstone (F15) and Luhring Augustine (F12).
Tim Blum of Blum & Poe (G2), situated just to the right of this heavy-hitting aisle, also loved his placement, but admitted that “after eight years you get into your rhythm, you get used to the consistency”. Some noses were clearly put out of joint when the redesign was initially proposed, with one European gallery citing it as a reason for pulling out temporarily this year. “People don’t like change, we’re creatures of habit,” said Max Wigram (J48), who was cautiously upbeat about his corner spot, despite being one of the galleries in Art Nova furthest from an entrance: “It’s a walk that every serious collector will have to take and we have a prominent place there.” On balance, Michael Werner’s nicely exposed corner plot (B23) at the entrance to the VIP lounge is perhaps the choicest of them all.
One New York gallerist revealed that an artist who was coming to install a work had just called to say that he couldn’t find the booth and was leaving in a fit of irritation. Another first-timer said that “it was disenchanting to hear that there’s so much nepotism”, and suggested that the major players can negotiate the best locations by promising to bring big-named artists in force.
Feel the width
But not everyone was confused or disgruntled. Nadia Gerazouni of The Breeder (H21) said: “The corridors are larger and it feels more spacious. It’s great that everything is in these four walls, the fair feels more focused.” Max Hetzler (E7) added that he was “happy with our booth, we’re in a good neighbourhood”.
None was more pleased than James Fuentes (D18), an ex-Deitch employee who’s made good with his small Chinatown gallery, after years of slogging away at pop-up shows and having beers spilt on his sculptures when Art Positions was in the shipping containers by the beach. “I tried to explain to my friends outside the art world that making it into the main fair was like being in the Major League. They joked that soon I’d be rubbing shoulders with Larry Gagosian—and now I am.” Fuentes is immediately next door to Gagosian (D14), which is situated halfway between the mod-chippers and the contemporary “corridor of power”.
More than anything, the young New Yorker is pleased that the organisers could make such an unorthodox pairing. “It’s amazing that they would go there, to hear people out and make changes,” said Fuentes. “This juxtaposition represents the shake-up and the levelling of the playing field that they’re trying to create. It’s awesome.”
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