Miami art fairs took the shape of pre-existing NYC real estate pretty quickly. Although Art Basel is only six years old, its center aisle in the convention center this year hosted the heavyweight contemporary galleries Yvon-Lambert, Gagosian, Gladstone, Metropictures and Marian Goodman, all of which have ground-floor spaces in Chelsea or distinguished locations in Midtown. Neighbors in both Chelsea and at Basel, Gladstone Gallery and Metropictures transplanted their offices with surprising precision.
In fact, with the increase of satellite fairs like NADA, PULSE and INK, to name a few, so striking is the similarity to the larger gallery scene that one has to question the benefits for an art audience. As gallerist Bert Green wisely pointed out on artfagcity.com early this December, “…the saturation point is being reached, the fair phenomenon is suffering from the same thing that it meant to be an alternative to: browsing the galleries to find the gems buried among the large number of mediocre offerings.”
Indeed, the only people I met during my stay in Miami who weren’t bothered by copious amounts of average-to-bad art watering down the fairs were non-participating dealers researching venues for the following year. Even Art Basel, the most prestigious of these outfits, suffers from being larger than it needs to be: it takes several hours to just walk through the convention center, let alone absorb it all. The fact that there are 23 additional fairs for a gallery-hopper to see, in addition to Basel, can be a little overwhelming, to say the least.
The five-year Miami fair veteran Scope would appear to have lost the most ground in the battle over chichi, with quality galleries like Moti Hasson, Thierry Goldberg Projects and Curators Office leaving for Aqua and the notoriously bad ArtMiami. That said, three-year-old Aqua may have gained a number of exhibitors this year, but very few of them added enough quality programming to replace those who left for the more high-profile NADA or PULSE. Even the top satellite fairs cannot remain unaffected by the influx of galleries and venues, gallerists proving to be as fickle as anyone else participating in the real estate business. The hope, of course, is that this time next year we may see some adjustment in response to viewer frustration, but given the fact that most galleries are reporting good sales, it may be yet another year before we see any real changes.