Saturday, December 6, 2008


The Art Fair as Outlet Mall By KEN JOHNSON NY TIMES Published: December 5, 2008 MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The most trenchant comment on the dazzling and enervating spectacle that is Art Basel Miami Beach is written in bold black and white letters on the floor of the Mary Boone Gallery booth. A wall-to-wall text piece by Barbara Kruger, it spells out two quotations. One, from Goethe, observes, “We are the slaves of objects around us.” The other, from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, reads, “He entered shop after shop, priced nothing, spoke no word, and looked at all objects with a wild and distracted stare.” These lines truly sum up the experience of a frenetic fair that embraces more than 200 galleries and many ancillary exhibitions and events in other locations in the Miami area. To take in so much art in so short a time is by turns thrilling, numbing and totally mystifying. And that’s not to mention the schmooze storm of parties, business meetings, open houses and other private events orchestrated to charm the collector class. The sense of art as merchandise is overpowering. A majority of what you see is portable and palatable. Most galleries offer variety-store-like mixes of works by different artists with the ambience of a sample sale.

An installation at T293 by the French team that goes by the name Claire Fontaine consists of a crude sculpture of a blue horse, an obscure reference to a popular symbol of political liberation from the 1970s. The words “Is freedom therapeutic?” are spray-painted graffiti-style on the walls, while a poster poses the question, “Why is art the only space of expression for a luxurious and exclusive principle of reality that makes abnormality into a source of wealth and a desirable condition?”

Why, in other words, must the kind of radical creative freedom and idiosyncrasy we celebrate in modern art remain a commodity that only people of means can really afford?