The first two nights of Art Basel Miami Beach, the already important Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator Nichalas Baume seemed significantly more important. That’s because the artist Ryan Gander— whose breeze you may remember from Documenta 13—hired two professional body guards to follow Baume around opening events as part of a piece that aimed to play with the “social dynamics of a bit of buzz,” Gander said at the fair.
For the most part, the guards, named William and Fernandez, stood silently beside Baume, every now and then informing passersby that they were too close to him, but their presence drew attention nonetheless.
“As curator I wanted the spotlight to be on the artist not on me,” Baume said over the phone. “So it felt slightly odd to be cast in that role, but then I thought that if this is what Ryan really wanted to do, then I’m glad actually because it did end up being really fun.”
“It certainly changes your personal space,” he added. “These guys are huge, they definitely have an intimidating presence.”
The bodyguards were most present on Tuesday night at the opening of the Peter Marino show at the Bass Museum, and the sculpture show Baume had curated on its lawn. The opening was also the informal beginning of the fair, which had its VIP preview the next day. Basel Director Marc Spiegler and Baume made remarks standing in front of the museum, both of them inexplicably flanked by the two bodyguards.
Baume said the bodyguards both facilitated and hindered schmoozing.
“People who did know me, a lot of them would still say, ‘Hi, kiss kiss,’” he said, “but then some would be like ‘Wow, this is a little intimidating. Are we allowed to say hi?’”
Though: “I think some people were more likely to notice and say ‘hi,’ than if I was just slinking around in the shadows,” as one sometimes does at those things.
“It’s interesting how quickly they can disappear in your own imagination. Once I got used to having them there I would just get into conversations with people I was chatting to, and just forget that they were there. You just adjust to that situation and they sort of become part of the furniture.”
Gander said he would have liked the project to continue for the entire fair, but since they had to be real, armed bodyguards —“It’s funny but if you get an actor to do it, it wouldn’t look right, they wouldn’t move right”— the project was a little expensive.
This meant that Baume’s time with the bodyguards was over too soon. It was not, however, his only interaction with them. One of the days at the fair, he spotted Fernandez at the Gagosian booth and went over to say hello.
“He said, ‘Look I can’t really talk right now, I’m working,’” Baume said. “He was with Leonardo Di Caprio.”