This morning, Art Basel Miami Beach announced its gallery exhibitors at this December's massive fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center. In any other year, this would be an expected move by Art Basel; the fair usually releases its exhibitor list in early September. But today's announcement comes as Art Basel's annual host city, Miami Beach, is under evacuation due to a threat by Hurricane Irma.
The storm has already killed ten people across the Caribbean, and forced venues all across South Florida to shutter operations — including the Miami Beach Convention Center, Art Basel Miami Beach's home since it launched in 2002. Galleries across the region, including Art Basel 2017 exhibitors Fredric Snitzer Gallery and David Castillo Gallery, have closed. It's safe to say that few people in Miami have art on their minds — unless they're trying to figure out how to protect their own collections from flood waters and high-speed winds.
From that perspective, Basel's announcement today feels insensitive. The press release doesn't mention Hurricane Irma once, instead touting "an entirely new floorplan and show architecture," in addition to the 268 galleries expected at this year's fair. Art Basel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
For many, this timing confirms what they've long suspected: that Art Basel isn't for Miami locals. Miami galleries have long been underrepresented at the show — this year's lineup features just two out of 268. The crowds of tourists and traffic that the fair and its satellite events bring to town every year add hours to nearly every resident's commute. It's hard to view Art Basel's Ruinart champagne carts and million-dollar art sales as targeted toward anyone but the world's one-percenters — this in Miami, a city with the highest income inequality of anywhere in the U.S.
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Art Basel has had a positive effect on the arts in Miami too, of course; less pricey satellite fairs like Superfine! wouldn't exist here without it, and the attention it brings to South Florida culture in December lasts longer each year. But if Art Basel were making its gallery announcement with Miami in mind, it would have waited until the storm passed to release it. Miami may be the home of the megafair, but the timing of Art Basel's release suggests that Miami isn't its target audience.
UPDATE 3:38 p.m.: Art Basel responded to New Times with the following statement:
As a member of the Miami Beach community for more than a decade, we closely monitor all events that might impact local residents, businesses and institutions, and are, of course, aware that Hurricane Irma may make landfall in Miami-Dade County in the coming days. Art Basel is taking the situation very seriously and we are in regular and direct contact with the City of Miami Beach’s senior officials, who have assured us that they are taking the necessary precautions to prepare the community. At this stage, we expect our show in December to go forward, and we therefore issued our galleries announcement today — as originally planned — as a statement of commitment to the City. We’ll continue monitoring the situation and it should go without saying that we hope the impact will be as minimal as possible. Our thoughts are with our friends, partners and neighbors in Miami Beach.