by Vatsala SethiJan 23, 2023
"Sculpted bodies, sexualised bodies, performing and singing bodies—brown, black, and white bodies—have made themselves present in this new edition of Meridians, challenging art historical canons and their relationship with the representation of power, opening new perspectives for art’s activism around gender and race, and infusing optimism and hope to how we might envision our future."
These are the words of Magalí Arriola, curator of the Meridians sector, at the recently concluded Art Basel Miami Beach. The incredibly successful event displayed a massive and eclectic selection of art; viewed by audiences from around the globe, pouring over the works of both—blue-chip artists and niche practitioners. Among the local practitioners presented, were several African American voices that witnessed large-scale viewership.
Originally launched in 2002, Art Basel Miami Beach has evolved into a dynamic platform that uniquely connects the modern art scenes of North and South America, Europe, and beyond. Marking the 20th anniversary with this edition, the event featured 282 exhibitors from 38 countries and territories. Of all the participating organisations, over a half of them hail from the continent of America, an area of distinct focus for Miami Art Basel in the past. As mentioned in the press release, "in addition to its Galleries, Positions, Nova, Survey and Edition sectors, the fair hosted 20 large-scale projects as part of the Meridians sector, 29 curated installations within exhibitors’ booths in the Kabinett sector, as well as nine panels with leading art world voices in its renowned 'Conversations' series.”
Founded in 1970 by gallerists from Basel, the Art Basel stages some of the most prominent art shows for modern and contemporary art—in Basel, Miami Beach, Hong Kong and Paris—in the present day. Defining its selections by host city and region, the uniqueness of each show is reflected through "participating galleries, artworks presented, and the content of parallel programming produced in collaboration with local institutions for each edition." In recent years, Art Basel’s engagement has been steadily expanding beyond just art fairs, owing to new efforts to push tech, along with a number of other initiatives.
Returning to the Meridians sector, Magalí Arriola is the director of Museo Tamayo in Mexico. The Miami Art Basel press release, expanding on her professional history, said “she joined Art Basel with recent institutional experience at KADIST, where she was lead curator for Latin America, and Museo Jumex, where she was the curator between 2011 and 2014. She was the curator of Mexico's participation in the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019, showing artist Pablo Vargas Lugo with a project entitled Acts of God.” Arriola’s other recent, independent curatorial projects include What do you dream of? The Mohole Flower and other Tales, and A Place out of History.
Conversations is another engaging platform for the exchange of ideas, on topics concerning the global contemporary art scene. Featuring 35 speakers across nine panels, it brought together leading contemporary artists, gallerists, collectors, curators, museum directors, and critics. Participants in this edition included—artist Agnieszka Kurant, cultural strategy advisor András Szántó, collectors Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, collector, CEO and Co-Founder of Design Miami Craig Robins, art historian and curator Drew Sawyer, artists João Enxuto and Erica Love, curator and co-Director of the Serpentine Galleries Hans Ulrich Obrist, artist Joshua Citarella, collector and real-estate developer Martin Margulies, and writer and Artnet news art business editor Tim Schneider.
Topics represented and examined at the Conversations sector ranged from representing and collecting artists from Africa and the African diaspora to the carbon footprint of technology to many counter-intuitive approaches to the art market today. There was also a conversation celebrating the pioneering photographic practice of Ming Smith and a sonic lecture by artist, musician, and poet Chino Amobi. Additionally, there was a panel featuring collectors—Carlos & Rosa de la Cruz, Craig Robins, and Martin Margulies—who have helped in establishing the thriving Miami arts ecosystem, marking two decades of Art Basel Miami Beach. The program was curated by Emily Butler, Art Basel's Conversations curator, and was open for free to the public.
Art Basel is supported by several phenomenal partners who have significantly contributed to the art space. Their lead partner UBS has a long history of supporting contemporary art and artists. The firm has one of the world’s most important corporate art collections and seeks to advance international conversation around the art market, through its global lead partnership with Art Basel, as co-publisher of the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, and as a co-presenter of Intersections: The Art Basel Podcast. UBS also has partnerships with fine art institutions including—the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia. The firm provides its clients an insight into the art market, collecting, and legacy planning through its Collectors Circle and UBS Art Advisory. Art Basel’s associate partners are—Audemars Piguet, whose contemporary art commissioning program; Audemars Piguet Contemporary, works with artists to support and develop unrealised artworks, exploring a new direction in their practice; NetJets, the world leader in private aviation; and Louis Vuitton, which nurtures a longstanding commitment to arts by collaborating with international artists. Art Basel is also supported globally by BMW, who presented its Pulse Topology in Superblue, and Ruinart, La Prairie, Sanlorenzo, and On.
The event has also garnered a fair share of criticism from the arts community for becoming increasingly institutionalised, over the course of its history. Its inception coincides with that of Miami city's experience of a major cultural mutation in its identity, and it has since drawn large museum crowds. The primary point of critique levied at Art Basel, seems to be with the attendance of specific sections of the arts community, who are also responsible for a large cross-section of the works presented. However, 2022's fair did explore multimedia pieces and fresh, new creative voices as well. Perhaps next year’s edition will push cutting edge and underground practices even further. Until then, there are a multitude of unconnected satellite fairs and art festivals that Art Basel’s recurring presence has supposedly inspired.