Occupy Art Basel Miami Beach, Now!

By not showing up. Collectors need to boycott this art fair

Art Basel Miami Beach. (Photo by Mathias Stich)

I’m not going to Art Basel Miami Beach this year. I’m through with it, basta. It’s become a bit embarrassing, in fact, because why should I be seen rubbing elbows with all those phonies and scenesters, people who don’t even pretend they are remotely interested in art?

And so, here it is, in print, just so no one has to ask me again. Here are all the things I’m absolutely not going to: Tuesday it’s a lunch with Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezomolo (nice name!), then there are cocktails for artist Teresita Fernandez (I like her, she’s pretty, she’s Cuban and she won a MacArthur fellowship), then there’s my friend Lapo Elkann’s Ferrari party, which I’ll have to leave to make the dinner Delphine Arnault is having (she’s the daughter of the owner of LVMH, no less) for Berlin-based artist Anselm Reyle. He’s just designed a line of bags for Christian Dior, he’s very handsome and smooth, his work is rather out of favor now but I think he’s on his way back (though it may take a while). Then I’ll probably have late-night drinks at Maria Baibakova’s, because she’s young and cool, she’s Russian and she has a great apartment in Miami, and, oops, I forgot my promise to show up at the Rubell Collection opening party sponsored by US Trust.

On Wednesday there’s a W magazine party for hot Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, then there’s the Galerie Eva Presenhuber dinner (she has good artists, as always) and there’s also a dinner at some wonderful Mexican collector’s house where I go because I love authentic Mexican food. Somewhere there will be a raging White Cube party, and Emmanuel Perrotin will once again bring over Paris’s Le Baron nightclub, where, late into the night, dealers will come hunting for a one-night stand. On Thursday, if I’m still pumping, there’s a dinner for Berlin gallery Contemporary Fine Arts (those Berliners know how to party), and then there’s Simon de Pury’s Phillips Auction House party (it’s crazy and they have fun Russian partners), then there’s Aby Rosen’s mega-dinner party at his W hotel, followed by a debauched party in the hotel nightclub hosted by party boys Stavros Niarchos (very internationally cool), Alex Dellal (major London hipster) and Vito Schnabel (a fast talker who represents some promising youngish artists).

What’s the fun of being invited to so many things? What ever happened to the days when the best parties were the ones I had to crash? You want to know what happens over the weekend? Well, I can’t be bothered with Friday or Saturday, because if I did I’d end up in rehab.

How many celebrities will I meet? How many mega-collectors will I greet? How many curators will I schmooze and how many artists will I chat up? None, because I’m not going.

As difficult as this is to imagine in today’s climate, I used to go to art fairs to buy art. Remember when we’d go to Frieze in London or Art Basel Miami Beach to find great works by artists we were collecting, or to discover new ones? Art fairs in their first few years were the gallery world’s great equalizing playing fields, where dealers from all over the world could show up and catch your eye with something powerful, something exotic or something undervalued.

International art fairs blossomed over the past decade, and I’ve attended every single one; I’ve witnessed their decline first hand. In the early days galleries would compete and bring great material—not just to sell, but also to gain credibility and prestige relative to their peers. At a time when the auction houses were laying out large guarantees on mega masterpieces and pouring lots of money into flashy catalogs and pumped-up marketing budgets, the art fair was an auction-style environment where small and mid-size galleries could take booths just as big as those of bigger galleries, creating a level playing field from which to launch their artists. Collectors could feel they were getting a full survey of what was available that year in the art market; comparing values and tastes was made easy since you could value-shop different galleries and end up comparing a million-dollar Neo Rauch in one booth with a million-dollar Mark Tansey in another.

But today, the freshness of new discoveries has mostly evaporated because there are so many international fairs in a single year and the galleries send out the list of the available works they’ll be showing a week or two in advance, so people like me get to see what’s on view in Art Singapore, Paris’s FIAC, Italy’s Artissima or the Abu Dhabi art fair. What’s worse, the galleries aggressively pre-sell everything they can before the fair opens. Why does that matter? Because I regularly receive the email blast of works for sale from several galleries, and twice, for instance, I’ve “put on reserve” the fair’s choice Karen Kilimnik painting only to get an email from her gallery stating that someone else will buy it sight unseen so I must “shit or get off the pot.” I refuse to buy an artwork I haven’t seen in person, especially in this fragile environment, so in the end the gallery runs me over, selling it to the guy who’s willing to commit to it blind. I can’t really blame these galleries, because this has become the new status quo, but I’m not enjoying this game of pre-selling the best pieces—it’s worn me out. There are no longer any civilized rules of protocol in the email blasts other than “sell, sell, sell” and do it as fast as you can. As with most serious art collectors, I’ve been to too many fairs, I’ve seen the same stuff over and over again for years. It has lost its luster and much of its purpose, so why should I bother? It’s high time I start making more studio visits, and visiting more emerging galleries. It’s work but these days that’s the only way to get ahead.

Occupy Art Basel Miami Beach, Now!