Art Basel Miami Beach lasts just four days, but those days create a new subset of humanity – the ephemeral figure of the art observer who roves the air conditioned corridors ostensibly to absorb the art, but really focused on the other individuals in their paths. Photographer Barbara Anastacio has roamed this weird and marvellous world for AnOther for the last three years; here we speak to her about her latest experiences in the Technicolor world of Miami, and the unique breed who dwell within.
What do you look for when you are taking pictures of people in a space like Art Basel?
An art fair is not an exhibition. It's most of all a business. It's a status economy where people and rumour are the highest currencies. It is a show curated as much by its viewers, gallerists, collectors, businessmen, critics as by the artworks displayed. Everyone is trying to shake hands and get business cards. It's all very performative and spectacular as a socio-economic transaction of taste and desire. I'm interested in the spectacle of looking at art and its intrinsic body language and spatial dimension.
You've covered Art Basel for us three times now - is there something particular to the people in Miami and how they behave at this time? What is the atmosphere like?
I was reading Miami by Joan Didion whilst I was there. She describes it as a tropical capital "long on rumor, short on memory, overbuilt on the chimera of runaway money”. I think that makes it the ideal playground for an art fair like Basel. There's something really honest in the mixture of flip flops with ties, botox with palm trees, Ai Wei Wei with Cadillacs. The "kitschyness" of it strikes me as unpretentiously vain, casually vicious and superficially deep in a way that only Miami Beach allows with all its contradictions.
"There's something really honest in the mixture of flip flops with ties, botox with palm trees, Ai Wei Wei with Cadillacs"
As a photographer in this space, how do you feel?
Most of the time I feel completely invisible. Everyone is taking pictures with their phones, Instagraming their experience at the fair, so I'm just someone else with a camera. Often me taking a picture actually increases other people's curiosity for the artwork I seem to be pointing at – as if they missed something I seem to be grasping. It's all about the idea of unspoken rumours. I never asked anyone to pose and no one asked me any questions other than the occasional geek who's curious about what lens I'm using. The process is mainly watching with all your body, anticipating some of it and reacting when it happens. Which can be easier said than done when there's a constant crowd of people "ruining" your frame.
What was your favourite moment that you captured?
I think my favourite one is the image with the woman passing by with a sexy leopard jumpsuit and two guys turned to her with the same jeans and shirt. I couldn't actually tell if they were staring at her or the artwork. But that ambiguity kind of sums up the experience of an event like Miami Basel for me. It's as much about looking as it's about being looked at.
Special thanks to Absolut, one of the sponsors of Art Basel.
Text by Tish Wrigley