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ab/mb, really

Post #653 • November 7, 2005, 6:41 AM • 30 Comments

Daniel Chang for the Miami Herald (excessive paragraphing removed for the sake of my sanity):

Bernice Steinbaum puzzled over the rejection letter from the Art Basel Miami Beach selection committee. After all, Steinbaum reasoned, her Miami art gallery had participated in the lucrative fair each of the past three years. "I don't know what happened," Steinbaum said. And she may never know, because Art Basel administrators won't explain their decision.

My original post about this was positively loaded with snark. I'm going to try to take the high road on this one - wish me luck.

Denise Gerson, associate director for curatorial affairs at the Lowe Art Museum on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, said Steinbaum's exclusion from the fair has provoked some incredulity in art circles. "I think it raised a few eyebrows," Gerson said. "It's not just my eyebrows but a whole lot of eyebrows went straight to their hairlines." Gerson wondered aloud about Art Basel's selection criteria and questioned the integrity of the process, in particular the appearance of a conflict of a interest for Snitzer. Every member of the selection committee wins automatic entry to the fair. "I don't think it is the cleanest way to conduct business," Gerson said, "when you have one gallery taking a position about other competitive galleries."

Criticism of Snitzer Gallery on this site has inspired baseless accusations of professional envy. Consider the above. Is Gerson merely venting out of envy as well?

Snitzer said he is well aware that his motives may appear conflicted when voting on a local gallery.

True, that.

In the past, he would recuse himself from such votes precisely to avoid this appearance. But this year his role on the committee changed. Art Basel administrators, who appointed Snitzer to the selection committee, designated him the panel's "Florida expert" and he now votes only on galleries from the state.

Note this - they selected him for a role that assures that his motives will appear conflicted, and he accepted it.

"Fred is probably the strongest advocate galleries in South Florida could have because he's accepted by other members of the committee as being a good gallery himself with good judgment," said Samuel Keller, Art Basel's executive director. "He could do more for Florida galleries than probably anybody else can."

And now he can do more against them than anyone else, too. Note the logic: The committee believes that he has a good gallery and good judgment, so he should decide what Florida galleries should appear at Basel. In addition to his own.

Snitzer declined to divulge his votes or address any single application.

Read: when asked whether he voted against Steinbaum, he wouldn't say.

But he emphasized that his role on the committee is limited. "I'm one vote [of 12]," he said. "So if I was a huge advocate for Bernice or if I was someone who absolutely thought she shouldn't be in the fair, I have one vote."

So maybe the AB/MB Selection Committee's designated Florida Expert stood up and said, "Dammit, we're not having an Art Basel/Miami Beach without Bernice Steinbaum Gallery!" as he pounded his fist on the table, causing glasses of Perrier to effervesce nervously, and a simple majority of the panel said, "No, O Designated Florida Expert, we defy you and your Designated Floridian Expertise; we shall not - not! - have Bernice Steinbaum Gallery at Art Basel/Miami Beach this year." Just maybe.

Well, so much for not snarking. But look at the scenarios we're being asked to accept: either Snitzer voted against Steinbaum, which would be a logical business move if an abuse of his position, or he voted for her and was overridden by the rest of the committee in defiance of his designation as the Florida expert.

Keller said the selection committee relies on two overarching criteria with multiple subsets when considering applicants. "One is the quality of the galleries and then the second one is the concept of the show."

The concept?

Elaborating on the elements of the two criteria, Keller said, 'When we go into quality, one [aspect] of it is for existing dealers that have been participating, 'How was the presentation they did before?' and for new ones it is, 'How strong is the proposal?'"

From this we assume that Steinbaum failed the former test.

"The galleries are asked to come up with a concept of what they would like to show."

I have now attended, what, four AB/MB's, and have never detected a concept displayed by any gallery except, "These are our artists; Visa and MasterCard accepted." Are they talking about concept of representation? Well:

Steinbaum represents some of South Florida's most accomplished artists -- among them are three recipients of the MacArthur 'Genius' Award, two winners of the Annenberg Foundation Award and one artist represented at the Venice Biennale international exhibition. "Almost every artist in this gallery has gotten a museum show from last year to this year," Steinbaum said.

