Meet Nicholas Baume, the Guy in Charge of Art Basel's Free Exhibits This Year

Photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya/Public Art Fund, NY
Art Basel Miami Beach gets bigger and bigger every year -- and while December may seem like a long way away, the days of art-speak study and Basel boozing will be here before you know it. And this month, the powers that be announced the appointment of the illustrious Nicholas Baume as the curator for the Public section of the fair.

Baume is the chief curator for the New York City-based Public Art Fund, and he's got big plans for Collins Park, this year's home for the public display. In past years, it's included sculpture, video art, and performance, among other mediums. We spoke to Baume about his new position, his take on Miami's evolving art scene -- and how public art is the new hotness.

See also: Art Basel Miami Beach Gets New Name: Art Basel In Miami Beach

New Times: How would you describe the evolution of Miami's art scene?
Nicholas Baume: I've been going to Miami actually even before the art fair was launched. I'm Australian originally and one of the exhibitions I curated at the first museum I worked at in the U.S. was an Andy Warhol portrait show, and that exhibition traveled to the Miami Art Museum. My first trip to Miami was to install that exhibition. I got to work with colleagues at MAM -- it was a really exciting thing to be part of. It was great for that exhibition to have another life beyond the original installation. Also, having just moved to the U.S., from Sydney to New England I was really excited to experience such a different city and context in geography that Miami had to offer. It almost felt like going to another country after being in New England for my first winter.

I really related to Miami coming from Sydney. It's a lot of outdoor activity and a public lifestyle and it's a very diverse, open, welcoming city. It was a place that I really enjoyed visiting as also a real contrast to that part of the States. Since my first visit the whole Art Basel Miami Beach developed and obviously the institutions in Miami have grown tremendously at the same time. MOCA North Miami, their expansion and really interesting programming, or of course MAM itself. I'm very excited to see the new building.

Obviously the private institutions have also grown tremendously -- all of the extraordinary private museums and foundations that have developed over the last ten years or so. It's become a center for contemporary art, not only as a marketplace but as a a place for artists to make art, to exhibit art, to engage the public and at the same time the development of South Beach and the Design District have been quite remarkable. It really feels like the whole ecology of the art scene has shifted exponentially over that period. I think it'll continue to flourish and grow and be a great place for artists to show their work.

What's your vision for Basel?
This is a very highly energized and creative moment for artists doing public art. I think that a lot of artists have really been excited to take on the challenge of creating work in public spaces outside of the traditional white cube of the museum space or the gallery space. Wonderful as those opportunities and contexts are, I think artists have yearned to connect more directly with the public and to, in a sense, cut through the institutional barriers that can sometimes stand between an artist's vision and a public response and engagement with that work. That kind of spontaneity; that kind of direct engagement and an ability to reach people who aren't only the privileged but really to reach people and communicate with them without those filters. I think for a lot of artists, working in the public sphere has become a very exciting challenge. So I think the fact that Art Basel Miami Beach is giving even more prominence and resources to the Art Public program reflects the way artists are thinking and the way galleries are getting behind their artists to make those projects possible.

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