Art Basel Miami Beach has become not only the largest art fair in the United States but also a significant platform for the exhibition and production of public art projects. The most notable included the second iteration of Art Public, an exhibition sector of Art Basel which takes place on the long and ocean-tipped green adjoining the Bass Museum of Art. In collaboration with that museum, the project was organized for the second year by Christine Y. Kim, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at LACMA and co-founder of LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division). Works by Miguel Andrade Valdez, José Davila and Teresa Margolles stood out. In tandem, the Bass Museum independently accrued major funding to implement year-round programming of durational public artworks for a new program, Temporary Contemporary, joining the City of Miami’s other temporary program of public artworks, Downtown Art Days. This year TC’s debut will benefit from Art Public’s collaboration, as it will continue to host some of the Art Public works around the museum.
Other notable ventures included Guiro by the fantastic Havana-based collaborative Los Carpinteros, a beehive like structure which was built and disassembled in what felt like a mirage at the very edge of Collins Park, and massive inflatable architectural structures executed by collaborative Snarkitecture and separately, a work by Luis Pons for Inventory Projects. The former, aesthetic and playful, the latter a commentary on the South Florida housing bubble. Perhaps the most major project mounted for the event was Plane Text, an aerial series of word banners streaking through the Miami skyline. While Jenny Holzer has actually created nearly identical projects in the context of her text-based practice, notably a 2005 work with Creative Time entitled For the City in which a huge banner was flown over Manhattan reading “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE”, in Miami phrases were generated for the sky from other heavy hitters with affinities for language such as Sol LeWitt (his banner reading: “IDEAS CANNOT BE OWNED, THEY BELONG TO WHOEVER UNDERSTANDS THEM”), John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner and Richard Prince. Younger artists were involved as well, among them Hank Willis Thomas and Lisa Anne Auerbach. Some phrases seemed to actually address the situation of the moment: “WE’RE RICH WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT”, while others seemed to be pre-conceived sentiments. As a double whammy, New York-based Gary Simmons used the same phrase as his banner on a two-part billboard work for Art Public, both reading “I WISH IT COULD BE MORNING ALL DAY LONG”. Bizarrely coincidental, Jamaican-born Brooklyn-based artist Dave McKenzie also took on an aerial banner strapped to a flying craft, this one exclusively for Art Public featuring a series of marriage proposals.
Significantly, a seeming development as part of the ABMB phenomenon is the possibility of the city embracing some attributes of a biennial or site-exhibition, turning itself out at every corner for contemporary art in a similar way as Venice or Liverpool. The behaviors of such exhibitions, championed by such curators as Mary Jane Jacob in Chicago, and James Lingwood and Michael Morris of Artangel in London, further the emergence of context-specific or situation-determined work in their own right. Claire Doherty and Paul O’Neill have done important work expanding the topic with the joint book Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art (2010). These works are of a different spirit than many permanent public artworks. As art historian Patricia C. Phillips has discussed, temporary and durational public artworks can serve as an intensification of timely issues and the voice of localities.
Whether this last point is really happening or not (I would say not much), perhaps the most important point revolving around the public art produced during the course of this year’s ABMB is that it has the potential to free viewers form the commercial imperative: how much does it cost, where does it fall in the global hierarchy of galleries and fairs, who is buying what. Baked into the cake of course is the value produced by public art for all parties, and thus its implication in the system. Yet, with the idea of owning such works as either undesirable, inappropriate, or impossible, there lies a fresh opportunity to experience the work, and to shift lenses from the assumption of possession to a bigger picture that at its best, might even be an actualization or embodiment of an idea rather than a pleasing display for the retina. This is not to assign the behavior of public artwork as a phenomenon only in reaction to art fairs, but also to recognize its identity in contemporary art as a crucial step in the shift from object to context-based practices, and as a sophisticated project for any city. Lastly, this turn to include and promote temporary public art exhibitions during the fairs points to an increasingly important desire/readiness for an art event for Miami that looks and feels more like a biennial or city-based exhibition, one that includes more ambitious and serious public art projects with longer durations. And this might just be the antidote that helps to really put Miami on the map.
(Image on top: Jack Pierson; Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.)