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Art Basel Miami Beach | Fall 2012

Art Affair

The nation’s premier art fair takes Miami by feverish storm for its
11th consecutive year.

By Jennifer Pappas

To experience Art Basel Miami Beach for the first time is somewhat like swimming in a strong current without a life jacket—if that current was unabashed, unpredictable and prone to inflict alternating states of shock and admiration. Yet even that metaphor isn’t entirely apt. The fact is, Art Basel Miami Beach is so difficult to encapsulate, one almost must experience it firsthand in order to grasp the full spectrum of excitement, talent and uninhibited creativeness that takes place there.

Now in its 11th edition, Art Basel Miami Beach has become the North American art event of the year. Like its Swiss counterpart, Miami Beach has become contemporary art’s barometer of achievement. It’s also a dynamic array of raw energy, emerging talent and renowned masters, responsible for creating work that crosses disciplines and blurs boundaries. A distant cousin of more traditional international art fairs, the essence of Art Basel Miami Beach is freewheeling exultation—a joie de vivre approach to appreciating contemporary art. And everyone, from collectors, curators and gallerists to artists, enthusiasts and the creatively curious, arrives in droves just to be a part of it.

Broken into various sectors and spread throughout the city, the fair is an intricate web of exhibits, events, parties, talks and schmoozing. Vestiges of art can be found in every nook, cranny and crevice imaginable, converting the oceanfront city into a pop-up gallery of epic proportion. Public parks host impromptu exhibits and oversized sculptures, while small, South Beach boutique hotels such as the Aqua morph into satellite galleries with each room acting as its own micro exhibit. Hopping from an opening gala downtown to a live-action painting and musical performance in an industrial nook of the Wynwood District is the norm, as is rubbing shoulders with people like designer Todd Oldham and tennis star Venus Williams.

The nucleus of the entire event, however, is the Miami Convention Center, a buzzing labyrinth of booths occupied by approximately 260 leading international galleries. This is where the proverbial magic happens—art darlings, acquisitions and serious investments come to fruition. Contrary to current economic trends, the fair reported strong sales in 2010, with Sprueth Magers of London and Berlin being just one such example. The gallery reportedly sold individual works by John Baldessari, George Condo and Andreas Gursky—all major players—for undisclosed amounts. In a press release sent out by Art Basel after the fair concluded, several prominent gallery directors also reported seeing a marked increase in buying activity from a new generation of young, eager-to-learn collectors. This is good news for artists, curators and the cultural dynamic of Miami Beach.

This year, however, the biggest announcement has been the addition of Hong Kong to the Art Basel lineup. Set to open May 23, 2013, the fair will cater mostly to Asian and European markets. Directors of Art Basel anticipate about 180 galleries and 2,000 artists to participate in the inaugural event, further widening the scope of the iconic institution. And while Miami Beach has solidified itself as a legitimate player in the global contemporary art scene, it continues to stand out from the rest of its Art Basel kin, like an eclectic aunt or uncle would at a family reunion. One thing is for sure—the world will be watching when the next incarnation of Miami Beach’s cultural transformation is revealed this December.

Must-See Galleries

The Hole Gallery: Run by Kathy Grayson of former Deitch Projects fame, New York City’s The Hole is infamous for irreverent, experimental, interactive art shows and events. This year, visitors can expect a large conceptual booth at New Art Dealers Alliance and another “art meets music” mega-party performance at the Delano Hotel.

Blum & Poe: This Los Angeles-based gallery represents the legendary Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami. Up-and-comers Chiho Aoshima and Friedrich Kunath are also compelling and work in a variety of media.

Gagosian Gallery: The New York institution boasts 11 locations worldwide and a roster that doubles as a who’s who of contemporary art Masters—with a capital ‘M.’ Gagosian is always a must-see at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

White Cube: Chuck Close, Ernesto Caivano, Damien Hirst, Zhang Huan … Need we say more?