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This year, the public art component of Art Basel Miami Beach is curated by Nicholas Baume, the director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund. Over 20 works will be on view by artists Huma Bhabha, Aaron Curry, Mark Di Suvero, Loris Greaud, Alicja Kwade, Richard Long, Michelle Lopez, Charlotte Posenenske, Scott Reeder, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Thomson Mungo, and Maarten Vanden Eynde. It is the first time the public works on view in Collins Park will be selected for an exhibition theme, “Social Animals.” We spoke with Baume a few weeks before the fair about the idea behind “Social Animals” and curating art for the public.
WHITEWALL: You’ve curated works within different cities like New York, Sydney, Boston, Hartford. What were you looking for in Miami as a city, and how did that influence what works you were choosing for the public exhibition there?
NICHOLAS BAUME: I’ve been going to Miami, I think for pretty much as long as I’ve lived in the US, because even before the art fair started, the exhibitions I curated travelled to the Miami Art Museum. I’ve gotten to know Miami over the years and really enjoy it. That title, “Social Animals” occurred to me between a combination of context of art fair and also a context of a public park. Men by nature are animals and thinking of how the contemporary art fair gives this sort of international convergence of artists and curators and gallerists and collectors and media people in an indirectly social form, just as a public park is an inherently social place.
I also like the idea that with curative exhibitions, some works of art that we’re working with are forming their own community, they’re going to have their own dialogues and be neighbors or have conversations (at least in my head). And also how Miami has that feeling of nature quite present; you can really smell the sea air, feel the humidity, and in Collins Park you have the palms. The organic and animal runs through the exhibition. There’s a lot of works that we have in a figurative or animal kind of reference, as well as a lot of them being quite tactile with a strong sense of materiality, and the organic nature of that material.
WW: Attached to such an international fair, did you want to make sure the artists whose work you selected were international diverse?
NB: Yeah, absolutely. I’m excited to have work from Peru for example, some African French artists. It’s nice. It’d be great to have even more global diversity – still the focus is more American and European – but it’s nice to see that grow.
WW: What is the value of public art within a fair setting?
NB: To me its exciting because artists are invested in this right now and are making work to go outside and be in public spaces and to connect with audiences directly. I think it’s a really great time to be working in this field because there are so many opportunities developing. You see that in a city like New York where every new public space automatically now is like, “Oh yeah, we should have a contemporary art program.” It’s a really striving part of the city’s resource. Or the way the major international art fairs are like “Hey, we need to really engage artists in the public dimension and outreach of the fair.”
WW: So you’re seeing a greater interest in public art from artists, as well?
NB: Yes, I do. Definitely.
WW: You’ve said you used to not like fairs as much, until you became a curator, and then you appreciated them as an opportunity to see many artists and a great range of work all in one place.
NB: I think that from a research point of view I have found art fairs to be incredibly helpful; to meet with gallerists from all over the world and really look at their programs and talk about stuff. I mean, it can be very distracting and very overwhelming at the same time but you have to figure out a strategy to stay for a bit of time.
WW: What do you like about the Miami fairs specifically and is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to this year?
NB: I’m Australian, so to me December is summertime. When I go to Miami in December it somehow feels right. The thing I’m really most excited about is how the exhibition “Social Animals” is actually going to look, how it’s going to feel, how it’s going to come together. My goal for it is to really feel more like an exhibition and have that sense of being not an afterthought but a key part of it. I’m curious to see whether it would feel that way.