Art Basel Miami, a Premier Event to See New Galleries and Interior Upgrades
29 first-time galleries will exhibit at the South Florida market this year
At this year’s Art Basel Miami, early December’s premier art world destination, veteran galleries will be joined by 29 galleries participating for the first time, including Levy Delval (Brussels), Tiwani Contemporary (London), and Sabrina Amrani (Madrid).
This is also the first time that Tunisia, the Netherlands, and Australia will be featured at the fair. Grimm (Amsterdam, New York) will exhibit a mixed-media installation by Claudia Martínez Garay that probes the connections between colonialism and modernity, while Selma Feriani Gallery (Sidi Bou Said) will present work by Saudi Arabian artist Maha Malluh, whose sculptures and installations comment on Saudi culture and its relationship with globalization.
The largest art fair in the U.S., Art Basel Miami has been held since 2002 and brings together over 250 galleries, this year from Dec. 5–9. While other fairs like TEFAF and Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, invite a similar number of exhibitors, what makes the atmosphere in Miami unique is that these galleries are accompanied by hundreds more at over 20 additional fairs that have arisen in the area due to Basel’s popularity, such as PULSE and PINTA. Together, for Miami Art Week, they draw more than 50,000 people to the city.
For Art Basel, premium events also take place all over Miami, including many after-parties thrown by luxury brands. Hotel concierges dedicated to providing access to high-profile guests can sometimes be the only way to secure entry. Collectors can often get on guests lists for private dinners hosted by galleries, too.
While a large Latin American presence is a constant of the fair, Argentina will likely be a focal point for Art Basel Miami’s organizers this year, following the launch of their inaugural Art Basel Cities initiative in Buenos Aires this past September.
The program is tailor-made for Buenos Aires, with the intention of raising awareness of Buenos Aires as a major art capital, introducing collectors and other art-world insiders throughout the world to its offerings, as well as celebrating its culture among its own citizens.
In addition to an array of talks, gallery tours, and other events that took place in early September, a program called “Hopscotch,” named after the beloved 1963 novel by Julio Cortázar, was curated by Art Basel Cities artistic director Cecilia Alemani. It stretched across three Buenos Aires neighborhoods and featured public art works, installations, and performances by artists including Maurizio Cattelan, Alexandra Pirici and Eduardo Navarro.
Buenos Aires’ Walden Gallery will be participating in Art Basel Miami for the first time this year, displaying embroidered fabric works by the late Paraguayan artist Feliciano Centurión. Augustina Taruschio, speaking on behalf of gallery director Ricardo Ocampo, said that Art Basel “had the possibility of getting to know the galleries [in Buenos Aires]” because of the Cities initiative. If it didn’t directly influence the application process on the side of Art Basel, she said “it at least encouraged us to apply because it made us feel that Art Basel was looking at Buenos Aires and at Argentina—that it was a country that was interesting to them. For a gallery that is so far away from everything, it was a boost and made us feel we have something to offer and that there are people looking for what we have.”
Much talk this year will undoubtedly concern the completed renovations of the Miami Beach Convention Center. A newly designed floor plan and layout, as well as upgraded facilities, will accompany the wider aisles and plazas that were put in place last year, in addition to other features such as more seating and cafes, a 10% increase in exhibition space, and a larger Collectors Lounge.
“Fair directors are always trying to improve the ‘experience’ of an art fair, which is wildly counterintuitive,” said New York-based art adviser Lara Bjork, who considers Art Basel Miami one of her favorite art fairs. “Leaving the layout to a clean, linear, navigable format allows one to easily walk the fair and actually focus on the art—which, in theory, is what we are there for. I have no doubt in my mind that the Convention Center renovations will be a welcomed upgrade.”
Other, more ephemeral changes that have occurred over time at the fair are not in the organizers’ control, however, including who is buying what’s up for sale.
Gallerist David Nolan of New York, who has participated in Art Basel Miami for over a decade, credits Miami and its reputation as an entertaining destination for the shift in clientele he has experienced throughout recent years.
“In the beginning, we sold more to our regular clients and to museums,” he said. “Now we sell approximately 50% of what we [bring] to people who we’ve never met before.”
“The competition for money and attention has gone away from some of the older, tried-and-true traditional collectors,” Mr. Nolan continued. “They’re still there, and the museum trustees still like to go down and demand that serious curators go with them to explain what they’re seeing, but it’s a smaller percentage compared to at the beginning.”
Education also becomes vital for galleries that previously haven’t exhibited at the fair, as the audience may not know them or their artists. But with many people’s attention spans shortened, that can be a challenge. “You can’t really [educate them] in less than five minutes,” Mr. Nolan said. That can result in sloppy research and misunderstandings about what a piece of art may be worth. The internet can tell you the auction price for one Julian Schnabel painting from 10 years ago, he explains as an example, but many new buyers—especially those coming from the finance, tech, and fashion worlds—don’t understand that this does not mean that all Schnabel paintings should fetch the same price, he said.