Art Basel Miami: Art Fair vs. Biennial

The discussion of art biennial vs. art fair in the MOOC defined an art fair as a marketplace for selling art and the biennial as more focused around the practices of the artist, suggesting that social practice art fits much more comfortably within biennials rather than art fairs, just as it is more often found in museums or outside of institutions all together, rather than in dealer galleries.  The brief mention of art basel led me to question: does art basel fall into one side of the art fair/biennial binary, or is it a hybrid of the two?  

While in the US, Art Basel is associated with Miami, the event began in Basel, Switzerland in the 1970, and   arrived in Miami in 2007.  

The website itself classes Basel as an art ‘show’, but the primary purpose is clearly the buying and selling of art.  Most of those applying for positions at the fair are galleries themselves, although there are also several initiatives that work closely with artists directly and are more open to social practice works. The ‘Nova’ section allows galleries to present the work of 1-3 artists that has been produced in the last 3 years, and ‘Positions’ provides space for single artists to present a project, which is much more in the vein of a biennial.  

We could also question the role of social practice art at Basel in relation to the stabbing that took place during the last show.  Reports from numerous witnesses state that many dismissed the attack, in which one women tried to stab another in the neck with a craft knife, as a performance art piece.  If this were to be true, the ‘piece’ would undoubtedly have fallen under antagonistic practice, but instead a dangerous event was dismissed by spectators.  What does this say about the expectations of the art spaces at Miami Basel? On one hand we see an acceptance of what could be boundary-pushing social practice, but in this, case we also see a dismissal or normalization of danger and violence.  

Other criticisms of Miami Basel have included the show’s tendency to draw visitors away from the local arts community of Miami during the larger Miami Art Week towards an international, name-dropping crowd,  or more harshly have labeled the show a “promo-party cheese-fest.”

For more info on Art Basel:

Report on Stabbing:

One criticism of Basel: