5 Things I learned attending art basel (as an emerging artist)

December 2019 I spent a long weekend down in Miami for Miami Art week to attend Art Basel and and to see one of my pastel drawings on display at Eduardo Lira Gallery at Wynwood Walls.

With my art work "Coral Containment" on display at Eduardo Lima Gallery during Miami Art Week 2019

It was the first time I had ever attended and I came home feeling inspired, having found my people!! It was like Disneyland for artists and supporters. 

I've attended art shows before but it truly felt like the entire city was celebrating art. As an emerging artist, I learned A LOT. My key takeaways were: 

1. The Business Card Lives! 

This sounds so basic but I come from the digital world where we exchange social handles and add each other to our social media accounts upon meeting so it was eye opening for me to be asked for business cards with every conversation. <Note to self: Get business cards made up asap> I picked up a stack and while I would normally toss them or save a handful in my phone, I kept all of them and have since visited all their sites and learned more about each artist I spoke to. As a newbie to the art industry still, it sounds so obvious but coming from the tech space where everything is digital, it was an eye opener to use such a fundamental networking tool. 


2.  Art brings people together.

I stood in different galleries and booths and outdoor spaces and observed the visitors as much as the artwork. There were moms answering the innocent but legit questions from their children about the artwork. There were also seasoned glitzy attendees with deep pockets looking to buy originals for their properties. There were restaurants and cafes featuring the work of local artists as well as some tasty  "Basel special of the day". There were Honda Civics parked beside Lamborghinis. There were daily news stories about all the different events happening (including the infamous banana duct taped to the wall, eaten and replaced). The diversity, range of people attending, the scale was impressive and as an experience, I felt a huge sense of belonging. It was inspiring being part of an event where many people - both locals and visitors came together to just enjoy, question, learn and appreciate art and the artists. 

I was looking at one of featured artist program booklets in one gallery and she was actually in attendance. She introduced herself and while my Spanish is decent, she spoke with a very heavy accent and in rapid fire statements as she explained the meaning behind each painting. She had her phone that she was speaking into to give the backstory and a translation app read it out loud back to me. Her husband handed me his phone with the app ready to translate and there we were for a good 10-15 minutes chatting using translation apps from the phones. I learned so much about each of her paintings and it added so much colour and meaning. I gained a new appreciation for her work and for her trials and tribulations as a Cuban migrant who had braved her way to America on a raft. I loved that we connected and learned more about each other BECAUSE of art. 

3. It's not all about divisive political or social statements.

I went expecting a lot of contemporary or modern art and while there was much of that, there was a huge range of art including pop art, art of rap culture, landscapes, portraiture, the celebrated mural artists at Wynwood District and performance art that bystanders participated in.

The art of Peter Tunney

One jewel I discovered was the art of the incredibly uplifting, simply cool and positive art work of Peter Tunney. Tunney is an American artist based in New York and Miami. His Neo-pop art features large statements collaged together using newspapers and other papers. I had never heard of him prior to walking into his open studio. His work was AMAZING!  Each bold statement was like a fist pump of "You've got this." Each art piece is a message of hope and gratitude. 

Murals in the Wynwood District were remarkable. To be surrounded by so much talent and beauty on the once derelict walls was another positive experience that spoke about a neighbourhood that gained new life. The mural artists of Wynwood brought business, visitors and momentum for growth back to the area. We even toured around to see public schools covered in murals inside and out. The entire community understood and supported the positive impact of these artists. 

Much of the art like Tunney's is very accessible and quite frankly, it's whatever you feel or experience that you can bring to the art. 

4. Pop-up galleries are changing the playing field.

While the majority of events were set up by the city, art non-profits or by galleries, there were also many independent artists exhibiting in pop-up galleries. One was the Fearless Artist Media Popup who exhibited at a large converted warehouse space in the Wynwood District. They were off the main strip so they were hustling to get visitors to their spot. They were savvy social media marketers with a #fearlessartist sign they invited passersby to hold and shared them in their instagram stories. I imagine many reshaped that story of themselves. It was a great way to share the experience and make a statement about yourself as an artist as well as expose the Fearless artist collective to a wider audience. They used performance artists to "lead" gallery visitors to their location. Brilliant. 

These pop-up galleries featured the work of many Instagram artists I had come across online. I love that they're mobilizing and giving artists options beyond the galleries to show their work and maintain control of their sales.  It's another path to success for artists beyond galleries. 

5. I am an artist.

I can say that now without looking around as if someone will catch on to me and say "Ummm, no you're not".  It took going to Art Basel for me to finally call myself an artist. On the flight home, I sat next to a couple who attend Miami Art Week every year and they had bought at least 10 pieces of original art to follow them home. When they learned that I had a drawing showing at Wynwood District they were so excited and asked me "Art you an artist?" I hesitated but I realized right then and there in that moment that - yes - I am an artist. This was a huge moment for me. As someone who has always painted or carried a sketchbook since I was a child, went to school to study Fine Art but went a different direction with my career, I had never called myself an artist. Perhaps it was the right moment but it felt good to say it and BELIEVE it. As I pursue my art career now I actually believe it!  

I plan on attending and showing again next year but better informed and with a better understanding of how it all works for participating artists. I would encourage anyone who is pursuing their art and creativity to attend. Go be inspired. Go be surrounded by the artist tribe and  supporters. Go be an artist :)