​Curator’s Corner: René Paul Barilleaux explores Art Basel Miami Beach

Curator’s Corner is a place for McNay curators to discuss their thoughts about events happening in the art world—their world—both here in San Antonio and elsewhere. Here, René Paul Barilleaux, Chief Curator/Curator of Art after 1945, talks with Tommie Ethington, Communications Assistant, about his recent trip to one of the most exciting events of the year: Art Basel Miami Beach. The world-renowned event offers more than 250 of the world’s leading galleries the opportunity to present and sell interesting and dynamic works of art to some 70,000 visitors each year. Similar events are held in Basel, Switzerland (the fair’s founding location) and Hong Kong.

How long have you been going to Art Basel Miami Beach and why do you keep going?

I’ve been going since before I started at the McNay, first in 2003, so for over 10 years now. The trip offers me the chance to do three things: the chance to see what international galleries are up to, to take the pulse of the art world and art market, and the opportunity to connect with dealers and network to re-establish the McNay’s presence in the art world.

With more than two dozen fairs and countless parties, there’s a lot going on. What’s your strategy for fitting it all in?

I focus on 4 to 5 of the major fairs. Before I arrive, I’ll look to see if there are any special exhibitions in museums. Lots of private collections will open their homes to the public and that’s always interesting.

What’s changed since you started going in 2003?

The satellite fairs have really developed. At first, many would take over a hotel and each dealer would have their own room, so you would have to go room to room. It was fun because it was like you were discovering something new in every room and it was a much more intimate experience. Now, those dealers are typically set up in tents, similar to the major fairs.

So, now it’s kind of like an expo?

Yes, essentially like a trade show with beautifully installed spaces, and each gallery has a booth—kind of like the McNay’s Art to the Power of Ten event, but, of course, much, much larger. There are different fairs geared towards different collectors and markets, but really it’s just an opportunity to bring galleries from all over the world together in one place.

Are there any trends you saw or things we should expect in 2015?

You don’t tend to see many surprises because the dealers want to sell their art, so for the most part they bring sure things. I remember a past trend was for monumental photographs. This year, I was seeing photographs by Vik Muniz all over. It might be I’m just more tuned into that because Muniz is in our collection. But there’s also a growing focus on craft, materials, construction, and on how things are made.

Do you ever buy anything for yourself?

I typically resist because I’m not an impulse buyer, but I did buy one minor thing a few years ago. I do, however, see people I know and sometimes they’ll ask me for advice, so I help them find things they’re interested in. The event is also really great for people watching—you have people from all over the world who are very dialed into art and high fashion. There’s just this great buzz about the city.