Sun and sand, lean bodies and fat checkbooks: This is the chichi art fair known as Art Basel Miami Beach. It’s where art-world cognoscenti descend each December, hungry for wheeling and dealing in the upper echelons of contemporary art. These collectors think nothing of dropping millions on fresh works by art stars like Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter. For many of these movers and shakers, art is not an expression of ideas but part of an investment portfolio.
This rarefied atmosphere is the subject of photographer Andy Freeberg’s series Art Fare. Camera in hand, he spent the last few years documenting the art-fair circuit, haunting exhibition booths not only at Art Basel, but also Art Miami, Pulse and New York’s famous Armory Show. With clinical precision, he captures the sterility of these white-walled cubes and the arid detachment of the gallerists and assistants who work them. The chic dealer in Andrea Rosen, Art Basel Miami 2010 Artist: Wolfgang Tillmans is not engrossed by the stunning eruption of color in the painting beside her—she is busy texting a client on her cellphone. The two men in Gagosian, Art Basel Miami 2009 Artists: Mark Grotjahn, Damien Hirst are also gazing into their phones, their disengagement from the art on the walls and from one another complete.
Of course, art fairs are about selling art, not probing ideas, so we can’t really blame these folks for doing what they came here to do. But the figure-isolating selectivity of Freeberg’s compositions has a satiric edge, presenting the contemporary-art scene not as vital and engaging but as torpid and cut off from the concerns of the hoi polloi. Only one photograph shows people betraying any hint of emotion: Sean Kelly, Art Basel Miami 2010 Artist: Kehinde Wiley. In this vignette, two men sit at a table, dwarfed by the enormous portrait behind them. One man buries his face in his hands while another looks on with concern. Did they just blow a major deal? Are they dead tired after long hours of catering to wealthy collectors’ whims? Freeberg’s gaze is neutral and unsympathetic.
Formerly a photojournalist for publications like Rolling Stone, Time and Village Voice,
Freeberg has now found his calling as a visual commentator. For those
of us who think of art as a passionate blood sport, not a commodity,
this show is a chilling wake-up call.
SEE IT: Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th Ave., 225-0210. Through Feb. 3.