So little time, so much to do

This is one very apt way to characterize the hurry and scurry of Art Week. The seemingly limited hours of the day from morning through night are potentially stretched full with an immense variety of contemporary art-centered exhibits, activities, programs, and, last, but not least, parties.

Warning: Unlike the previous posts about Art Week, this post is woefully short of visual images – my apologies.

The number of art fairs has increased as the years have passed. Mornings start with a number of breakfasts or brunches hosted by the different public museums as well as the private collections to choose from. The fairs make up the afternoon and early evening destinations. The museums divide the evenings so that their parties don’t compete with each other, but that says nothing about the other parties, for those with stamina.

Brunch, Museum of Art + Design

Visitors are invited to visit both the public and private museums. Staff in the latter concentrate their efforts in installing new, wonderful exhibits for the benefit of the visitors to our community. Oh yes, the exhibits are also for us stay-at-home residents. In fact, I adjusted the Museum Studies course schedule to offer Curatorial Studies in the Spring semester so I could get local curators to teach on the art fair rebound.

In addition to this rigorous, visually-oriented schedule, several fairs offer lectures and panel discussions on topical arts-related subjects. The Art Basel Conversations series is always suburb providing the chance to hear artists, museum directors, organizers, and more. From the beginning, I never missed one and encouraged my students to attend these free offerings. ABMB Conversations have expanded to overlapping multiple presentations throughout every day of the fair.

This year, regrettably, I only made it to three such presentations. More were on my carefully assembled agenda, but time got the better of me. The morning of Day Three (see Dec 6 post) I ventured to the new George Perez space, Espacio 23, for a lively discussion about academic museums.

Espacio 23

I had also made the time to attend presentations at the Design Miami Fair. This year, I got to their annual “Curator Speed Round: 10 Objects.” Six museum curators (note the accompanying adjective – individuals who work with collections in museums) talked about the collections under their care and guidance in museums in the States, Australia, and Switzerland. Their assignment was to talk about recent and hoped-for acquisitions. Each speaker in their own way addressed the nature of museum collecting, specifically from the perspective of design collections.

Zoe Ryan from the Art Institute of Chicago kicked off the session with what I thought was the most directed and organized presentation. She framed her list of objects from the rationale of how and why the museum collects. At the present time, emphasis is upon women designers (the impetus of several other institutions represented on the panel) and local, Chicago designers.

Documenting advances in industrial design from topical points of view guides future collecting and exhibition development in Chicago, as elsewhere. Items such as the breast pump, from a historical and sociological point of view, and the plastic trash bin, the work of an African American, Chicago designer, are on her wish list.

Simone LeAmon of the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia) talked about building a relatively new five year old department. Their collection is international in scope and focuses on contemporary design in contrast to decorative arts. Her wish list includes looking to add the work of Australian artists and indigenous designers.

Note: If you read the wildly popular book, The Hare with the Amber Eyes, add Good Loving Street by Tim Bonyhady to your reading list. It’s an equally spellbinding memoir about another Viennese Jewish family that escapes the grasp of the Nazis. Their amazing collection of Wiener Werkstatte furniture traveled with the family to Australia and found its home in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.

A Must Read

Mateo Kries of the Vitra Design Museum hit what to me is the curatorial nail on the head – “filling the gaps.” Curation is not simply exhibition making, but also shepherding a collection, knowing what you have and what is missing. Acquisitions at Vitra support exhibit development and also strive to document design history. Kries gave the example of the now ubiquitous IKEA bag to illustrate the latter point.

All of these themes were repeated by the other three speakers. Other significant design issues that guide future collection building included sustainability – objects using new and/or reclaimed materials – and lifestyle. Each speaker also addressed their commitment to research. Again, the audience was regaled with examples of curators who acquire in order to enrich and build collections.

Afterwards, I was compelled to speak with the moderator, Rodman Primack, Global Ambassador of Design Miami (whatever that may mean). Congratulations were due because these curators directly and intelligently spoke to the curatorial process. I’ve written elsewhere about the out-of-control hijacking of the word curator (see Nov. 16 post). What was a noun is now a verb that has taken meanings on-beyond the realm of museum applications. This excellent panel was spot-on even in the museum context where curate now seems to be used only for organization of exhibits. The vital work with collections, the heart of the work of museums, seems to have been bypassed by newly minted “curators.”

The final presentation I attended was a conversation between photographers, Iké Udé and Michael Halsband, moderated by Deborah Willis hosted by the Betsy Hotel. The Betsy joins the ranks of hotels that have made a commitment to the community during Art Week, by organizing adventurous exhibits. Their commitment if not limited to this short week. It stretches through the entire year with informal artist salons, music presentations, and more.

Panel, photos by Iké Udé behind

The work of the two photographers are just two of a full range or photo exhibits curated at the Betsy for this year’s Art Week. The exhibited work of the two artists is visually very distinct. Yet they are all portraits that interface art and social life. The discussion, in part, focused on how their portraits are created and how they are viewed or consumed.

Udé’s vividly colored, large scale photographs are staged and manipulated to tell complex stories. He views them as collaborations with imaginary histories of people. His photos are not simply about fashion; they look at fashion as an index of culture. They are steeped in Victorian England.

Halsband’s work on display are photos he was invited to take that capture Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. What makes them compelling, he said, was the lighting, the location, and the people.

Public programs such as these and the ones that I missed enrich the experience of participants in our annual Art Week. The total immersion into a deluge of visual experiences of varying qualities is complemented by presentations that allow visitors to reach deeper into thoughts behind the art.

2 comments

  1. I continue your enjoy your Basel posts. This one in particular I found perfectly written and educational, thank you!

    On Tue, Dec 10, 2019, 9:13 AM Creatively Annette wrote:

    > creativelyannette posted: ” This is one very apt way to characterize the > hurry and scurry of Art Week. The seemingly limited hours of the day from > morning through night are potentially stretched full with an immense > variety of contemporary art-centered exhibits, activities, program” >

    Like

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