Everyone knows Art Basel Miami Beach is the place to have your work seen as an artist on the come-up. The distance between the desire and turning it into reality can be daunting, especially as an individual artist working with a smaller gallery or with no gallery representation at all. But teamwork makes the dream work! This past December, I was fortunate to be part of a group of seven black artists from Washington, DC who joined forces to bring DMV culture to the Magic City: Amber Robles-Gordon, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Adrienne Gaither, Wesley Clark, Shaunte Gates, Stan Squirewell and Holly Bass (me).
Artists at the Prizm opening with (kneeling in front) Mikhaile Solomon and King Britt Prizm Art Fair logo (Photo: Prizm Art Fair)
The Prizm Art Fair was founded in 2013 by Mikhaile Solomon, a designer and arts advocate who previously worked as assistant producer for Art Africa Miami fair. In its inaugural year, DC artist Amber Robles-Gordon was among those selected by the jury to exhibit work in this month-long exhibition focused on artists from the African diaspora. When the fair announced its 2014 call to artists, Amber set about making sure that her peers submitted work for consideration. And that’s one of the things I love about my arts community. On the whole, artists, independent curators and collectors in DC are very generous. We put each other on. We know that when one of us gets elevated, it’s a chance for all of us to shine.
Several of us submitted work in August and received notification in mid-September. Adrienne Gaither started the group email thread with a congratulatory hello. The youngest of the group, she was the only one I hadn’t previously met. I appreciated her pro-activeness right away. When Amber brought up the idea of crowdfunding, I’ll admit I was a little skeptical. Having done a couple of successful small campaigns in the past, I knew how much work was involved. But the idea of collaborating with a group won me over. Besides, art don’t ship itself for free. There are major costs involved with any art fair. Our budget included shipping, travel, marketing and even the costs of crowdfunding fees which range from 7-14%.
Pretty in pink! DC to Miami t-shirt
The Indiegogo campaign launched on November 2, 2014 under the banner: “Bum Rush Art Basel: Support Seven Artists from DC!” Adrienne designed a bold graphic logo in fun Miami hues. We arranged a session at Pleasant Plains Workshop, a local printmaking studio, to make t-shirts and tote bags as one of our campaign perks. I had a great bonding time with Amber, Jamea Richmond-Edwards and Wesley Clark, who brought along a giant bottle of Jameson which helped take off the winter chill in the studio.
(Back to front) Wesley, Jamea and Amber printing tees
To our delight, donations started rolling in on the first day. Many came from other artists, creatives and educators as well as family members and friends. We also got a few surprise major donations. A collector of art by Stan Squirewell and Shaunte Gates donated $1,000. Stephen Hessler and Dolly Vehlow, owners of Gallery O on H, gave $1,000 with the simple caveat that we come to openings at their space and bring friends. The Freshwater Project, founded by journalist Natalie Hopkinson, also donated $1,000 in exchange for the artists’ participation in an intimate roundtable on cultural preservation at the Cracker Johnson House in West Palm Beach.
Working with a collective definitely had its advantages when preparing for the show. We shared info on shipping options, flights and accommodations. Once in Miami, we discussed which fairs to frequent and parties to partake. Jack Shainman at the Surfcomber Hotel and Fade to Black at Yeelen Gallery in Little Haiti topped the list. Of course, we all represented at the opening night of Prizm, which featured tunes by one of my all-time favorite DJs: King Britt.
Holly Bass standing next to one of her works on view at the Prizm Art Fair opening (Photo: Sidney Thomas)
In addition to showing art at Basel, the best thing is seeing art at Basel. At the main fair (Art Basel Miami Beach), Nick Cave’s Hustle Coat was everything. Nafis White’s Can I Get a Witness at SCOPE, was a timely homage in neon to blacks killed by police violence. I also enjoyed seeing the technology-driven work of fellow DC artist Jonathan Monaghan along with Ebony Patterson’s Bling Funeral coffins at the UNITITLED art fair, one of my favorite ABMB destinations.
Nick Cave, Hustle Coat at Art Basel Miami Beach, 2014 (Photo: Jack Shainman Gallery)
Nafis White, “Can I Get A Witness?”(installation view and detail) at SCOPE art fair in Miami, 2014 (Photo courtesy of Nafis White)
Jonathan Monaghan’s digitally rendered Faberge-style eggs at the UNTITLED art fair in Miami, 2014 (Photo courtesy of bitforms gallery)
Once we made it to Miami, we could relax and enjoy the scene that has come to define ABMB—that heady mix of wealthy collectors, celebrity sightings, iconic artists and imperious gallerists. But underneath the glamor and prestige of it all, there’s a huge amount of unsung effort. None of this would be possible without all of the artists working furiously right up until the final deadline, the hours we spend in the studio, the hours spent teaching and sometimes working second jobs. We are the dreamers, the compulsively driven makers, the determined ones. And whether or not we managed to sell a piece or meet a great curator, each of us can proudly say that we gave Miami our best and bum rushed the show.