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The Role of Miami’s Museums in the Wake of Art Basel

Screen cap from video courtesy of Bakehouse Art Complex.

On January 13th Bakehouse Art Complex hosted “The Role of Miami’s Museums in the Wake of Art Basel” a panel discussion Moderated by Brett Sokol, Arts Editor for Ocean Drive Magazine, with Miami’s most influential museum professionals. Shana Beth Mason offers her thoughts:

“It’s certainly commendable that the creative directors of Miami’s major art museums are stepping up to prove their mettle in the contemporary art world. But must they try and defend their spheres of influence in the larger realm of Miami’s creative arts environment in the process? That’s what it sounded like when six directors (Peter Boswell of MAM, Silvia Karman-Cubiñá of Bass, Cathy Leff of the Wolfsonian, Carol Damian of the Frost, Ruba Katrib of MOCA and Brian Dursum of Lowe) gave their points of view regarding ‘The Role of the Miami Museum in the Wake of Art Basel’ held at the Bakehouse Art Complex last Thursday.

Let’s begin with the panel discussion itself. What might have been an engaging forum on the effect of the leviathan art fair upon Miami’s existent arts scene turned very much into a PR pitch given by each representative. Granted, most panel discussions of this sort are prone to leak out the past accomplishments and latent, positive effects of each institution within and upon its foundations. But very little was spoken about the history of the fair itself (which began in 1970 as an international exhibition hosted by Swiss company MCH in the tiny border city of Basel), or the simmering beginnings of its little sister in the Magic City (started in 2002, most notably by Sam Keller), or the symbiotic relationship between Miami’s resident artists and creative personalities with the commercial powerhouse, itself. Instead, it became a session of indiscriminate chatter about some of Miami’s local talent and how each museum had, in its own way, attempted to contribute to the growth of a repeatedly-termed ‘world class arts culture’ for the city. The directors, on their own grounds, are quite competent and even-paced when it comes to running their respective operations. But together, it was simply a rambling defense against all those who would call Miami a cultural wasteland.

Ocean’s Drive’s arts editor Brett Sokol fancied himself a ‘moderator’ for the distinguished panel, but came off as a narrow, ill-educated muckracker; as opposed to challenging or inviting opinions or critical analysis of the Art Basel-Miami relationship, he simply drove into each panelist looking for answers to uninvited questions. There was little sense of constructive dialogue between Sokol and the directors. It felt more like an interrogation as to the ‘motives’ for each panelists’ entrance into their fields and if/how they deserve to head their respective institutions. Perhaps he didn’t realize that these are educated, dedicated professionals not only doing their jobs, but battling an overwhelming sense of bitterness within higher circles of contemporary art locales who have whispered that Miami is merely the party in Art Basel’s backyard. They have no need to defend themselves or their efforts.

The Bakehouse Art Complex is an enriching place for young talent to flex their muscles and expand their practices with beautifully appointed studios in a 3.2 acre former American Bakeries warehouse. This could have been the perfect setting for guests and panelists, alike, to fill the walls with lively discussion regarding, undoubtedly, Miami’s most potent injection of cultural adrenaline. But it fell awfully short. With Sokol setting a condescending tone from the get-go, the BAC’s Quartery Panel Discussion came off as game of defense against the raging offensive of the contemporary art sphere outside the sweltering heat of the Magic City[.]

“The Role of Miami’s Museums in the Wake of Art Basel” was the second installment of BAC’s quarterly Art Canvas panel discussions. The panel included Peter Boswell, Assistant Director for Programs/Senior Curator, Miami Art Museum; Silvia Karman Cubiñá, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Bass Museum of Art; Carol Damian, Professor & Director and Chief Curator, Frost Art Museum; Brian Dursum, Executive Director & Curator, Lowe Art Museum; Ruba Katrib, Associate Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art; Cathy Leff, Director, The Wolfsonian. Moderator Brett Sokol, is arts editor at Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive magazine. His writing about Miami’s cultural scene has also appeared in the New York Times, New York magazine, the Miami Herald and Slate.

A video excerpt of the panel discussion is here.

Information about BAC’s programming is here.

This post was contributed by Shana Beth Mason.

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The Role of Miami’s Museums in the Wake of Art Basel