Art, alas, is often rooted in tragedy and while Art Basel Miami Beach 2015 almost bore witness to an actual casualty (in the form of an attempted murder via an X-acto knife), Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 wasn’t quite as lucky in escaping a fatality of sorts.
Design/Miami’s opening day witnessed a Jeff Koons’ Porcelain Balloon Dog fallen and smashed to bits. Witnesses claim that the piece, a mini magenta version done in a limited-edition collaboration with Bernardaud, an historic porcelain manufacturer, simply “fell on its own.” However, anyone that attended an art fair this past week for Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 knows that this lip-sealed attitude of bystanders fails to tell what lies beneath, or more likely directly in front of, the real story. Although the piece was a scaled-down version of Koons’ iconic works, and valued at only $8,000-$9,000 (versus the $58M+ price tags associated with some of his other works), what hurt more was a single selfie-taker’s pride. Besides, while wanderlusting selfie-takers are literally dropping like flies off of cliffs around the world, a mere $10K max damage to a Koons pales in comparison to a human life. Whatever. It. Takes.
That’s right; one Instagram “collector” had their hopes of ownership truly “shattered”, all thanks to an overly ambitious and highly risque maneuver conducted in an attempt to nail the perfect selfie. The selfie game at Art Basel Miami Beach is highly competitive, forcing selfie-takers to increasingly daring, practically avant-garde techniques in an attempt to outreach their friends in achieved social-media likes. After all, any super-important “influencer” knows that nothing speaks more volumes to the followers of their “taste & lifestyle” blogs than being seen at one of contemporary art’s biggest parties. And, with all due respect to Mr. Koons, if Art Basel is a game of “Pokemon Go!” or some other augmented reality, a selfie with one of his works is certain to garner some mega points.
Of course the above is a farce. The problem is, however, that anyone in attendance at any art fair for this Miami Art Week could probably believe it based on the attestable heinous behavior exhibited by some attendees that clearly lacked not only art appreciation but also common human etiquette. There were clearly what looked to be a number of “oopsy-daisy” moments due to careless fair-goers, many of which involved physical encounters that had to be avoided in order to escape a concussion-inducing collision with someone entirely sucked into the outer space of their cell phones. In addition, multiple gallery owners showing at fairs vented frustration about obsessive selfie taking and gossipers crowding about their booths, with no interest in the actual art at hand. If anyone were to come forward with an actual tale of a piece being compromised by a rogue selfie-taker, it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise.
No one is requesting that people have a serious art education but a little common sense never hurt. Admittedly, I too may have been guilty of “checking in” to various venues. However, this was not at the expense of potentially jeopardizing a piece, completely obstructing a walkway, or even placing a perspiring cocktail glass upon what you thought was a table but was actually a sculpture. Additionally, there is hypocrisy in the fact that more likely than not these so-called "influencers" would have to had their cellphones mandatorily checked at the door of any celeb filled schmancy-fancy party during Art Basel -- if they even got an invite. (Art Fairs, take note.)
Perhaps it is just the nature of the beast. With most press coverage highly focused on champagne-fuelled lavish parties with huge corporate sponsors, it is no wonder that people feel more inclined to use Art Basel to promote their own personal brands over actually absorbing anything relevant around them. Then again, maybe the high falutin art world should recognize that collectively as humans the social media game is something that we are now accustomed to and that we secretly desire.
To that point, on Instagram (at time of publication), there are 82,487 public posts for #artbasel2016, 1,182,447 public posts for #artbasel and 218,313 public posts for #artbaselmiami. The top post for #artbasel2016, reigning it at nearly 10,000 likes (slightly more dollars than the cost of the shattered miniature balloon pup), belongs to a self-proclaimed “fashion + beauty + travel + taste” and “lifestyle curator” and features a photo that reads “Chillin on my hotel rooftop in between Art Basel Shenanigans this past weekend. I forgot the matching top to these bikini bottoms at home so I had to mix + match…” By no means am I judging this post. Rather, I’m asking everyone, myself included, to question just what Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 may truly stand for.
Regardless of what side of the argument to which you might lean, there is one thing that is inarguable and abundantly clear. If you were at Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 but you were obsessively utilizing your phone for selfies and scrolling, you really could have been anywhere at all. Everyone has the right to choose to live a life for themselves (or for their "followers") as they see fit but with all due respect, it would be nice to see some “tastemakers” kindly refine their notion of “taste” -- in an art fair or simply walking down the street.
© Los Bandidos del Arte, LLC. 2016.