So if it's not that, then what?

Finally, Keller said, "There's a certain amount of renewment. We need to also give a chance to younger people coming in or to the people who would like to bring something new or different."

One assumes that there's no chance that Snitzer himself will be renewmented out of the fair.

Everybody who cares already knows that AB/MB lies at the putrescent intersection of art and commerce. It needs a big pile of money to happen. If its organizers aim one event at peoples' groins for every other that it aims at their heads, that money will appear more easily, hence the parties and other empty amusements. So if you like the quietude and intellectual rigor of a museum show, you go to AB/MB expecting it to disgust you at least once.

But we also expect businesses to operate in a fair, competitive manner. When Snitzer found himself in a position to decide the economic fate of his direct competitors in the market, he ought to have removed himself. But he didn't, and whether he personally whacked Steinbaum or not, he has created the appearance of impropriety. The fact that he wouldn't talk about this with the Herald except in the most general, roundabout way adds to that appearance, as do Keller's illogical defense of Snitzer.

Why does it matter? Because AB/MB makes Miami an art destination, at least once a year. But what is AB/MB, really? From the above, one concludes that it is a frenzy of crony capitalism, applied to art. Thus the question remains whether success in AB/MB represents its own kind of failure in a moral sphere that none of its proprietors seems to consider.



that guy

November 7, 2005, 9:06 AM

I personally like the image of "glasses of Perrier effervescing nervously"...

As the other South Florida expert on Art, I usually recluse myself from these discussions but I have to hand the victor's flag to Snitzer on this one. Maybe Bernice's application really blew? If I was in his position I would have done the same, considering her artist's lack of depth and talent. Museum shows and Venice Biennales don't impress the true lover. Snitzer was right to do what he did. For the sake of his vision of a good "for sale" show lets bring out only the right wares.



November 7, 2005, 9:32 AM

It's really scandalous. That Snitzer would even put himself in a position to be able to vote against his single most significant competition in town totally bombs his integrity. Conflict of interest doesn't get any more obvious than that. ABMB officials showed very poor judgment in allowing a gallery owner who stands to gain from the fair to take part in the selection process.

Anyhow, whether you like Bernice's artists or not, several of them do get outside recognition -- and they sell, and that's what the fair's about. I think it'd be pretty naive to say Snitzer's artists are any "better".



November 7, 2005, 10:00 AM

So the designated "Florida expert" had no decisive influence or significant role in deciding whether or not a Florida gallery was in or out. Then why did the Basel people appoint him to that position? So he could put it on his resume? Can anyone actually be expected to believe this?

Yeah, it looks bad. It looks terrible, but obviously that didn't matter, and doesn't. This is the official art world, folks. The putrescence is so pervasive and routine that brazen impropriety is just business as usual. And the operative word in all this, of course, is business.


special ed.

November 7, 2005, 11:13 AM

All this is an embarrassment to Miami, its artists and their art…conflict of interest is an understatement! "Fred is probably the strongest advocate galleries in South Florida could have because he's accepted by other members of the committee as being a good gallery himself with good judgment," Snitzer cares about Snitzer not other galleries…and good judgment? Anything I’ve ever seen at the Snitzer gallery is as good if not worse than anything else I’ve seen around town…it’s a mediocre gallery, nothing terrible I suppose, but nothing superior for sure. its time for a revolution!



November 7, 2005, 11:14 AM

I want to complain and whine for poor Bernice but, at the same time I think she's just not at the top of the game. A Galleries 1st priority is making money, then they look at the art. Bernice stopped looking at art and started looking for what makes art valuable many many years ago. Snitzer is better at the business game than any other local gallery. You can't hate him for that. Business is business, doesn't matter what your selling.



November 7, 2005, 11:17 AM

I can just hear the Basel crew sniggering:

"So these no-account Artblog people don't like a blatant conflict of interest? Tough. Let them eat shredded ArtForums."



