Art Basel, Miami Beach is, supremely, a market-place. You walk into the exhibition halls at Untitled, Scope and the Miami Convention Center, and walk around the spaces with your list, knowing exactly what you want to buy. Like any instinctive shopper you are always open to a new experience but in the main your meal will be what you anticipated it would be.
If, of course, this was all for people just to look who could complain at this rich and varied experience. From Kitsch to Picasso, from Koon knock-offs to the salesman himself it is all here. But somehow, exactly like your bag of potatoes being the same weight today as it was yesterday, with exactly the same distribution of size and shape, so the objects being sold are overwhelmingly devoid of serious thinking, derivative of process and so desperate to be new, the makers (you cannot call them artists without a smile) devolve to any rehash of any idea with the lacquer of a new material or politically correct pointers to suffering.
What does it say of a nation that Johannesburg chose to show photographs of people, in all shapes and in many manners, while New York showed a series of dirty and repainted fuel cans? The former relishing the image, discussing what their people are, the latter showing what corrupting the status of the individual does to a society. So many things were shiny, so many things were ‘ethnic’ for the sake of being ethnic. Above all, so many things were there so the collectors could find exactly the right object for the space on the wall or the bare patch on the floor.
The most beauty I saw on display was the elegance of so many of the women walking around. More works of art were wearing dresses than were displayed in almost all the gallery booths.
Basel Miami Beach is not about art. You could see all the art on display in one afternoon, you didn’t need a week. It was all about trading goods and providing a financial service. And when you traduce art to goods you rip out the heart of your culture.
We know images play a crucial and deep role in the human brain. We know people have and do worship images. When you dally with images you play with a peoples sense of themselves. You don’t just end up with a bad meal. It is the degeneration of your culture to pretend that what rich people trade with each other still is, in fact, a statement of nationhood and its identity.
It no longer is.
Art and Art Basel are two, distinct creations. They only look similar.