4 Problems with Contemporary Art on Display at Art Basel Miami

by Paul Weiner

Art Basel Miami is taking the art world by storm. From mattress paintings to Rauschenbergs, Art Basel has it all. Collectors run amok as the Pérez Art Museum Miami opens to great success. Shouldn’t we all be happy to see such confidence in the art market today? Indeed, Twitter is blowing up in an baffling mix of praise, gossip, and terror.

No doubt, these odd and vaguely joyous emotions are all warranted, but some serious and systemic issues are on display at Art Basel Miami. So, without further ado, here are the five biggest problems with Art Basel Miami:

1. Cringe-worthy sales tactics

Take, for instance, Meg Webster’s installation, “Food Stamp Table.” Tactful titles are clearly a thing of the past. This artist displays an egg, ramen noodles, broccoli, and a can of Campbell’s soup as a $4.60 meal bought with food stamps. The price: $12,000.

Even if Webster had good intentions to inform her viewers of the hardships the working poor are enduring today, the price tag ruins it all. Perhaps the price could have been a $12,000 charitable donation or a canned food drive if the Paula Cooper Gallery really cared about poor people. Instead, one lucky rich guy can buy social justice at the fair and display the rotting broccoli for his friends in February while the gallery walks away with his cash! At the end of the day, this looks like abusing empathy for the poor as a marketing tool and smells like Rush Limbaugh’s armpits.

2. Inaccessibility for the struggling middle class

Even as the high rollers of the art scene think they are proving the greatness of our contemporary art moment, watching them incessantly schmooze over postmodernist art spits in the face of ordinary people. There’s nothing like watching a mass of rich, fuddy-duddy collectors, journalists, and dealers observing fine art on a beach in December while everyone else is huddled around a fire and trying to pay heating bills to turn the rest of us Marxist. For those who would like to see visual art reconnect with a broad swath of the middle class, art fairs that point out the ever-growing class problem in our country are not helping.

3. VIP Art Patronage

The art scene may be booming at Art Basel Miami, but it’s booming with rich people. This isn’t exactly a new trend for fine art, but it does represent the systemic movement we’re seeing whereby the new ruling class dominates the art scene. Even as Francis Bacon works sell for $142 million, emerging artists struggle with a a broken economy and masses of student debt. While this may not be a full blown return to middle ages, it would suffice to say that watching big names like Deitch and Diddy at the Art Basel VIP opening suggests that visual arts increasingly pander to the funding and enjoyment of the ultra-rich.

4. No one cares about contemporary artists unless Kim Kardashian instagrams a picture of them with North West.

Check out how much the Huffington Post, MTV, VH1, E!, Us Magazine, and New York Daily News had to say about North West and how little they had to say about the rest of the visual art. Call me a classist, but I’d rather see a photo of Jeff Koons with his artwork than with a baby who is famous because Kimye gave birth.

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