November 7, 2005, 11:28 AM

It is to this communities misfortune that Denise Gerson is'nt on 'this committee' - she runs a museum, is a collector a curator and an art writer - perhapes however she does'nt involve herself in politics, just Art.



November 7, 2005, 11:43 AM

Just out of curiosity, can someone explain to me how Fred Snitzer is in a conflict re allowing Steinbaum's gallery into Basel? I'm really curious: i see no benefit to him from wanting to exclude her, and potential benefit from having her in the show.

In particlar, I find the idea that trying to hurt other local galleries would help his own business contrary to everything I know about commerce in general and art commerce in particular. A higher profile for local art galleries = a higher profile for the miami art scene = more business for Snitzer.

I, personally, have never been overly impressed with a show at Steinbaum. It's possible that he voted against her because of serious doubts about artistic merit. It's possible (very likely, methinks) he voted for her and was on the loosing side. But i fail to see any other reason why he would vote against her.

As far as the conflict of interest, it seems that any gallery director would have the same conflict. Since this blog alleges that museums and galleries are in a conflicted, malfeasant, relationship, any museum curator/director would have a conflict. Who does Franklin think would make an appropriate "south florida expert?" Jack?



November 7, 2005, 12:15 PM

This isn't about Steinbaum or her artists specifically; this is about the fact that no art dealer should be given any say concerning what other dealer(s) in his/her area do or do not get a spot at AB/MB, when said dealer already has a guaranteed spot. There is no way to make it wash ethically.

There is no need for any "Florida expert." Let the interested galleries apply, and let the people on the selection committee, regardless of where they're from, decide the matter based on the merits of the art in question. If these people are indeed qualified to make such judgment about the quality of art, they should be able to make it about any art from anywhere. Is Herr Keller saying one must be from Florida to figure out whether art from a Florida gallery is good or not? He couldn't possibly be that foolish (though it's certainly possible to be smart about the art business and not about art proper).



November 7, 2005, 1:36 PM

Alesh, it would be a pleasure doing business in the same town as you. But let's take the short view.

A gallerist's job, in the abstract, is to persuade the persuadable regarding the worth of his artists. Pretend you're a persuadeable art buyer. Pretend, for the hell of it, that the artists in both Snitzer and Steinbaum galleries are about equal in quality. Steinbaum has two Annenberg winners, three MacArthur fellows, a Venice Biennale representative, and nearly everyone has had a museum show in the last year. Meanwhile, Snitzer has a much more mixed bag when it comes to nationally and internationally recognized artists: Gispert and Bas on the fame train, Bedia as a historical figure, Chambers as an international exhibitor. Which seems like a more serious gallery to you?

So short term, Snitzer benefits by Steinbaum not being in the building.



November 7, 2005, 1:56 PM

Snitzer only benefits in the short term if you assume that Basel visitors budget a certain amount of money to spend at Miami galleries, apart from other galleries. That strikes me as a rather absurd assumption.

Having more Miami galleries at Basel makes miami look better, period. By that logic, Snitzer wouldn't want, say, Barbara Gladstone at Basel, because people might rather buy some of that stuff. I could be wrong, but i'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way.

Jack~ For whatever reason, Basel wants to take the overall reputation of a gallery into consideration. That strukes me as an interesting, but not indefensible, position. Once it's taken, obviously you need an expert on Miami galleries to give some input.

Has Steinbaum declined over the last few years? I can't say for sure - i've seldom been a fan of the stuff she sells. But I don't see any evidence to the contrary. Having an artice in Venice is impressive, but it's really about the work, and the shows that she puts on.



November 7, 2005, 2:15 PM

Steinbaum's art is awful. But I doubt that has much to do with anything here.

3 MacArthur winners? In that miserable bunch? So much for that MacArthur outfit. Good grief!

I don't think we can say much about Snitzer without knowing how he voted.

It all stinks. None of it has anything to do with art.



