Where Art Stars Were the Rock Stars
Celebs such as Diddy and talents including Kehinde Wiley made Art Basel a hip event in Miami Beach.
"We want to be part of the national conversation, not just the artists we show but the gallery itself," Danny Simmons told The Root. "Kehinde, Mickalene, so many young artists came through Rush and then went on to the Studio Museum [in Harlem] and out into the world. It's my vision that people all over the world know about Rush and its mission. So being a part of Basel does that." However, it's his role as an artist that he cherishes even more. This year he made his first short art film for the Artisan Series with four other artists, including the actress Persia White.
Someone else jumping into the Miami show scene was June Kelly. For the first time in her 25-year career as a black gallerist in New York's SoHo neighborhood, she took a booth at the satellite fair Art Miami. Kelly brought work by Chris Ofili, as well as lesser-known artists including Philemona Williamson. "The number of people that have come by and expressed interest in the work, looked at the booth, thought it was fabulous what we have, and we are different ... a lot of people don't know the names, and I feel good about that," Kelly told The Root. Chicago gallerist Rhona Hoffman, who has been showing black artists since 1978, when she mounted a show with Charles Gaines, was featuring three other black artists: Derrick Adams, Xaviera Simmons and Kehinde Wiley.
By Saturday morning, people were tired and feet were hurting, but it was standing room only at Black Art in America's collectors' lecture at the Wolfsonian Museum, where Susan L. Taylor, the former editor of Essence magazine, told The Root, "This is my first time [at Art Basel], and I am already making my reservation to come back next year."
She was being shown around by famed curator Lowery Sims, as well as collectors Toni and Carl Randolph. The couple have been on one of the host committees for the Miami fair since its beginning and have a vast collection, some of which they are in the process of donating to the Frost Museum. "It's nice to live with art," Carl Randolph said. "It's wonderful for people to collect what they love, whether it costs 10 cents or whether it costs $100,000. If it moves you, it's important."
In a sense, blacks of all socioeconomic backgrounds have always been collectors. Walk into a black home and you will see some form of art that they are extremely proud of. Black Art in America, which is run by Najee Dorsey, tried to encourage that notion this year through the several events that Dorsey organized during the week under the umbrella Do You Basel?
"It's important and it needed to be done, and I was willing to take the lead," Dorsey told The Root. "I am passionate about it. I am an artist, I am a collector, I'm a patron."
He explained that he got his inspiration to do the art series from an unlikely source. "I heard the president say, 'You be the change that you are looking for.' " Mission accomplished.
Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.