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Jeneé Osterheldt

Art Basel bears far better fruit than that $120,000 banana

Tawny Chatmon's "Two: The Awakening Series," was a stunner at SCOPE.
Tawny Chatmon's "Two: The Awakening Series," was a stunner at SCOPE.Jeneé Osterheldt

MIAMI — Someone ate the $120,000 banana.

David Datuna, a Georgia performance artist, peeled the duct-taped fruit right off the Art Basel wall on Saturday and ate the piece titled “Comedian” by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. No charges were pressed.

Unlike so much of the artwork on display at the recent Miami Art Week, the already rotting fruit was easily replaced. But Cattelan’s banana made a lasting statement. This sad, soft, and for sale piece was a mockery of the mainstream art world. It was always meant to turn a profit, stuck to the wall for spectacle, always meant to be subbed out by the next ripe thing.

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Headlines will have folk believe the banana was Basel’s big story, but the truth is, some of the most beautiful work at the art show happened outside of the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Thousands of artists — local and international — had work on display at festivals in Little Haiti, at South Beach, and in galleries and shops all around the city.

Art Basel has come to encompass art events all over Miami during this week. Technically, Basel is what happens in the convention center. You’ll find a gorgeous installation by Teresita Fernández or a jaw-dropping work by Frank Bowling. But Miami Art Week is a wonderland of creative expression for artists who don’t always have access to the big Basel, artists who are long-established but often overlooked, and artists on the rise, too.

On Friday morning, at Pulse Art Fair, Naiomy Guerrero gave a guided tour for #ArteConTwitter featuring Latinx artists. Guerrero, an art history scholar and arts equity advocate, is the inaugural curatorial fellow of the Pérez Art Museum, Miami’s Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative.

Naiomy Guerrero (center) curated a guided tour of Pulse Art Fair for #ArteConTwitter that included Latinx artists.
Naiomy Guerrero (center) curated a guided tour of Pulse Art Fair for #ArteConTwitter that included Latinx artists.JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

We took in the beauty of Elizabeth Catlett’s art, with both its black American and Mexican influences. And we stood in awe as we learned about Francena Ottley’s “The Rewrite”: Two bookshelves with pink satin books feature the names of black, brown, and queer icons. You wonder, what would life be like for a young person if their books reflected these perspectives?

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This is the gift Miami Art Week gives us, the perspectives we don’t always readily see in the art world or even the real world. The key to navigating the art world and finding yourself in it is intention. If the art world you’re in doesn’t look like you, find a new one, or build one.

“There is not one art world,” Guerrero says. “The art world isn’t just one place or one location. It’s about being intentional about what world you are surrounding yourself with. You have to have an awareness. When you walk into a fair, you can’t assume there is equity in terms of access. What it takes for one artist to be in the fair, it does not take for another.”

Ariel Adkins, art and culture liaison at Twitter, wanted to host #ArteConTwitter to help hold space online and out in the world, for underrepresented communities.

“So many attendees had never seen an event or a room like this at Art Basel,” Adkins says. “We see a lot of conversation surrounding this in our world and on social media and art naturally ties into how we express ourselves. These spaces are starting to be more inclusive and people are realizing this hasn’t been happening and it should be.”

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And there are spaces that were always built as a counter-narrative to Art Basel, fairs meant to bolster marginalized voices.

Uncutt Art, who played the artist Remarkable on "She's Gotta Have It," had art on the sidewalks and walls at F.A.M.E. His portraits of Nipsey Hussle stood out among hundreds of tributes to the late rapper and activist.
Uncutt Art, who played the artist Remarkable on "She's Gotta Have It," had art on the sidewalks and walls at F.A.M.E. His portraits of Nipsey Hussle stood out among hundreds of tributes to the late rapper and activist.Jeneé Osterheldt

For five years, F.A.M.E. in the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood, has brought together fashion, art, and music for a hip-hop experience. This year, there were two floors of artists, Nipsey Hussle tributes, and a DJ spinning. There, you could meet brilliant artists Cristina Martinez and Uncutt, widely known on Instagram and from TV spots on BET and Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” or you could discover the interactive work of the Madd Kyng.

Who Owns Black Art? was a pop-up show in Little Haiti that didn't just hold space for black artists and collectors, it nurtured dialogue around what it means to be a black artist.
Who Owns Black Art? was a pop-up show in Little Haiti that didn't just hold space for black artists and collectors, it nurtured dialogue around what it means to be a black artist.Jeneé Osterheldt

In Little Haiti, at Who Owns Black Art?, the pop-up exhibition featured young black and brown artists and hosted conversations surrounding black arts journalism and cultural equity. Chris Friday’s work archived objects black and brown folk often buy at the bodega, creating tiny sculptures of Now & Laters, peach soda, and Blue Magic hair grease. Artist Mylo used rap lyrics and graffiti to tag a wall with musings on black life.

And at Prizm Art Fair, in the Alfred I. DuPont building in downtown Miami, black fine arts have been celebrated for seven years. Programming around representation and museums took place in that space last week, a Black Lives Matter art shop sold prints and totes, and there, you could walk through displays featuring the work of Jazmine Hayes, who explores the beauty of black hair, a celebration of black love by Lavett Ballard, or a $38,000 stunner by Kerry James Marshall.

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Charly Palmer's "Power of Her," was one of many bold, brilliant celebrations of black beauty at Prizm Art Fair.
Charly Palmer's "Power of Her," was one of many bold, brilliant celebrations of black beauty at Prizm Art Fair.Jeneé Osterheldt

Mikhaile Solomon, director of Prizm Art Fair, was born and raised in Miami. For her, starting Prizm was about making space for artists from the diaspora as well as local Miami artists.

“There didn’t seem to be an equitable amount of those voices at the art fairs,” Solomon said. “I enjoy Art Basel. It created an arts economy in Miami, it made Miami rethink culture and creativity and it plays into the building of urban spaces. But they have their own agenda, too. We are not at the top of their consideration. At Prizm, we have a vested energy in the narrative built around what we create. Our conversations are not just impactful to our communities but everybody. How we place value on cultural capital is valuable across cultural lines."

We need both dedicated spaces for underrepresented voices, as well as room in the galleries at mainstream shows.

Harlem artist Ronald Draper showed his bold, affirmative work at the SCOPE Show, his first international showing.
Harlem artist Ronald Draper showed his bold, affirmative work at the SCOPE Show, his first international showing.JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

Ronald Draper, a Harlem artist, made his international art show debut at SCOPE Miami Beach with an ocean view. He owns a showroom in the Bronx, but showing his work at SCOPE was a next step in his career. He uses the style of graffiti but mixes materials, sometimes using fire-distressed wood, vinyl, resin, and print to create bold and affirmative statements, like “The most beautiful things are made in the ghetto.”

“If you only see white voices in these spaces, how much equity, how much justice is being served," he asks. “Black art is black voice and black truth. So many people think black voices are trying to be the antithesis of white voices. If we only have one side of the story, the story is incomplete."

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The beauty of Miami Art Week is that every type of artist gets a place on the wall. You just have to be willing to look.

If we’re coming from all around the world to only talk about Basel and a banana, if we’re only interested in this year’s spectacle, the fruit really has gone bad.




Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.