Houston entourage set to soak up Art Basel Miami Beach
Wednesday morning's first Continental flight from IAH to MIA was awash with Houston art scene A-listers, all on board for a slice of the sizzle happening this week at North America's largest art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach. Hosting in excess of 180 galleries, myriad spinoff fairs and velvet ropes galore, the event is a not-to-be-missed draw for the international art arena.
At the top of the roster of Houston locals making waves this week is Sicardi Gallery, which not only is the single local art spot to have been offered an enviable booth at the fair, but also curated one of the show's monumental public artworks: A street-crossing installation by Venezuelan kinetic artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. His calculated geometric arrangements of vibrant hues are no stranger to Houstonians — similar work can be found traversing Bissonnet Street, serving pedestrians as they stroll towards the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Mies van der Rohe building.
"Today is the most important day of the fair," confided gallery founder Maria Ines Sicardi.
Art Basel won't even open to the public until noon on Thursday. Instead, Wednesday was reserved for the upper-echelon collectors — those unwilling to wait for the cast-asides, aiming to flesh out their personal collections without the bustle of the crowds.
Of course, that didn't persuade Houston art scenesters to parlay their trips to the weekend. Among those already soaking up the sun and eying prize artworks are celebrated collectors Heidi Gerger, Becca Cason Thrash and Craig and Tatiana Massey.
Art Basel's more than power collecting and soirées on the sand, though. Also in the Houston crowd are local art standards the likes of photographer Allison Hunter, Glassell director and revered artist Joseph Havel and conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll. Curators, dealers and critics from H-Town abound, including Blaffer Art Museum's Claudia Schmuckli (meeting up with partner Matthew Drutt of San Antonio's Artpace), Susanna Kise of Wade Wilson Art, and Texas Artists Today authorCatherine Anspon.
The air inside the Miami Beach Convention Center during Wednesday's collectors' preview was rife with deal making — visitors and gallerists alike were overheard boasting about the revived scene after the art market doldrums of the past two years. The selection is decidedly more robust, and fair co-directors Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler report that many of the major galleries who took a hiatus in 2009 have returned.
There's always art to be had from 20th century modern and postmodern masters (who couldn't use another Kosuth or de Kooning?), but the trendy Miami scene is much more about what's "now." And at the top of that list is progressive Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose current installation at the Tate Modern, in which the epic turbine room has been subsumed in handmade porcelain sunflower seeds, left the art world begging for more. They'll find it here, where two galleries are featuring his work. Houston audiences need not go for want of eyeing a Weiwei of their own — there's already buzz about a potential commission by a local public arts org.
Not a point on the atlas is left unrepresented at Art Basel Miami Beach — from Shanghai to Santiago and beyond, the fair's internationalism is perhaps the greatest draw to the over 40,000 estimated visitors. The scene of the Eurocentric art world old guard whispering top digits to a new breed of collectors was indeed a sight to behold.
Each year, the axis of the contemporary art community seems to dip closer to the equator, bringing necklines and shirt buttons along with it. Gabriel Kuri's standing sculptures drew stares at Mexico City's kurimanzutto booth, while São Paulos' respective galleries presented some of the most challenging work. And in case there's any doubt that top talent and thick wallets from south of the border are buttressing a revived art world, look to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which revealed details for the first work by intrepid gunpowder artist Cai Guo-Qiang in Latin America.