All the fun of the art fair
by Rob Bound, Monocle, December 5, 2009
MIAMI. When is a trade fair not a trade fair? When it’s an art fair, that’s when. The Miami Beach Convention Centre is home to such august annual jamborees as the Professional Convention Management Association and the International Association for Exposition Management. Nobody in the world, except the organisers of these high points of gala boredom, knows what these are; all we can guess is that walkie talkie impresarios, clipboard contractors and signage magnates make a mint. But when it’s not hosting those celebrations of beige, it’s where slinky old Art Basel pitches its toothsome tent in the winter sunshine. It’s when the people on the stands love what they do, know what they’re selling, quote critics and dig critical discourse.
And this year, after woes and readjustments and The Crunch, gallerists doing Art Basel Miami Beach really want to be here, are glad to have had the opportunity to hang their paintings, press their suits, huff-on and polish their slightly less rose-tinted specs.
“It’s still hugely competitive to get into the fair,” says Alexander Gray, the Alexander Gray of Alexander Gray Associates, a three year-old Manhattan gallery with a fast-earned reputation for the curatorial, contextual and art historical over the commercially insatiable. “While the blue chips are reaffirming their relationships with big collectors, this is really important for the business models of the smaller galleries.”
Gray has hung one artist, Lorraine O’Grady, who shares her dealer’s three adjectives but has a fourth even trickier one: O’Grady’s famously non-prolific. She is showing Art Is…, a photographic reproduction of her performative intervention at Harlem’s African-American Day Parade in 1983 in which O’Grady and her pals literally framed the event in gilt rectangles, capturing faces, places, moods and moments in a beguilingly natural way. O’Grady’s work in Gray’s booth is a show, not just a selection of greatest hits that might shift him some cash in the short term. As the artist herself, a rare bird at convention centres – art fairs or otherwise – says, “There are ways of meaning success that aren’t commercial, sometimes not art critical; just satisfying.” (…)