THE DECEMBER ART FAIRS IN MIAMI...
The first week of December in Miami has become unmissable gathering for those involved or interested in the art world. Besides the prestigious and coveted Art Basel Miami Beach, which only a privileged and limited number of galleries and artists have access to, many satellite fairs have sprouted and gained importance. These fairs aim to draw part of that audience with purchasing power that visits the more important ones, and attract minor galleries eager to participate but that cannot compete with the stronger ones. Also, some already established fairs have changed their dates to take place on the same week. Among these fairs, in which Cuban art is regularly exhibited, we can mention Art Miami, which after years of being held in January, changed to December a few years ago, becoming the second most important. Another fair exhibiting Cuban art, which was recently moved to December and to Miami, is PINTA. The latter is specialized in Latin American art and not only provides space for galleries, but it also organizes conference cycles and book presentations.
This fair has gained importance because of its size and the quality and quantity of galleries that participate.
In terms of the Cuban art that is shown and sold at these fairs, there is still interest in modern art, especially that from the so-called Avant-gardes, and more recently the ‘rediscovery' of abstract art. However, great interest has progressively shifted towards contemporary art, which little by little managed to shake off the regional labels of Cuban or Latin American.
This week of fairs is a crucial moment for many artists, since their participation can not only favor their sales, but also lead to future exhibitions, or the possibility of forming part of the roster of artists represented by a gallery. It not only gives them exposure but also contact with collectors and museum curators. The fairs also attract collectors from all over the world that gather in the same city to appreciate and purchase the work of contemporary artists.
Another increasingly common phenomenon at the fairs is galleries presenting a stand curated around a theme or a selection of artists based on a specific criterion; moving away from the traditional concept of ‘fair' in which everything is included. We also see completely curated fairs, or with spaces where they present projects by curators that are chosen by the selection committees. This has been the result of the intention of establishing strict parameters within the commercial activity, which is the primary motive, giving the event credibility as the ideal place to purchase valuable works of art. Each fair competes to establish its legitimacy in a context where such events continue to multiply.
Returning to the topic of ‘Basel week', as this period is known in the city, managing to be included in Art Basel Miami Beach is hard. However, there is a group of internationally recognized Cuban artists that are regulars on the fair's stands. We can mention Jose Bedia, Alexandre Arrechea, Los Carpinteros and Carlos Garaicoa. Their works are commercialized by galleries that are considered to be among the most important within this context and that usually participate in this fair.
For a few years now, we have seen a more stable presence of Cuban art in Miami galleries and institutions. This tendency is not only limited to artists that live in the city, there are also others that live for part or all of the time on the island. Up until recently, political circumstances had allowed the artists to visit frequently; it is not uncommon to find their work in a show in Miami, since they travel constantly, exhibiting and selling their work in the United States. Especially during Basel week, they are seen participating in the different fairs, taking part in the exhibitions at the city's galleries or museums or just visiting and networking.
Besides the growing number of fairs during this week, there are solo and group exhibitions around the city with the expectation of being seen by visiting collectors. An indication of this tendency is the fact that the most important museum in the city, the Perez Art Museum Miami, had a contemporary Cuban art exhibition that week from the collection of Jorge Perez, a renowned collector and philanthropist from whom the museum takes its name. The show, made up of works by artists that live in Miami and Cuba, broke with the traditional division amongst Cuban artists according to where they live. This exhibition proves that Miami is not the city it was before, in which artists living on the island were rejected. Today, some of them frequently exhibit at acclaimed galleries in the city, like Pan American Art Projects, Tresart, and Cernuda, being active members of the group of artists these represent.
Another important museum in the city, the Patricia and Phillip Frost, of the Florida International University, had in the season's programming an exhibition by Cuban artist Rafael Soriano.
This is also a time when the city's important collectors open their institutions or private residences and organize special events to showcase their collections. Among them we should mention Ella Fontanals-Cisneros who, through her Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, known by the acronym CIFO, constantly purchases and shows works by Cuban artists. For the ‘Basel week', CIFO presented a show of abstract Cuban art by three artists. Likewise, De la Cruz Collection, institution created by well-known collector Rosa de la Cruz, prepared
Force and Form for December, a show that included the work of prominent Cuban artists like Felix González-Torres, Ana Mendieta and Wifredo Lam.
The renewed interest in Latin American art has allowed the meteoric reappearance and take off of the career of Cuban female artists like Carmen Herrera, and more recently Zilia Sanchez, whose works have reached astronomical prices. Maybe this has been one of the key factors in the recent changes in two of the most important auction houses that sell this kind of art, Sotheby's and Phillips. Both have decided to move the sale of works by Latin American artists to the contemporary art sections, which customarily were sold as part of a regional category. This progressive transition has favored the artists since it positions them on the same level as their international colleagues. In the short term, this change translates into a possible increase in the prices of the works, and consequently in the inclusion of these artists in important collections, exhibitions, and fairs.
It would be interesting to closely follow the situation between separating and integrating Latin American art with universal contemporary and modern art. This topic has been broadly debated within academic circles, without reaching consensus, and now seems to reach the art market world. I refer to regarding Latin American art as a separate category, as has been done so far; or integrating it like the auction houses and many museums are doing. There is a group of collectors and institutions that favor and support the first tendency. However, an increasing number of people are considering integration as the most convenient option. Museums seem to have this dichotomy as well; while some create collections specifically of Latin American art, others are including more artists in important collective exhibitions; and they also present solo exhibitions within a broader context. We will have to see what the future holds in store for art and artists. Integrated or separated? What will carry more weight? Geography or market value?
Besides the growing number of fairs during this week, there are solo and group exhibitions around the city with the expectation of being seen by visiting collectors.
Art Basel Miami Beach, December 2017 / Courtesy the author