Will Miami’s Zika Outbreak Spell Trouble for Art Fairs in December?

Make sure to grab the citronella.

Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, sprays pesticide in the Wynwood neighborhood. Photo Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, sprays pesticide in the Wynwood neighborhood. Photo Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

If the Zika outbreak in Miami continues to expand, some art-worlders say, it could affect Art Basel, NADA, and the numerous other art fairs that take place in Florida in December. The number of cases in the Miami area continues to grow, hitting 15 overnight, and the Centers for Disease Control are urging pregnant women to avoid the Wynwood neighborhood, home to numerous galleries and the Wynwood Walls public art project.

Last year, more than 1,500 dealers headed to Miami fairs, from the 267 who showed at Art Basel in Miami Beach to the 105 at NADA and many smaller fairs. Dealers come from dozens of countries, possibly becoming vectors that could carry Zika all over the globe.

“If the number of cases is 40 by the end of the week,” said one art fair insider who spoke to artnet News on background, “you’ll see changes in fair rosters.”

Unless the authorities get the situation under control soon, said the fair insider, the scramble will be on, as galleries try to pull out of their commitments and organizers have to rush to replace them with dealers from the wait list.

“Instead of champagne and hors d’oeuvres, it will be bug spray and citronella,” quipped one New York collector, who spoke to artnet News anonymously.

“We are watching the Zika virus news closely as safety is our number one priority,” said Heather Hubbs, executive director of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), in an email.

“Art Basel is closely following all reports from health officials regarding cases of the Zika virus in Florida, as well as the aggressive counter-measures taken by Miami-Dade County officials, including increased spraying and mosquito abatement efforts in the impacted area,” a representative of Art Basel told artnet News in an email. “We remain confident that the city is taking precautionary steps to confront the virus and ensure Miami is a safe environment for visitors to the show in December, and for its residents, year-round.”

Guests hang out poolside at Worldwide Knowledge Wave presented by A$AP Mobb and Know Wave at the Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach hotel on December 4, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Courtesy of Rebecca Smeyne/Getty Images.

Guests hang out poolside at the Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach hotel on December 4, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Courtesy of Rebecca Smeyne/Getty Images.

Dealers who talked to artnet were of varying minds on the situation.

“We’ll have a meeting once we’re back in the gallery,” said one New York gallery director. “We’ll be able to more carefully assess the situation then.”

Contrasting that sober attitude, he added, “I will say that I was bitten by a mosquito in my garden the other day, and Zika was the first thing to come to mind.”

Jesse Penridge, private dealer and formerly director at New York’s James Cohan Gallery, pointed out that while galleries will probably not bail out from showing at the fair, some gallery directors might ask to sit this one out, especially if, like Penridge, they’re thinking of starting a family soon.

“But then December is four months off,” he said, “and if it’s in Miami now, hell, it will probably have spread to Georgia by then. But then I’ve been home for a week doing wedding planning and watching the news, so that might just be the fear talking.”

People look on at a piece by artist Lucas Blalock on display during the opening day of Art Basel on December 2, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. Courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

People look on at a piece by artist Lucas Blalock on display during the opening day of Art Basel on December 2, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. Courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

One dealer said there’s no way he’s giving up his shot.

“It’s our first time heading to Miami,” Haynes Riley, of North Little Rock’s Good Weather, told artnet News, “so nothing’s keeping us away.”

He spoke to us while taking a break from installing a show of the artist Tony Hope; he had just come back from picking up some Black Flag insecticide, as it happens, since his gallery is partly open to the elements, and joked that maybe he would bring some with him to Florida.

If Obama calls Congress into session early to pass funding for Zika abatement, the art fair insider predicted, then everyone’s going to breathe a sigh of relief, even if, she added, the real effect is only psychological.

Others, while mindful that Zika presents a real health threat for others, couldn’t help being a little snarky while assessing its possibly happy impact on themselves.

“Every year I look for an excuse not to go to Art Basel,” said another New York collector. “This year I won’t even have to be creative about it.”

The director of a Brazil gallery, speaking anonymously, showed little patience for worries about the situation in Miami.

“We have been living with Zika as a daily reality for almost two years,” she said in an email, “and no one has been not showing up for work.”


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