Art Basel celebrates 20 years in South Florida

When Art Basel Miami Beach debuted in 2002, a year after its first planned edition was delayed after 9/11, it featured 200 galleries, including Gagosian.

But Larry Gagosian, one of the most powerful dealers in the art world, was not present in person.

“The first few times I didn’t go to the fair,” said Mr. Gagosian, who founded his first gallery in Los Angeles in 1980 and now has 19 exhibition spaces around the world. “What changed my mind was some good feedback.”

And he added: “Now I’m staying a couple of days.”

A regular at the Miami Beach fair, Mr. Gagosian plans to return again this year for the fair’s 20th anniversary. His stand will show new work by the painter and sculptor Harold Ancart; Rick Lowe, known for his collaborative and community art; and mixed media artist Alexandria Smith, among others.

The fair, which will be held at the Miami Beach Convention Center from Thursday to Saturday, will have the largest edition in its history, with 282 galleries, evidence of its success over time.

Mr. Gagosian’s conversion reflects the transformative growth of the event itself, art fairs in general, and the Miami cultural scene in general.

Over the past two decades, the fair has become the anchor of an entire creative ecosystem. Satellite fairs were created, helping establish the informal constellation of events known as Miami Art Week, which takes place amid a dizzying array of brand partnerships, pop-up exhibits and champagne-fueled parties.

In 2019, a work by artist Maurizio Cattelan, “Comedian”, a banana duct taped to a wall, became a symbol of the meeting place of conceptual art and attention-grabbing jokes when a performance artist he ate it as a trick. The limited-edition work sold three times during the fair for $120,000 to $150,000, and the notoriety of the work forced the Perrotin gallery, which shows “Comedian”, to remove it due to the crowds gathered around it.

But around the fair, the institutional landscape also grew and matured, with the appearance of new museums, some established by the area’s leading private collectors, and older ones sprawling.

“That’s the miracle of Miami,” said collector Mera Rubell. “The sun and the fun became a cultural destination. That’s a great victory.”

With her husband, Donald Rubell, Ms. Rubell founded the Rubell Family Collection in the Wynwood area of ​​Miami in 1993, which became the Rubell Museum in 2019 in a new neighborhood, Allapattah; the family recently opened a branch in Washington.

He also personally lobbied Art Basel to bring the fair to Miami Beach when it had its original edition only in Basel, Switzerland, founded in 1970.

“We did everything in our power to get them to come here,” said Ms. Rubell, a former New Yorker who became a fierce supporter of her adopted hometown.

She and her husband have taken full advantage of the fair’s offerings, raising vigorously at the Miami Beach fair. Last year, they bought Tschabalala Self’s sculpture “Red Legs on Red Milk Crate” (2017-2021) from Galerie Eva Presenhuber; it is currently on view in the Washington museum of hers.

The Rubells weren’t the only ones passing by. The fair attracted 60,000 visitors in 2021, up from half in its inaugural edition.

“The big change is the audience explosion, everything stems from that,” said Marc Glimcher, president and CEO of Pace Gallery, which has participated in every edition of the Miami Beach fair.

This week, fairgoers can delight in the usual glut of art, including 20 large-scale projects in the Meridianos section, curated by Magalí Arriola, director of the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. They include Devan Shimoyama’s “The Grove” (2021), a massive work made of “DIY” electricity poles, shoes, crystals and silk flowers, presented by Kavi Gupta Gallery. Conceived in response to the upheavals of 2020 and the idea of ​​spontaneous memorials, the piece draws on the urban tradition of hanging shoes from telephone wires and the many different ways it can be perceived.

As organizers and participants reflect on how far they have come, Art Basel, owned by Swiss company MCH Group, is also undergoing a leadership transition that will affect what fair visitors and collectors will see in 2023.

Marc Spiegler, global director of the fair, leaves the company. Noah Horowitz, who previously served as director of the Americas and daily head of the Miami Beach fair, has become executive director, a new position. Mr. Spiegler will spend six months as a consultant as part of the transition.

“We have grown tremendously,” said Mr. Spiegler, a former journalist who shared the Art Basel job for several years, before taking it over only in 2013. He noted that when it started, there were about 25 employees, which has grown to around 120 today.

“The Marc years were the phase of expansion and maturity,” said Silvia Cubiñá, executive director and chief curator of Bass, a contemporary art museum in Miami Beach.

The Bass has also grown in that time, completing a 2017 renovation and expansion that added nearly 50 percent more exhibit space. He recently announced that he will get $20.1 million from the city to build a new wing.

Perhaps most significantly during Spiegler’s tenure, Art Basel created two entirely new fairs: a Hong Kong edition was added in 2013, and Paris+ by Art Basel debuted in October.

They came in an era of a proliferation of fairs, notably from Frieze, the magazine publisher that created an art fair in London and later added versions in New York, Los Angeles and Seoul.

Spiegler cited the Paris and Hong Kong fairs as the main achievements of his tenure, also noting the way Art Basel has weathered the coronavirus pandemic. For a time, the events were virtual and not face-to-face, with editions like the Miami Beach 2020 fair becoming Online Viewing Rooms.

“It was a great fit,” said New York dealer Jack Shainman, whose Miami Beach booth will feature works by photographer Tyler Mitchell, sculptor and installation artist Nick Cave, painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and others.

While no one thought the virtual move was an ideal situation, it seemed to work, with dealers selling enough art to get them back to in-person events, and in some cases exceeding expectations. Online viewing rooms became a standard part of all Art Basel fairs.

Mr. Spiegler described his overall role in showman terms. “Being a fair director is being an entrepreneur,” he said. The galleries are the clients because they pay to exhibit at the fair, but he put that dynamic in a broader context.

“When it works, it’s this virtuous cycle,” Spiegler said. “Galleries bring great work because the collectors are there, and the collectors come for the great work.”

Mr. Gagosian praised how Mr. Spiegler handled the role of businessman.

“He’s had a lot of mouths to feed and egos to soothe, and he’s done it well,” Gagosian said.

Now, Mr. Horowitz assumes the lead role after a stint at Sotheby’s, serving as global head of private dealer and gallery services.

“The weight of what I’m getting into is not lost on me,” Horowitz said.

He was able to experience his highly engaged clientele the moment his hire was announced, before he had even officially started the job. Her email inbox was filled with congratulations, she said, as well as distributors vying for better positions at the 2023 shows.

The overall focus of Horowitz’s new CEO title will be enabled in part by a staff addition Spiegler made this year. He hired Vincenzo de Bellis as director of fairs and exhibition platforms, leading the teams in charge of the four fairs.

Though he wasn’t ready to say what changes he might make to his new job, Horowitz struck a note of caution about what he called the “highly competitive landscape” of the art market as a whole at a time when economic indicators are mixed. .

“Inflation is rampant, and if you look at business cycles, art tends to lag behind the financial market,” he said. “A possible setback looms.”

For this week at least, signs of a pullback are slim in the Miami area. The list of fairs and satellite events seems longer than ever, and for VIPs who have established a reputation as real art buyers, the only question is how many positive RSVPs are possible in one night.

For Mr. Spiegler, who is heading to his last official fair of a long tenure, that level of activity illustrates the success of the Miami Beach experiment, but also encouraged a focus on art.

“I have to remind people that they don’t have to accept every invitation they get,” he said. “If you don’t pay attention, you can miss out on the quality of the Miami show.”

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