When the owners of the Swiss summer art fair Art Basel first brought a stateside version of the show to Miami Beach in 2002, they were gambling on whether the contemporary art world would support a somewhat novel, tropical frontier. Not only was the fair an immediate success, in 10 quick years Art Basel in Miami Beach has become arguably the most influential show in the Americas—framing a ritualistic week on the calendar of every top collector, curator, museum director, and amateur art aficionado. The show has swelled to include more than 260 of the most prestigious international galleries, featuring an increasingly ambitious program that now boasts outdoor works of video, sculpture, and performance all over town. Art Basel in Miami Beach also helped spawn a cultural renaissance of sorts across South Florida; blue-chip collectors opened private spaces, a raft of public institutions has been newly commissioned or revitalized (the Miami Art Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; and the Miami Science Museum are currently building new homes), and both the Wynwood Arts District and the Design District have blossomed with cutting-edge galleries, furniture boutiques, and artist studios.
“It was an exciting decade—not only for the show, but also for Miami Beach,” says Annette Schönholzer, who along with Marc Spiegler has served as codirector of the show since 2008. “The city evolved from being the winter destination for art lovers into a year-round cultural hot spot.” The show itself, held within the Miami Beach Convention Center, has matured as well. “The quality of the galleries exhibiting has increased significantly, and so has the diversity of the galleries,” adds Spiegler. “People have come to take the show quite seriously, saving great material and planning their booths all year long…. The Miami Beach edition was originally established in part as a link between North and South America. Over the past few years, we have seen this dream come to fruition in terms of our exhibitors, their artists, and their collectors.” (Last year alone there were a record 26 Latin-American exhibitors.)
Indeed, with the immense proliferation of art fairs, it is no secret that dealers often do as much as half of their annual business at the various fairs these days. Considering this, the Art Basel behemoth is poised to dominate the contemporary art world, now operating shows on three continents after acquiring the ART HK show (in Hong Kong) last year.
The Miami show, which runs this year December 6–9, promises to be more exhilarating than ever. The most creative and audacious section is often Art Nova, although Art Positions was considered a highlight by many attendees last year. Art Public is easily the most visible sector and is not to be missed; Collins Park is transformed with a transcendent series of site-specific, conceptual, and performance-based installations. Another exciting section is Art Video, a series of moving-image works projected onto the façade of the Frank Gehry–designed New World Center.
For those planning to attend Art Basel in Miami Beach this year, make sure to break away from the confines of the convention center and hit the legendary private collections and the increasingly prominent art spaces that routinely show some of the most avant-garde work around. Miami’s stock of private collections—housed in everything from a former DEA drug warehouse (The Rubell Family Collection) to a building that once housed a boxing gym (World Class Boxing, the collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl)—are located in the once-dilapidated Wynwood neighborhood, just north of downtown Miami.