Art Basel and Art Miami Have Accused Satellite, an Upstart Miami Fair, of Defamation and Trademark Infringement

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Since 2015, artist Brian Andrew Whiteley has run Miami’s Satellite Art Show, a low-cost, artist-friendly fair coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach in December.

Amid the increasingly celebrity-driven, price-obsessed circus that surrounds Art Basel Miami Beach, Satellite, which has taken place in abandoned hotels, vacant parking lots, and shipping containers, can seem like a breathe of fresh air.

But the city’s two biggest fairs, Art Basel and Art Miami, aren’t happy with Satellite—and both have sent Whiteley cease-and-desist-letters.

Whiteley first attracted Art Miami’s ire when he sent an email to some exhibitors at the fair and its sister event, Aqua Art Miami, bluntly arguing for why they should consider exhibiting with Satellite in 2023.

“Here is the truth about Art Miami/Aqua,” Whiteley wrote. “The artwork has become formulaic, expected, and redundant. In some cases it has become simply unbearable (Crystal covered skulls, Warhol portraits, Cartoon/Anime Art, etc.) There is no conceptual framework to the experience, except for those looking for champagne.… it is essentially a trade show.”

Founder Brian Whiteley helps a guest do a keg stand at the 2022 Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach. Photo by Wesley Hevia.

Founder Brian Whiteley helps a guest do a keg stand at the 2022 Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach. Photo by Wesley Hevia.

An attorney with Informa Markets Art LLC, the owner of the two fairs, called Whiteley’s letter “defamatory and misleading,” and especially objected to the “no conceptual framework” language.

“It is unlawful for you to make deliberate statements that harm a business or an individual’s reputation without factual evidence,” the lawyer continued. “Your emails constitute unfair competition, deceptive trade acts and practices, and misappropriation of the valuable goodwill, reputation and business property of Informa.”

Whitley allowed that “maybe my email was a little too harsh,” he told Artnet News. “But this is the first time that reaching out to galleries about exhibiting with us came with a cease and desist. I’m pretty sure that every art fair does the same process.… maybe [Art Miami] should go on Yelp and harass anybody who left a bad comment.”

Trueson Daugherty with his artwork at the 2022 Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Trueson Daugherty with his artwork at the 2022 Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Meanwhile, Art Basel sent their lawyers after Satellite in 2018, when the fair’s website declared that the “Art Basel Miami application” was now open, but seemed to be referring to their own fair’s application. He then began using a cheeky #notBasel hashtag to promote Satellite, which also did not please the bigger fair.

“Your misuse of the ART BASEL Mark constitutes misappropriations of our trademark, causes customer confusion, and constitutes trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution by trading upon the goodwill and reputation associated with our trademark,” read the cease-and-desist letter, which was shared with Artnet News. “Your use of the term #NOTBASEL does not erase the confusion raised by the infringements,” the fair’s lawyer said.

“The letter was a surprise,” Whiteley said. “We didn’t realize we were even on Art Basel’s radar!”

“We started Satellite as a way for artists have a voice during Miami Art Week,” Whiteley told Artnet News, likening the fair to an art piece in its own right, rather than a typical business venture. “And [Art Basel and Art Miami] have a distinct problem with that. It’s starting to feel like a pattern of larger fairs that have money and muscle behind them were targeting us in particular. It feels like they’re not happy that we get critical attention.”

Over the years, Satellite has held musical performances by the likes of Ghostface Killah, Denzel Curry, and CupcakKe, and presented works by artists including Kalup Linzy, Justin Aversano, and duo Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw. Other notable past exhibitors include Brooklyn’s Paradise Palase, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and House of Yes, the art blog ArtFCity, and even Meow Wolf, back when it was still a Santa Fe art collective.

Kyle Heinly, a mostly self-taught artist with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and epilepsy, with his work at the 2022 Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach. Photo courtesy of Satellite Art Show.

Kyle Heinly, a mostly self-taught artist with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and epilepsy, with his work at the 2022 Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach. Photo courtesy of Satellite Art Show.

“Art Basel stages its four shows alongside numerous satellite fairs across our host cities, with whom we work collegially and spiritedly,” a fair spokesperson told Artnet News. The letter to Satellite “was issued in response to an explicit and unauthorized use of the Art Basel trademark. Our team works to uphold our brand and its identity in the public domain, as it vitally reflects the service we deliver to our collectors, galleries, and artists in Miami Beach and worldwide.”

A representative for Informa Markets told Artnet News in an email: “Sending a cease and desist was a necessary step to protect our brand from arbitrary and defamatory remarks for the purpose of solicitation.”

So far, Whiteley has opted not to respond to either fair’s letters.

“It seems to me like it’s just saber-rattling,” he said. “In general, I hope Satellite just pushes [the other fairs] to do do better, because if we’re all trying to showcase more interesting, emerging, and challenging work, it’s gonna be better for all of us.”

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