2008 Art Basel: the main event

Art Basel Vernissage. Photo: Tomas Loewy.

By Lydia Martin

Despite the fact that there may be less of those red dot stickers (the universal art world symbol for “sold”) adorning works at this year’s at Art Basel Miami Beach, there’ll be no shortage of mind-blowing sculptures, paintings, drawings and videos to see at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Prices start at hundreds of dollars for works by young artists and leap well into the millions for museum-quality pieces. Art Basel’s seventh year in Miami Beach features more than 240 of the biggest galleries from the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere showing work by more than 2,000 artists, including figures such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman and Yayoi Kusama.

At Basel for the first time this year: The Third Line gallery from United Arab Emirates, Sfeir-Semler from Lebanon and SKE from Bangalore.

Also new this year is the fact that Basel is making it easier for the general public to engage with art, thanks to an expanded, better-focused public-arts project.

In previous years, outdoor pieces have been scattered around South Beach, but this year all but one work will be at Lummus Park on Ocean Drive, between 10th and 14th streets. Ai Weiwei’s Bubble, composed of 100 blue ceramic bubbles spread over an area of about 2,000 square feet, will be set up on Watson Island. Eight more works, most site-specific and commissioned for the fair, will stand along Lummus Park, including: Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata’s Tree Huts in the palm trees; Brazilian artist Ana Linnemann’s The Invisibles, featuring a spinning palm tree, and Czech artist Jiri Kovanda’s poetic interventions or "actions," in which he will bump into passersby and deliver lines from scripts in such a way that folks don’t suspect they’re witnessing theater. Kovanda’s performances will be featured during the free Nights at Lummus Park, 8-10 p.m. Dec. 4 and Dec. 5.

A hot ticket for Baselgoers this year is Art Loves Film, 8:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road. Featured is the documentary Herb and Dorothy by Megumi Sasaki, which tells the story of art-world legends Herb and Dorothy Vogel. He was a postal worker, and she was a librarian, but they managed to build one of the country’s most impressive contemporary art collections by living on a tight budget and often buying from now-famous artists who were just starting out. The Vogels stuffed their tiny New York apartment with thousands of works – and in the end have given almost all of them to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and to a project called Fifty Works for Fifty States. The Vogels and Sasaki are expected to attend the screening. Tickets are free but will go quickly. You don’t need to have a ticket to the fair to see the documentary, but you have to go to the Miami Beach Convention Center’s Hall D and ask for tickets to the screening at the VIP desk, which will be open as of noon Dec. 2.

The main attraction offers a visual feast for the art lover, even those who look but don’t buy. This year’s Art Kabinett features 18 exhibitions (some solo shows and some group shows) curated by galleries. Among the spotlighted artists: Meret Oppenheim, one of the most unconventional female artists to make a mark in 20th century art; Marcel Duchamp, famed French Dada artist and Yoko Ono, whose interactive touch me III piece is a woman’s body created from Silicone and separated into sections viewers are asked to touch.

Whether or not the final sales figures (which Basel organizers don’t disclose) are as strong as those of previous years isn’t so important as the fact that the art world will come together in Miami Beach for an action-packed weekend, says Basel co-director Marc Spiegler.

‘‘We measure success not so much by sales that week, but by the long-term effects. Which galleries meet what new collectors, which artists meet what curator and what show comes out of it, or what sale comes out of it. It doesn’t all have to happen by Sunday, as long as it happens."


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