November 7, 2005, 2:22 PM

It's not absurd at all, Alesh. Don't you check out the local stores when you travel somewhere?



November 7, 2005, 2:38 PM

Well, I don't travel for the purpose of shopping, but nevermind that - obviously most Basel visitors are doing just that. What I'm saying is that the Steinbaum slot will be filled by another gallery, possibly a better one then her's. So Fred wouldn't be helping himself by excluding her, at least not to business from people who are going to buy art.

He only helps himself with people who are in town specifically to buy art from Miami Galleries. I would assume that 0% of Basel visitors have that as a specific priority. After all, if you're only interested in Miami Galleries, you could come anytime.

Oldpro - I share your befuddlement re. the MacArthur winners. I wonder which ones they are. Glexis Novoa is the only one of her artists I love without reservation. I searched her site, and Amalia Mesa-Bains is the only person with a MacArthur reference in her bio.

But I don't think you could deduce Snitzer's motives even if you knew how he voted.



November 7, 2005, 2:40 PM

You are probably right, and who cares anyway.



November 7, 2005, 3:06 PM

For what it's worth, I've heard nothing about the Steinbaum spot going to another local gallery, and that should be known by now if it were the case. In other words, the Miami presence at the main Basel venue has apparently been reduced by 25%.

I maintain that Snitzer should have had no say in which area galleries wound up in or out. The other committee people should be more than capable of deciding that. All they really need to do is look at the work and, if they want more info, do a little homework--the galleries under consideration would all be exceedingly eager to provide whatever data the committee deemed relevant.



November 7, 2005, 3:27 PM

If gallery reputation is the issue, it would have to be reputation outside Miami, which the Basel crowd should be perfectly aware of with no help from Snitzer. If we're talking about a strictly local reputation that only a local would know about, what good is that? Do you think the Basel people care about who does well here but means little or nothing elsewhere? Again, all they have to do is look at the damn work.



November 7, 2005, 3:30 PM

One thing that came to mind that nobody has mentioned in the buying of votes. I wonder if someone paid for a selector to vote for them. This is a cut-throat business you know. It certainly wouldn't surprise me one bit if it did happen.




November 7, 2005, 3:58 PM

Well, I don't travel for the purpose of shopping...

Alesh has other priorities.

After all, if you're only interested in Miami Galleries, you could come anytime.

Right, but as an art lover, when would you come? Exactly.

OP: It all stinks. None of it has anything to do with art.

I find myself agreeing with the sentiment behind this. Not so long ago I was in Montreal in front of a Cezanne. "Cezanne, meet Franklin. Franklin, Cezanne." And we hung out for a while. It was nice. The Basel machinery might as well have been grinding away on another planet.



November 7, 2005, 4:14 PM

Dang, that was a good burrito, though. Did I tell you about the pizza in Chicago? Gracious! (oh and, yeah, i saw some Monets at the Art Institute.)

I guess, Fraklin, that your argument would hold some water worded thusly: "Art lovers come to Miami for Basel to buy art. They then explore local galleries, giving particular preference to those that are represented at Basel."

Under that formulation, if the number of Miami galleries at the fair goes from 4 to 3, Fred gets himself an additional 8.33% (one third of one quarter percent) of that subsection of the audience.

Now imagine an alternative scenario: let's say there are 10 Miami galleries at basel. What does that do to the perception of everyone who goes? What does that do to the clout of the city's art scene (of which Snitzer is the acknowledeged king)? Under which scenario does he benefit?


Marc Country

November 7, 2005, 4:17 PM

Well then, carrying on from the last page, if you want your blog to be about The Biz, then you should heed George's words, and move to London, New York, or LA... I'm sure the parties, institututions, intrigues, and such there would serve for great fodder for writing, beyond anything offered even in Maimi.
If you want it to be about art as ART, as your Montreal experience points to, then maybe catfish isn't so far off with his suggestion of western Canada.
Hell, it's not like you'd be without internet access up there (did you know Canada outstrips the US in terms of at-home high-speed net access per capita?), so you could continue to report on international stories, the latest sillyness from Tyler's MAN, and all that other "machinery... grinding away on another planet."
Food for thought.



