Museums must constantly ask this crucial question: who do we serve? Last week during Art Basel Miami Beach, the answer became obvious to me. The Bass serves the people of Miami Beach, the broader South Florida community and art tourists. We serve them all simultaneously.
Wednesday night the museum opened for Basel visitors and for our member’s preview. The line (as pictured above) began at the front steps, continued all the way to Collins Avenue, and then followed Collins north toward the street. Wow. Unruly folk tried to break their way in via a side entrance; the police were called and no one was injured or arrested. It’s kind of a good problem to have. Why did we have an unprecedented line? Simply because The Bass delivered shows which people wanted to see.
Our audiences either knew the exhibiting artists, had heard from people that the exhibitions were good and/or had seen images on Instagram. People were so energized to see our shows, they tried to break the gates down to get in. The current shows are accessible. They are significant artists with important work, and they are also appealing and engaging.
I am in charge of the board at the Bass. I don’t pick artists or curate shows. That is not the board’s job. But the board does set policy and guides the museum’s mission. The board’s priority for the museum is that we show art that is accessible to regular people — art that people enjoy. There is an important role for what I refer to as “conceptual upside down black and white video art” and some museums’ primary missions are to show experimental work. Museums must also advance a discourse on art history.
However, a museum must understand and serve its audience. This type of academic art cannot exist at the expense of shows that the people we serve want to see.
Museums must compete with for-profit ventures (as well as other non-profits) for people’s time and money. Art world curators cannot avoid this fact. If a museum wants to attract audiences AND be a part of the discourse on art history, it must show academically AND visually engaging art. If a museum chooses not to, there will be no lines. If there are no lines, there are no visitors. We want visitors at The Bass and couldn’t be more thrilled that people are willing to line up in order to see what we are showing.