Art Basel’s 15 Years in Miami: A Look Back at the Beginning
The 15th edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach takes place from December 1–4 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. This year brings together 269 galleries from 29 countries—21 of which are new to the Miami Beach edition of the fair.
The fair has expanded since its beginnings in 2002 to include curated sectors devoted to film, outdoor sculpture, editions, and historical exhibitions. “This year affords an opportunity to look back at the past 15 years since the show launched in Miami Beach in 2002, including Art Basel’s tremendous impact on the city and growth of international engagement with the art scenes across the Americas,” said Noah Horowitz, Director Americas for Art Basel.
Those who have been there since the early days, whether participating in Art Basel in Miami Beach, or in the innumerable satellite fairs that have cropped up around town since, can attest to the drastic impact it has had on the city, its institutions, the collecting community, and the American art market, as well. And then there’s been the proliferation of art- and non-art-related events that first week in December that drive art crowds to South Beach to let loose before the holidays.
Whitewall has attended the fair since the magazine’s launch in 2006, but we weren’t there for the early years, so we decided to reach out to a few key players who were. “It was a very exciting time for the gallery and Miami. At that time, the impact could not have been imagined, although we were optimistic. It seemed as though the entire art world was present,” said Miami-based gallerist Fredric Snitzer.
Glenn Scott Wright, a director at Victoria Miro who will show a version of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror room Where the Lights in My Heart Go at the fair this year, saw the potential early on. “When the gallery first showed in 2002, the fair was much smaller and much quieter, but I always thought that it was a fair that was going to gain traction. And strategically, of course, it made sense positioning itself as a fair for Latin America as well as for North America,” he said.
It also seemed strategic to stage a fair at the beach. “The beach! This may sound as an amusing statement, and to a certain extent, of course it is. However, there is something to it,” said gallerist Peter Blum. “The first fair was received somewhat skeptically, and I remember many taxi drivers asking me what ‘Basil’ is, as they called it. Nevertheless, business was surprisingly good. It takes people in lively and positive spirits to buy art and the festive events and parties at night helped drive this feeling. For important dealers as well as collectors, Art Basel Miami Beach unexpectedly became a unique and high quality venue,” he said.
Since 2002, skepticism has certainly been squashed, and taxi drivers have mostly learned how to pronounce “Basel.” The fair has evolved into one of the top yearly international events not only for art, but also culture. “It has become one of the top fairs in the world, and it has definitely had an impact on the city,” said Wright. “In terms of the social scene around it, it’s probably the fair that generates the most peripheral activities, and not just because the art world is present. A lot of other industries are there, sponsoring events and entertaining clients. Fashion, for instance, is very present.”
That popularity has seen reverberations in the city of Miami over the years, too. “Miami, for at least five days a year, has been transformed into a major art destination. In many ways, we have made great strides. Artists, museums, private collections, and galleries, and yet the local support base still has much to be desired,” said Snitzer, participating in Kabinett at the fair with Assume Vivid Astro Focus, and showing new works by Enrique Martinez Celaya, Hernan Bas, Carlos Alfonzo, and more.
“The volume of people attending the fair has grown exponentially and we have seen the incredible development of sophisticated public collections and cultural institutions in Miami,” said gallerist Lucy Mitchell-Innes. Her gallery, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, will be presenting Berlin-based artist Monica Bonvicini and new sculptures by Jessica Stockholder.
“With the Miami Basel art fair now having become one of the most important fairs in the world, good results can be hoped for and expected,” said Blum, who is showing David Reed at the fair this year. Reed has produced a new body of work specially for Pérez Art Museum Miami.
Blum continued, “And then there is the beach…”
To find out more about Miami Art Week 2016, pick up the new issue of Whitewaller Miami.