Nothing but the best: Art Basel Miami Beach

How was it then, Art Basel Miami Beach? Was it an exalting event? Was it excessive? Well, visitors were most definitely spoilt for choice. Sometimes the art was just bad, sometimes it was really good, but all in all, it was a fantastic presentation. There was an amazing amount of art on show, some particularly engaging talks and plenty of programmes that were stimulating. You couldn’t argue against the depth and breadth of the expo.
“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication,” Friedrich Nietzsche said. Intoxicating; that sounds about right.
It was almost inevitable for Art Basel Miami to be so good, a true product of its time: 2012 has, as we know all too well, been a phenomenal year in every way. The fair entered its second decade in absolute style, with the kind of confidence that suggests it is only just getting started. December 2013 couldn’t come soon enough.
Marc Payot, partner and vice-president of Hauser & Wirth (Zurich, London and New York), commented that in an age where there are almost too many art fairs to count; Art Basel Miami Beach has the ability to stand out in its ability to attract an “extraordinary number of museum curators and directors” from all over the world.
Charlotte Burns and Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper said it best – Art Basel Miami has grown up. It once used to be Art Basel Switzerland’s “frivolous sister”, cute and ambitious but never one to steal the limelight. Well, it might never steal the thunder from its sibling, but, in its own right, it is something special. There’s certainly nothing quite like it in the US.
The show featured an unparalleled number of galleries (over 250) shimmering in the Miami sunshine with their respective collections, all with something interesting to say. Modern art was strongly represented.
The Florida Trend’s Joyce Edmondson said that this year’s fair felt busier and she noticed that the older works – represented by the likes of Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Marcel Duchamp – seemed to be a lot more prevalent than they have been.
“Every piece told a story,” she wrote. “The experience was quite overwhelming. It made me recall friends who, when going to a museum, would contemplate two or three works, and after that, were so emotionally drained they had to leave.”
We can look back to one wonderful critique of last year’s show as what this year’s delivered. It helps make sense of Johan Thunell’s disconcerting Nylen, which resemble the orcs out of Lord of the Rings and Patricia Piccini’s equally uneasy human-animal hybrid The Animal.
“Cognitive dissonance,” explained Jonathan T.D. Neil in 2011. The New York-based writer and art historian added that it was cliché to say as much, “a toss-off term used to explain (or to keep from explaining) all sorts of contradictions, hypocrisies, moral and ethical failings”, but it fitted. It still does.
“Harmony is for hippie losers. Dissonance is complex, difficult, dangerous; it’s Heidegger in six-inch heels at a rifle range… It’s why we believe in too-big-to-fail. And yes, it’s why we love Art Basel Miami Beach.”
It most certainly is. Much has been said of the art industry’s clear demonstration of strength this year, with the finance world looking on enviously, asking themselves what is it that they are doing that is so great, what is it about art that defies the austere logic of the time?
Well, as Mr Neil noted, such clarity of thought isn’t needed. It is enough to say that as human beings we like looking at interesting things, we are enthralled by colour and human emotion is rarely, if ever, a rational thing. Thinking and feeling are not necessarily synonymous.
The success of this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach is a reflection of what is really important – the pursuit of happiness. It is a celebration of human curiosity, which has allowed the species to grow, and a symbol of hope that the simple activity of making pretty and thoughtful things is doing very well in the modern world.
Cadogan Tate, a leader in fine art shipping and storage, works with collectors, museums and artists.