It’s partly circumstantial. Last year’s edition was the first major fair held after the election of Donald Trump as US president and proved the “apex” of Art Basel Miami Beach as a political platform, says Noah Horowitz, Art Basel’s Americas director.
Horowitz acknowledges the fair has not always been associated with such messages. “A lot happens outside that lends a party feel,” he says, but “the clichés of old are lessening.”
This year, Trump’s America still pervades the booths and issues of race relations and civil rights look to loom large, hot on the heels of Tate Modern’s landmark Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition, which travels to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, then New York’s Brooklyn Museum. The fair also coincides with the fourth edition of New Orleans’s Prospect triennial, which has at its core the jazz phenomenon that grew out of African-American slavery (until February 25).
A more serious trend now seems to pervade all art fairs as the outside world creeps into the bubble. At the beachside Untitled fair this week (December 6-10) are works by Deborah Roberts, who explores black female identity.
Horowitz says, “It’s much less about ‘art fair art’ now. People come to fairs to gain a lens into the trends and at the moment art is generally more politicised.” Art Basel’s talks programme too has some less likely candidates, including Alexander Alberro, professor of art history at New York’s Barnard College (his recent book, Abstraction in Reverse, is the basis of a talk on December 7).
However, this fair is of course still primarily a commercial event. “This is a good time of year. People have seen a season of exhibitions, a series of big auctions, taken stock and know what they are looking for,” Horowitz says.