Whitehot Magazine

Art Basel Miami Beach and Miami Art Week 2023— A Meditation On Access

Sebastian Errazuriz, MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self, 2023. Courtesy the artist and Faena Art. Photo by Oriol Tarridas.


By KURT COLE EIDSVIG December 8, 2023

Access. Anyone drawn into the gravitational pull of Art Basel Miami Beach and Miami Art Week immediately confronts the question of access. Arguably the greatest art fair in the known universe, during the 20-plus years of Art Basel Miami Beach, the event has evolved beyond the convention center to include offshoot fairs, concerts, talks, events, musical performances, and maybe the best people-watching in the world. This year alone features exclusive yacht parties, private brunches, a George Clinton performance, a Chance the Rapper talk, gourmet dinners, mansion tours, concerts, parties, and more.  

That's one of many places where the question of access comes in. As much as Art Basel Miami Beach is about art - it's also about access. There's VIP access, exclusive access, and private access. There are events you need access to even know exist, and even more access to gain entry to. To use the analogy of air travel, for every tier of economy, to business class to first class, there's a private jet. Or a private jet with a yacht and a helicopter. It's likely there's a rocket delivering hedge fund officers every hour on the hour to the glitz of Miami Beach during Art Week. 

Despite all this exclusivity, Miami Beach also provides the greatest access to artists most everyday art enthusiasts can manage or hope for in today's landscape. You might meet a famous artist, talk to a mayor, or interact with a celebrity just about anywhere in Miami during Art Week. And, as access is such a central theme to the operations of the event itself, there's no coincidence that some of the best presentations the week has to offer grapple with this central theme. Access in today's art world isn't just about the absolute necessity of giving artists from diverse backgrounds opportunities to succeed. The questions of access can be found in the relationship of artists to audiences throughout Miami this week in terms of interaction, materials, locations, and thematic underpinnings.

Art Basel Miami Beach proper can be commended for its strategy in promoting unique methods of access this year. They've even launched a philanthropic platform, aptly named Access, that requires 10% of the price on sales of selected works be designated to charitable giving. The inaugural round includes works offered by Katherine Bradford, Wu Chi-Tsung, and Jenny Holzer, among others, with charitable donations designated to either the collector's choice of The Miami Foundation or The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

 Saif Azzuz, Private Collection, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York. Photo: Chris Grunder.

But far beyond their branding of Access, the art fair makes good on the promise of the word with a new layout of the convention center promoting creative explorations of the question of access in art. Their enduring sector format allows unique installations, exhibitions, and presentations, as exemplified by the Meridians Sector. In its fourth year and best yet, this Meridians Sector, curated masterfully by Magalí Arriola, allows for monumental artworks that transcend traditional art fair booths. Exemplified by Saif Azzuz's presentation of Private Collection, the sculptural installation takes the form of a 16-by-16 foot square yard, enclosed on all sides by painted and hand-routed cedar fencing. Through natural holes and gaps in the fencing, one may glimpse an interior, physically inaccessible arrangement of sculptures and paintings by the artist.

Saif Azzuz, Private Collection, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York. Photo: Chris Grunder.

Not only does this provide a beautiful breathed-on dichotomy of rainbow exhales against a traditional wooden fence further adorned with a surface of gouged-out undulating lines, but the work itself offers a symbolic rendering of Miami Art Week. Here, we have the art displayed to the outer world, concealing or even drawing in the works that can only be seen once some glimpsed-through entry is achieved. In Azzuz's inner world, we have a new set of paintings hung more traditionally within the walls, a gallery of the internal only visible through holes and gaps in the fence or by stretching on tiptoes for the height-privileged few. These works reflect similar linework as the renderings on the fence but are presented solely in paint on smaller canvases.

Of course, one of the crowning achievements of art is the sense of intimacy it can present in the face of communicating the universal. While this push-pull of closeness, revelation, and elevated consciousness may be at odds with the teeming crowds and excessive glamour of early December Miami Beach, in Azzuz's hands, as presented by Nicelle Beauuchene Gallery, the delicate rendering of all our internal privacies opening to the scrutiny of others shows the stakes of Art Basel Miami Beach as well as the courage, skill, and sensitivity required to present the unique moment of today in the infinite series of forevers.

On forever: Placed in context, this question of access isn't a new one. While the artists, curators, and galleries taking on the theme can be commended for their accomplishments this year, access is as old as modernity. Some 1,200 miles away, the great-great-grandaddy of Modernism itself, Édouard Manet, continues to enthrall visitors at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with the ultra-popular Manet / Degas exhibition. Famous for his role in the Paris Salon, the Salon des Refusés, his decision to host his own show during the 1867 Exposition Universelle, and his inspiration for the Impressionists and the first Impressionist exhibition, Manet is a study in artists gaining access. Bucking the system while operating inside it (he never lost his reverence for the Salon), Manet's journey is reflected in this Miami Beach trend of new fairs, new presentations, pop-up shows, and events. Untitled, Scope, Satellite, Faena, and so on are the contemporary recipients of Manet's struggles in the traditional art system of 19th-century Paris. As a result, and in the context of art history, Art Basel Miami Beach has surpassed the Paris Salon, as every hotel gallery plays host to the next possible Manet.

