Art Basel: How ‘Miami Vice’ Became the Capital of the Art Market in America

Art Basel Miami Beach, the largest art fair in the Americas, celebrates its twentieth anniversary until Saturday. It had to have been in 2021, although this time the coronavirus was not to blame. Everything was ready for its first edition in 2001, but the Twin Towers fell and buying and selling art suddenly seemed like a frivolous matter in an uncertain economic scenario, so its organizers decided to delay that inaugural meeting for a year.

As the galleries were selected and the spaces paid for, some decided to travel to the city as well. And the couple formed by Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, who were involved along with other influential collectors in the development of the project, welcomed them on the first day by opening the doors of their house in Key Biscayne. “There was no Art Basel, but a lot of people came anyway. It was like a rehearsal”, Carlos recalled this Tuesday at the free museum in the Miami Design District where the couple shows their extraordinary collection.

The hospitality of the De la Cruz’s is a tradition that continues. Last Monday, another sweltering Monday in this corner of Florida, the parade of onlookers towards the house on the seafront fixed, as every year with the only interruption of 2020, the year of the plague, the beginning of the week of art in Miami: an orgy of alternative fairs, exhibitions, corporate events, concerts and parties that revolve around the main program, which in this edition has marked its record with 282 galleries of 38 countries. And there the pandemic was to blame.

Atmosphere at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair on its opening day.courtesy of art basel

When in 2021 its organizers played it With a face-to-face event, for the first time after the coronavirus break and in the middle of the omicron autumn, many of the invited galleries, long-standing clients, unsubscribed at the last minute. “Either they simply couldn’t travel or their finances were under great pressure or their artists had stopped producing; the fact is that they asked us for a year off ”, recalls Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel, a transitional position before he finally leaves the Swiss company after handing over the helm to Noah Horowitz. CEO since October, he returns home: between 2015 and 2021 he led the American franchise. “That, together with the social emergencies that 2020 brought to the art world, especially in the United States, caused us to invite many African-American galleries, as well as businesses from Africa and Asia. In this edition, those big names for whom we had saved the site are back. Since we did not want to lose the progress in the field of inclusivity that we had made, there was only one option left: to expand the fair to levels never seen before”, adds Spiegler.

Marc Spiegler Global Director of Art Basel in a 2019 portrait.
Marc Spiegler Global Director of Art Basel in a 2019 portrait.

As is often the case with success stories, the pieces fit more obviously now than ever before. The mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber, recalls using a television reference from the eighties that “those were the days of Miami Vice”. “The years of neon lights, guns and drugs; today, this is a very different city, luckily.” The parent fair, a venerable cultural enterprise associated since the 1970s with old Europe and very staid Basel, was also different at the turn of the century, and the arts-franchising industry had not yet developed (they have since opened branches in Hong Kong, in 2013 and, this year, in Paris).

Perhaps because the destination city, Miami, lacked a cultural pedigree, the political decision was close, as Gelber recalls: four votes to three approved an uncertain bet. “20 years ago there was the group of optimists and the group of pessimists,” sums up De la Cruz. “It soon became clear that the former were right.”

The camp of the pessimists

Spiegler, who initially placed himself on the side of the pessimists, traveled to the first edition from Zurich as a reporter. In 2008, he became director of the Miami fair, after Sam Keller’s departure from the company. Last Tuesday, Spiegler recalled that the newspapers they welcomed him on the first day of his first year at the helm with a headline that the Federal Reserve decreed the arrival of a recession (“exactly the kind of news you want the day you open an art market event” he joked). He also reviewed other storms that had hit the ship over the years: “biblical rains, the attack of the ladybugs [en cierta ocasión, un visitante liberó miles de esos insectos en la zona VIP] and the stabbing. With the latter, Spiegler was referring to the stabbing in 2015 of a visitor, which many took for a performance, and not at your departure address; Apparently, the process has been friendly and both have made efforts these days to make it clear.

His successor, Noah Horowitz, later added to the list of calamities suffered in these 20 years: “the Zika crisis [enfermedad que golpeó Florida en 2016]the hurricane irma [2017]the renovation of the Convention Center [donde se ha celebrado siempre la feria] and the famous banana. Obviously, Horowitz was referring to the banana that artist Maurizio Cattelan taped to the wall three years ago in a tribute to Warhol for which he was asking $120,000. That was for some the definitive proof of the decadence of the West and, for others, of the stainless power of irony in art.

As every year has its eagerness, he inaugurated his Art Basel on Tuesday (for collectors and journalists) overshadowed by bad economic omens, a dollar strength more typical of two decades ago, runaway inflation and the bursting of the crypto bubble: the fall in recent weeks of virtual money liners such as FTX has silenced one of the most recurring conversations of the last edition, about the emergence of NFTs, those substitutes for artistic pieces that, to sum it up a lot, apply bitcoin technology to collecting.