November 7, 2005, 5:52 PM

"What I'm saying is that the Steinbaum slot will be filled by another gallery, possibly a better one then her's. So Fred wouldn't be helping himself by excluding her"...
...Unless a certain Gallerie from France needed a spot where a handful of artists from placemaker and Snitzer both show. Just a wild thought proabably no truth to it.



November 7, 2005, 6:25 PM

It's a theory, Hmm.


Marc Country

November 7, 2005, 7:29 PM

Well, if we go by that ABMB list as a reference to cities with art scenes that matter, it would seem to suggest that Canada is barely even on the map... Forget poor old Bernice... The entire country on the northern border is ignored, save for one Toronto Gallery ("Corkin Shopland Gallery represents 21 contemporary artists, including Canada’s leading contributors to the art of photography"), and one Montreal gallery ("Landau Fine Art is the only art Gallery in Canada that deals in important paintings and sculpture of 19th and 20th century international artists").

... but maybe "art scenes" and "gallery scenes" don't overlap the way they used to 50 years ago...



November 7, 2005, 7:49 PM

Alesh, if you're presented to the Basel audience as one of the ten Basel-worthy Miami photographers, as opposed to one of only 3 that are worthy, what will put you in a better position? What will get you more hits? Isn't it obvious?

But forget the math, forget Steinbaum's merit or lack thereof, forget even Snitzer's motives or agenda. What we have here is a major arts outfit with a very high international profile that has needlessly chosen to conduct itself in a way that is unquestionably dubious ethically. Why? Because that's so common that it's immaterial; it's the way the game is played.



November 8, 2005, 5:03 AM

- perhaps a person loves to read the name they were given a lot and chuckles as they read comments about themselves - is this, like painting in general, lame?



November 8, 2005, 5:26 AM

- you see old pro, you were and now are set; i have a destroyed home, and no upper-east-coast connections to help me - i would have enjoyed the sixty's and seventies however, because it seemed easier then - less painters, more money in the arena.
- thanks for putting david in an important show however, as he is one of the best students i've had.
- why have'nt you put bethea in the books yet man?



November 8, 2005, 9:01 AM

Take it easy, Jordan, we only had the idea for the show a week ago, and have not even signed a lease yet. Everything is completely tentative & chaotic.

When you are an old fart like me you will be "set" too, and reminiscing about the 90s.



November 8, 2005, 7:48 PM

comment 26 was'nt directed towards anyone old pro.



November 16, 2005, 9:09 PM

Okay, so listen.

Fred has had a great relationship with Bernice for a long time.
He always sung the praises of her gallery, and often referrred people to her space along with the The Rubell, The Marguiles, etc.

Fred is one of the few movers and shakers that has built up Miami's art scene. (Do we really want to go back to ArtMiami, people??) Even if there was a shred of verity to these claims, he only stands to gain from keeping local galleries in the mix. Art Basel is here because of the art crop/scene in Miami. This local exposure is good for business.

But, honestly...I don't think that's Fred's main concern. I really believe he is vested in the work he represents. And I feel like there is ALWAYS ROOM for good work. I think the article blew alot of things out of proportion. It made Miami look petty---as if there was a showdown between the two galleries. There is no contest.

In my opinion, Fred's is one of the few spaces where you can see fresh, new work.
The fact that he is a teacher also shows that he has cultivated his investment in this scene. I'm glad it's beginning to pay off for him. (SIDENOTE: I don't believe he is solely a "gallerist" as someone pointed out. He is a patron, artist, commentator and facilitator as well. If he had an agenda, I believe these other roles should be considered.)

And while you are calling Basel a money machine, let's also call it a HUGE vehicle for exposure for artists. What happens at the fair is not nearly HALF as exciting as what happens on the outskirts "Off Basel" and within the community.

The Lowe?
C'mon people, let's be real.
Oh! Sorry I fell asleep for a minute.



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