Of central importance to Manet and the Impressionists was the rendering of the changing culture, technology, and fashion of contemporary France. His depiction of a Parisian prostitute (Olympia) caused a stir when he set his sights on painting a dirty-footed contemporary lady instead of a goddess of Greek antiquity. Similarly, artist Sebastian Errazuriz contends with some of the greatest questions of today's culture in the AI-generated MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self, a site-specific installation on Faena Beach. The grand maze constructed directly on the beach plays against the same questions of access throughout Art Week 2023. To go back; while Azzuz's Private Collection is directly in the convention center, part of Art Basel proper, inside the Meridians display, and creates a world inside a world of art where one has to squint to see the innermost revelations, MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self is directly on the beach, open to all without a ticket, and in direct dialogue with the landscape surrounding. If Private Collection is all about retaining intimacy and integrity in a cacophony of noise with a hidden gallery of pictures, MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self goes the other way with its use of AI rendering. We are confronted with the question of what is human, eternal, and important versus what is a fad, a momentary obsession, or a new fleeting trend.

Sebastian Errazuriz, MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self, 2023. Courtesy the artist and Faena Art. Photo by Oriol Tarridas.

But MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self is more than a simple treatise on what AI can do. Placed on the beach, the maze conjures ideas of children building sand castles in the surf. Our most innocent and imaginative constructions made with flimsy plastic pails and shovels are turned into a labyrinth of grand proportions in Errazuriz's work. As our current interactions with consumer AI itself are largely playful, the piece questions if these experiments will trap us in a maze of our own creation over time, perhaps blocking us off from nature while leeching the fantastic from our constructs by removing the sense of awe we achieve from self rather than with the propelling mind of AI. Further, with viewing stations positioned on each end of the large maze to ostensibly give visitors a bird's eye view of the installation, the entire relationship gradually shifts to suggest a prison, complete with guards on gun turrets watching over us. So while both Private Collection and MAZE: Journey Through the Algorithmic Self contain a sense of wonder, playfulness, and inherent comments on Art Basel Miami Beach, the realization of Private Collection remains more striking for its ability to touch the internal nerve of primal within us all. 

 Juliankxx, Still from ...encounter?flee (untitled), 2023, Julianknxx. 4k digital film, color, sound, 4 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Studioknx.

Plus, Art Basel Miami Beach does its part to extend out from the confines of the convention center itself as with The Poetics of Dimensions, a group presentation highlighting works by artists Anthony Akinbola, Sonia Gomes, Melissa Joseph, Julianknxx, and Nari Ward. The artists, utilizing accessible materials like durags, shoelaces, felt, and other textiles to create art, also comment on this theme of access in terms of hybrid materials, approaches, and considerations beyond the traditional boundaries of visual art. In addition, The Poetics of Dimensions includes ...encounter? flee (untitled) from 2023 by Juliankxx and is being presented on the façade of Soundscape Park WALLCAST. Presented by UBS, in partnership with ARTNOIR and Art Basel, the video projection includes elements of performance and poetry. Not only does The Poetics of Dimensions work to expand the audience's perceptions of history, memory, myth, ritual, and identity, but the inclusion of the Soundscape Park WALLCAST literally explores the relationship of work presented inside the convention center to the world beyond.

 Art Basel Miami Beach 2023. Courtesy Art Basel.

If there remains any question as to Art Basel Miami Beach's placement as the center of the art world, Seung-taek Lee's Earth Play from the 1990s all but ends that debate. Also included in the Meridians Sector of Art Basel Miami Beach, the installation of the 7-meter-diameter oil on vinyl balloon proves to be a central moment for the fair this year. Complemented with photographs of the artist dragging this huge representation of Earth behind a bike, pushing it through fields, or absent, as it stands static while installed in locations on tour, the work speaks to both the shifting scale of our planet and its fragility. While, on the one hand, we are dwarfed by the large-scale installation in Art Basel Miami Beach, we simultaneously get a sense of the minuscule nature of our world in the span of space and time, even as the balloon itself begins slowly deflating.

But for the moment, at least, Art Basel Miami Beach is the universe itself. With Seung-taek Lee's work at the center of it all, the whole world is a little bit more accessible and there within our reach. WM


Kurt Cole Eidsvig

Kurt Cole Eidsvig is the author of the books OxyContin for Breakfast, Art Official, and Pop X Poetry. His work has won awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital, and the University of Montana. A visual artist as well as a writer, he maintains a website at EidsvigArt.com. 

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