What a turd. Reporting from Art Basel Miami Beach, New York Times writer Patricia Cohen gets the exclusively super-rich take on class war. Unsuprisingly, they don’t get what the big deal is.
Cohen mentions the list of writers who’ve had it, like Sarah Thornton, Felix Salmon, Will Gompertz and Dave Hickey. She leaves the criticism at that; Thornton’s disgusted retirement from art market reporting is summed up with the quote “Money talks loudly and easily drowns out other meanings,” while Simon Doonan’s lengthy, hit-and-miss piece in Slate is boiled down to a quote about how there’re a lot of cheese platters.
Meanwhile, Cohen’s sources are given carte blanche to say whatever they like, without any response or fact-checking. Jason Rubell asks, “What do people want — to go back to the recession?” at a time when unemployment remains higher than it has been since the Great Depression. Nor does Cohen bother to counter Pace heir Marc Glimcher’s conception that “more people than ever before had developed an appreciation for art.” That’s an idea that you can only have at the top: auction prices are up, but museum attendance is down, and government support has been dropping here and abroad for years.
Mera Rubell points out that collectors and their pet museums, exhibition spaces, and art centers can improve neighborhoods; the Rubell Collection, for example, used to be a DEA warehouse. That’s fair, but a long way from proving Cohen’s “social, economic and cultural transformation of Miami that the fair and collectors like her have helped bring about.” To establish that Miami is a nicer place now than it was before Basel, you’d have to ask someone other than the fair organizers and collectors themselves.
Don Rubell seems to believe that trickle-down economics, which do not work in economics, somehow work in art. “There’s 20 ancillary fairs,” he tells Cohen. “Whatever amount of money you have in your pocket, you can enter this magical world of art.” “Whatever amount,” though, probably does not refer to the number you were thinking of: Don Rubell, after all, is the same man who believes that auction house Phillips de Pury is a “great incubator” for cutting-edge emerging artists.
Besides which, the fact that there are 20 ancillary fairs says nothing about the health of those fairs. None, other than perhaps NADA, would be able to succeed financially without Basel. None, other than perhaps NADA, have many exhibitors who wouldn’t rather be a rung closer to Basel. None, crucially, get as much press attention as Basel. We counted 10 articles in the New York Times and T Magazine about Art Basel Miami Beach; the only mention we saw of NADA, Pulse, or Untitled, the three largest satellites, was in a breezy events roundup post on T Magazine’s blog. One ArtsBeat blog post discussed how a Bill Viola piece at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami seemed reminiscent of Hurricane Sandy, but nowhere was there coverage of galleries like Derek Eller, Foxy Production, and Winkleman Gallery who overcame the almost complete demolition of their businesses to show at NADA and SEVEN.
To be fair, the satellite fair SELECT got a post from Cohen, entitled “Artists with more modest hopes”. And no, we don’t expect full coverage on the smaller fairs, because there’s too much going on, the art often isn’t great, and art fairs aren’t about the art, anyway. But this is what divides people: without coverage of the world outside, ever, the view from the top is the only one that exists. There’s the side that gets pummeled by police barricades on behalf of Sotheby’s locked-out art handlers, for example, while a record auction takes place inside. Then there’s the side that makes it into the next morning’s Times report on how well the auction went—as though a routine transaction at an auction house is the significant news story there.
This especially rings true when Eli Broad simply tells Cohen, “I don’t consider myself a tastemaker.” As a MOCA founder with a massive collection, a new museum in Michigan, and another museum coming soon, he is not only a tastemaker. Thanks to writers like Cohen, Broad is one of the only tastemakers. He just doesn’t care to acknowledge it.