Dec 1, 2022 - News

Art Basel's efforts to increase Black representation on display

An image of an oil on canvas painting of two individuals in front of a pink background, by Enrico Riley, called "Together VIII"

"Together VIII" by Enrico Riley. Image courtesy the artist and Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York and San Francisco.

Art Basel marks 20 years in Miami Beach as it opens to the public today, and increasing Black representation is at the forefront for organizers planning the show's future.

Why it matters: Two years ago, nationwide protests against systemic racism brought renewed attention to a lack of diversity at the annual art show.

  • In 2020, when the fair was entirely online due to the pandemic, Art Basel didn't feature a single African American-owned gallery.

Catch up fast: Organizers responded by overhauling Art Basel's admissions requirements. The show lowered the minimum age to apply and galleries no longer needed to have a physical space to qualify.

  • More people of color have been included on the selection committee in recent years.

Yes, but: There still aren't many eligible minority-run galleries due in part to structural racism, Marc Spiegler, Art Basel's global director, told Axios.

  • "There are not enough people within the marginalized communities of America who have the access to capital and social networks to make the art world look like the rest of America," said Spiegler, who is leaving his position at year-end.

State of play: This year's Art Basel has 282 galleries from around the U.S. and world, including five from African countries, a spokesperson told Axios.

  • Eight Black-owned galleries are featured this year, including Afriart Gallery of Kampala, Uganda, and Rele Gallery of Lagos, Nigeria and Los Angeles.
  • Last year, Art Basel featured four galleries owned by Black Americans and three African galleries, the New York Times reported. In 2019, the show had three galleries from Africa.

Zoom in: Gallerist Karen Jenkins-Johnson, of Jenkins Johnson Gallery, will be exhibiting several artists of the African diaspora at the Miami Beach show this year, including work by Enrico Riley and Aubrey Williams.

  • Jenkins-Johnson, who was first admitted to the event in 2015, has been challenging art fairs like Art Basel to appreciate and include Black artists.
  • "If you're not admitted to those fairs and the high-level curators and decision-makers and museums, you get overlooked," Jenkins-Johnson said.

What they're saying: Fairs prioritize galleries that have work organizers think will sell, Paddy Johnson, who founded VVrkshop, a company that connects artists with shows, residencies and grants, told Axios in an email.

  • "Perhaps more than any other industry, art fairs and, more specifically, Art Basel reflect the economic inequality that already exists. Art Basel isn't in the business of building new art markets — rather, it supports and helps build already robust art markets."

Editor's note: This piece was corrected to show this year's Art Basel has 282 galleries from around the world, not 283 galleries.

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