“Basically a Living Organism”: Why Art Basel Miami Collectors Are Scared of Digital Art.
Siebren Versteeg’s Today’s Paper (with flies), 2019
If you’re looking for digital art at massive fairs like Art Basel Miami, you’ll likely run into the same, usual suspects year after year, show after show. The eerie, LED glow of a Jim Campbell will emanate booths away from a disorienting, moving spectacle by Doug Aitken, screens filled with colored geometry by Yorgo Alexopoulos just steps through the throngs of people who’ve arrived at the scene specifically to treat art as commerce.
Artists like Eve Sussman, whose video works include 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004) and The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), have remarked on the “dearth of moving image work” at Art Basel Miami in 2018 — even at the festival’s many side fairs.
“People were resorting to two-dimensional work on the wall…it felt markedly un-experimental in that way,” she adds.
Snark.art’s Misha Libman, and Sussman’s sometimes collaborator, agrees. “It felt like for every 50 artworks, there was one video or digital project,” he says of Art Basel Miami last year.
“We have AI and robots around the corner, everyone’s face is in their phones or computer screens, but the traditional form of art collecting is still mostly about physical art and covering space on the walls.”
For context, Art Basel Miami is a huge, commercial event — a place for the wealthy to make culturally impressive investments more than a venue for emerging artists to show the world what’s next. Last year, a record 83,000 people showed up. One of the first sales was the Pablo Picasso painting Tete de Femme (1971), listed at $17 million.
The Miami-based art fair wasn’t always lacking a digital art economy. Last year marks a shift from about eight to ten years ago, when Sussman attended the fair and sold plenty of her digital video pieces.
Oddly, today’s current lack of digital art at the fair isn’t at all representational of the overall art scene, where “there’s a massive amount of people working in film and video installation and digital work,” Sussman says.
“Plenty of them are represented by galleries, but I think a lot of the galleries, even if they represent those artists, [digital work] is not the work of theirs that they take to fair.”
Instead, they bring safer pieces — ones that are easier to sell, like photographs or prints. Unlike digital pieces, these works are tangible, and won’t degrade over time in the same way.
Birth of a digital project on a napkin
“You need a certain type of collectors who’s willing to get involved with a piece that is basically a living organism,” Sussman says. Technology changes constantly — think of how frequently our phones beg for updates — and owners of art that relies on it need to be prepared for migrating files and shifting display interfaces. They need to be prepared for a piece that may cease to exist altogether, as certain technology becomes obsolete.
Snark.art projects at CADAF Digital Art Fair Miami
Making possible collectors confront these uncertainties, fairs like CADAF (Contemporary and Digital Art Fair) are “trying to bring the digital medium to Art Basel Miami,” says Libman. Snark.art exhibited four pieces at CADAF in Miami during Art Basel this year, while the main show took place at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
As for Sussman, all she’d like to see at the fair when she returns this year with Libman is “one thing that really strikes me as wow,” she says. “Then I’m satisfied.”
Jessica Klein is an independent journalist and contributor to Snark.art.