If the impact of Art Basel on Miami Beach wasn’t clear before, this week brought it into sharp focus. From the ribbon cutting on the new Convention Center to the opening of the 2018 Art Basel fair, the City’s leaders were quick to point out what the annual event has meant and what they’ve done to ensure the relationship continues for a long time to come.
Art Basel Miami Beach Chair Norman Braman who was instrumental in bringing the fair here recalled “the courageous decision” made by ABMB’s parent company, MCH Group, to come here. “I remember those early years and the difficult decisions that were made at that time but this fair has truly transformed our community as anything possible could transform a city,” he said. “Since Art Basel came to Miami Beach, we have four new museums that we didn’t have before. In the year 2001 there were only 10 art galleries in our community. Today, there are over 100.”
The event “has turned out to be the most successful art fair in the United States,” Braman said. "And now the City of Miami Beach has shown us what this fair means to this community by bringing this marvelous new facility to us,” he said describing the new Convention Center. “What you’re going to see here is a project that cost over $620 million, an investment by the taxpayers and the citizens of Miami Beach as a result of the success of this fair and what this fair has meant to this community.”
In addition to the new Convention Center, Braman also noted the future 800-room Convention Center hotel approved by voters last month. “Truly an amazing contribution by the City of Miami Beach for which we’re all grateful,” he said.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said, “We know how important this is. It’s not lost on us.” The district around the new Convention Center, with its future park and hotel, the New World Symphony, and the Fillmore has become more than a physical complex, he said. It is now a “place that has meaning” for the community.
“I think art isn’t just about going somewhere and looking at something. Art unifies. Art challenges. Art elevates. We have learned that and we want to continue that,” Gelber said.
“We want to look at things that evoke and make us think. We want this to be a marketplace of ideas,” Gelber continued. “We want this community to be the best it can be and to the Art Basel folks, you have been our spirit guides in this.”
Gelber, who worked at the Convention Center as an usher in high school, looked back on what was considered “cultural fare” then in Miami Beach: professional wrestling and the occasional boxing match. “If you think about the box that was here and what it attracted and Art Basel, you guys stuck with us when we had the box.”
“You look at this place,” he said motioning to the new Convention Center. “It was built for Basel. Seriously. Remember when you were kids and you ‘bedazzled’ your things? We have been Baseled in this community.”
Last year, the City and Art Basel signed a long-term deal, keeping ABMB here for the next five years with a five year renewal option.
“How mature this community has become,” Gelber said. “Our incredibly diverse, multi-cultural community is learning how to celebrate itself in a way that means something and it’s doing it with art and culture... That is why our community has become so mature and it’s more than just a week of wonderful art but a place [that is] not just a transshipment point, but a place where art and culture thrive and are grown.”
In thanking the Art Basel team, Gelber said, “I know we sometimes have hard discussions about things but at the end of the day… you have made us a better version of ourselves… we’re excited about today and we’re even more excited about tomorrow.”
It hasn’t been one way. Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s Global Director, said “Art Basel came to Miami Beach in 2001. It was a risky move but its rapid success confirmed to us that we could be more than an annual fair in a convention center in Switzerland. We realized that Art Basel could expand to become a global platform driving patronage to galleries and their artists, giving us a cultural impact all year round. In that sense, our success here in Miami Beach gave us the confidence to transcend our original identity as a fair organizer and to become a true cultural entity in the broadest sense of the word.”
Spiegler noted that since launching Art Basel in Miami Beach, events have been expanded to Asia and Hong Kong and, last year, to include a new Art Basel Cities program with its first event in Buenos Aires. The organization has also raised over $2 million for seven non-commercial art projects worldwide via a Kickstarter crowdfunding initiative.
Acknowledging some of the challenges of hosting a major art fair in a Convention Center that has been under construction for the past three years, he said, “It has not been easy but when you walk through these halls you realize every moment, every struggle, every discussion was worth it.”
Art Basel was one of the key considerations in an unusual construction schedule which included points where the building was opened up for a limited schedule of small events and then cleared completely for the annual December art fair while creating the illusion (as best as possible) that the building was not actually in various states of completion.
Noah Horowitz, Art Basel Director Americas, remarked at the opening, “It’s going to be an extraordinary week in an extraordinary, extraordinary new building.” In working “very closely” with the City, he said, “We totally recognize how difficult this project has been over three years. It’s tremendous, the scale, and unparalleled in creating a totally new venue for Art Basel for the future so, thanks to you” he said to the team.
He noted the “natural light coming in” and the fully open lobbies and four entrances allowing new circulation, something that had been a challenge last year during construction. “It’s a much improved experience. We’re really proud of that,” he said.
The new building “and its future capabilities” are behind a couple of major changes this year: the phasing out of the public art in Collins Park and the film program at Soundscape Park.
With the new 60,000 sq ft Grand Ballroom (and the soon to be completed 25,000 sq ft Sunset Ballroom) along with the park that will be constructed across the street in 2019, Horowitz said the team decided to “create a really special project to inaugurate this new building.” Working with New York City non-profit The Kitchen, the fair is presenting a multi-disciplinary piece by Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. The expanded “Autorreconstrución: To insist, to Insist, to Insist” combines sculpture with dancers and musicians in improvisation performed in the new Grand ballroom.
Horowitz noted this year’s show features 268 galleries – 29 of them new – from 35 countries. “We’re thrilled that David Castillo, just around the corner on Lincoln Road joins us for the first time in the gallery sector.” Castillo’s inclusion was the subject of a New York Times story this week.
The first edition of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002 featured 160 galleries from 23 countries, and welcomed 30,000 visitors. This year, the fair is expected to host more than 70,000 guests.
Art Basel’s Florida representative Bob Goodman said while there have been “no professional studies or research with real numbers” on the economic impact of ABMB (and all the satellite fairs) on Miami Beach, he said, anecdotally, “We know that hotels are full, not only in Miami Beach but in Miami. We know that the hotels have created three- and four-day minimums now with very high rates. Beyond that we know the restaurants are packed.”
While no figures are available on total art sales, buyers pay sales tax on purchases. “More people fly in by private jet than they do when the Super Bowl is here but nobody’s quantified what it means, how many dollars flow into Miami because of Art Basel,” he added. Then there are the people who “end up buying a condo or other real estate or a home” here, an overall benefit that can’t be quantified."
Art Basel Miami Beach continues this weekend. Hours are Saturday, noon to 8 pm and Sunday, noon to 6 pm.
Art Basel Miami Beach: Elevating Art and Community:
17th annual fair opened this week
Kicking off Art Week and Art Basel with a new facility
Art collector and community leader instrumental in bringing the annual fair to Miami Beach