The organization He trusts that so much financial setback, a whole world for the middle and upper classes, will not affect the super-rich who are capable of spending seven million dollars on a painting by Philip Guston or Agnes Martin. Both American artists have been the highest sales so far, according to figures provided by the fair, which, in turn, were provided by the galleries, Hauser & Wirth and Pace, respectively.

A visitor to the Art Basel Miami fair views the works of Spanish artist Aurelia Muñoz on display.
A visitor to the Art Basel Miami fair views the works of Spanish artist Aurelia Muñoz on display. Antoni Belchi (EFE)

What is certain is that the spirit on the opening day, reserved for collectors and the press, paled somewhat in comparison to that of the last edition, perhaps because then the party returned after a sudden stop. Record-breaking works are not abundant in the aisles of Art Basel Miami Beach, although one could buy a Keith Haring for 4.5 million here (Edward Tyler Nahem) and a Jean-Michel Basquiat for 3.4 million a little further (in Simon Lee). Also, admire Jaume Plensa (the artist) before a plensa (the work), one of its characteristic women’s heads, for sale in Lelong. The Catalan sculptor was in town for the opening the next day of a public work near the convention center. “Some of my best buyers are here; fairs are interesting, they allow us to build bridges for meetings”, said Plensa, although he then responded categorically and with a laugh, “no!” to the question of whether he would attend an appointment of these characteristics if it were not for work.

market conditions

The great collectors, for their part, got up early as usual, although they behaved cautiously. They asked and reserved, but they did not finish off the most expensive pieces with the same determination. “Big prices go slow. There is no great urgency, due to market conditions,” Horowitz said Wednesday afternoon, saying things had gone better for transactions “less than six figures” and “for medium-sized galleries.” .

Horowitz was referring to galleries like the Spanish (and Mexican) Travesía Cuatro. At the end of the first day, its founders, Inés López-Quesada and Silvia Ortiz, were deciding which pieces to replace the ones they had sold, while the Mexican OMR breathed relief. “This day never fails, it is one of the key moments of the calendar for us,” said its director, Cristóbal Riestra.

Riestra is, in this, the voice of experience: OMR belongs to the exclusive group of dealers who have never neglected the call of Art Basel Miami Beach. “It was a before and after and it catalyzed the art market in this part of the world, and it came at a time of change; until then the fairs were quite regional, and it added a sexy point to the art market”, she added. Elba Benítez (the Spanish embassy is completed by five more spaces in the general program and another handful of proper names in parallel events) is also a black leg; it was only missing in the pandemic edition. On Tuesday, between the pieces by Ignasi Aballí and Cristina Iglesias, she was curious about the course that the appointment will take after the change of address. Another privileged witness, gallery owner David Castillo, one of the three from Miami present in the selection, cast his vote of confidence that Horowitz will delve into what Art Basel has done for the vitality of the city where it landed 20 years ago. .

Work by the artist Jonathas de Andrade, in the Meridians section of Art Basel Miami Beach.
Work by the artist Jonathas de Andrade, in the Meridians section of Art Basel Miami Beach.COURTESY OF ART BASEL

Some of the most interesting proposals They wait, as is customary, in the curated areas. In the Meridians section, for example, which brings together large-format pieces in a selection by Magalí Arriola, the director of the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, with a “recurring theme, the body”, which can be seen in works such as the “performance durational” The chair, of the Colombian María José Arjona (represented by Rolf Art) or in the mutilated bathers of Jonathas de Andrade. In Nova and Positions, there are the most inexperienced galleries with the most daring proposals; and in Survey, the part dedicated to historical pieces, one can admire the work of the recently disappeared battery of free jazz Milford Graves, the actions Argentinian by Lea Lublin (1929-1999) or play (literally) at the casino in a 1984 piece by the Belgian Guillaume Bijl.

Nearby, in Perrotin, the gallery that exhibited Cattelan’s banana, another game attracts everyone’s attention. He is an ATM and signs the New York collective MSCHF. You insert your credit card, the machine takes a picture and reveals the balance that the visitor has in the account. Then, the wit orders the wealth of each one in the manner of the record list of one of those Martian machines. Number one was on Wednesday night for a scared-faced guy in a pink T-shirt who, at the risk of sounding biased, no one would say had a balance of $2,989,381.

All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.



The literary novelties analyzed by our best critics in our weekly bulletin


Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits

We wish to thank the writer of this short article for this remarkable material

Art Basel: How ‘Miami Vice’ Became the Capital of the Art Market in America

Visit our social media profiles and also other related pages