Every December, a flood of art-world people converges on Miami for the city’s annual round of art fairs. Centered around the massive Art Basel Miami Beach at the South Beach convention center, the weeklong set of events includes over a dozen other art and photography fairs, as well as concerts, performances, museum events, and industry-oriented parties.
For the last few months, VCS student Maddy Gentile has been working as an intern for the New York-based organization that organizes and runs the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair in both Miami (in December) and New York (in March). Last December, PULSE sent Maddy to Miami to help with its administration and day-to-day operations throughout the week. I asked her to tell me about her experiences there, and give me her impressions of what the world of the fairs looks like from the inside. Here’s what she had to say, presented alongside some photos she provided:
“I did not get to experience Art Basel itself, since I was literally working 12-hour days for PULSE the whole time I was there. I had arrived in Miami on the 1st of December and started working on the 2nd, which was the last day of set up. First I had to get accustomed to the layout and try to memorize where everything was; I actually had the privilege of photographing all the booths for the galleries to be viewed on Flickr, which can be seen here.
“My official position was Fair Assistant. In particular, I was a “runner.” Since I am their intern from New York (which means I had more knowledge than other Fair Assistants), I basically had to be available whenever the Staff needed me to do certain jobs, since I was the best person to understand how to get the job done quickly and efficiently.
“A lot of what I did was catering to the exhibitors: fixing lights, baby-sitting a booth when someone needed to take a stroll, and answering any questions that they may have had. A lot of the time I was on call, which meant I got to float around the fair until someone called me to do something. It ranged from setting up the live band performers’ room to sitting in the show office and acting as an information point. A lot of it was about paying attention to detail.
“I also worked with an artist who did an outdoor instillation that was sponsored by Perrier. The artist, Chris Labzda, who was also the on-site photographer of the fair, constructed an illuminated well out of recycled Perrier bottles.
“Even though they were very full and intense days, I felt comfortable and at home. I felt like this was what I am supposed to be doing. It was strange to find myself in love while running around constantly switching gears. All in all, the staff was extremely happy with the outcome. We received much deserved press and exhibitors and visitors to the fair were both in fantastic moods the entire time.
“Since interning with Pulse and actually working at my first big fair, I now understand the dynamics of running an art fair. It’s very collaborative; you have to learn to work with a team of people to make decisions that affect the final outcome. Though the fair is a momentary event that lasts a weekend, you have to produce something that has a lasting effect for the rest of the year, until the next fair.
“Experiencing this fair was like visiting my future. I hope to one day have a position in the art world like the Staff of PULSE has. It has given me the extra drive to keep going and do more. And now we are almost ready for PULSE New York! March 4th – 7th 2010, at the new location: 330 West Street at West Houston.”