For almost two decades the first week of December in Miami has been synonymous with artists, art fairs, champagne-soaked parties, pop up installations, an explosion of new graffiti, and traffic gridlock.
But the Florida city looks far different this year.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced Art Basel Miami Beach to announce in September that it was canceling this year’s fair, the galaxy of satellite fairs around the city followed suit.
Art Basel is typically one of the busiest times for Miami, and the jolt could not have come at a worse time for this tourism-and-hospitality driven city hit hard by COVID-19.
Earlier this year, Florida saw the most new cases of the novel coronavirus of anywhere in the world. In South Florida businesses rely on the influx of tens of thousands of additional visitors, as do the local governments collecting taxes.
Still, in the absence of the global elite of the art world, Miami-based artists and institutions have pressed ahead with their work and found a silver lining.
Lauren Shapiro, a ceramics artist who collaborated with a friend and oceanic researchers, worked with more than 100 socially distanced volunteers to build a massive installation of monolithic blocks veneered with clay imprints of dead coral.
The piece, called Future Pacific, is a meditation on the increasing fragility and disappearance of coral reef ecosystems. The unfired clay will be destroyed after the four-month exhibit, reflecting hundreds of thousands of years of life and growth lost as reefs around the globe die out.
“We knew we were going to do it during art week so we were very excited about the prospect of having international exposure … and as it got closer to the date and Basel finally canceled it was a bit disappointing,” Shapiro said.
However, Shapiro was able to make one-on-one appointments to view the installation.
“I was able to bring a lot of curators, collectors, and just people that were interested in the work to give them personal tours through the exhibit and connect with them on a more personal level.”
Oil painter Thomas Bils echoed a similar sentiment.
“I’m a little disappointed I don’t get to see my favorite national, international artists, but what I am seeing instead is watching a lot of my friends and colleagues doing much larger projects and sort of flourishing,” said Bils.