Art Basel returns to South Florida for its 20-year anniversary

Exhibit on the beach at Art Basel Miami — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Image by: Mia2you

When Art Basel debuted in Miami Beach in 2002, a year after its planned start date was delayed after the tragic 9/11, it featured an array of 200 galleries, including Gagosian. However, Larry Gagosian, one of the most influential dealers in the art world, was not there in person.

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

He added, “Now I stay for a couple of days.”

Mr. Gagosian, now a regular at the Miami Beach festival, plans to return again this year for the fair’s 20th anniversary. His booth will display brand-new work by the sculptor and painter Harold Ancart, mixed-media artist Alexandria Smith, and Rick Lowe, known for his community-based art.

Over the last two decades, Art Basel became the starting point for an entire creative ecosystem. Satellite fairs were developed, helping to form the informal constellation of events known as Miami Art Week, which occurs among an array of pop-up exhibitions, brand partnerships, and champagne-fueled soirées.

Back in 2019, an art piece by Maurizio Cattelan, “Comedian,” a banana duct taped to a white wall, became a symbol of Conceptual Art and attention-grabbing antics when a performance artist consumed it as a stunt.

The limited edition piece was so well-known that the gallery, Perrotin, displaying “Comedian,” was compelled to take it down due to the crowds that had gathered around it. The work was sold three times during the fair for prices ranging from $120,000 to $150,000.

But in the vicinity of the fair, the institutional landscape also developed, with new museums opening up—some of them founded by the region’s leading private collectors—and existing ones growing.

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

Visitors to the fair this week can indulge in the superabundance of artwork, which includes 20 expansive projects in the Meridians section that were selected by Magal Arriola, the director of the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. One of them is Devan Shimoyama’s “The Grove” (2021), a sizable piece displayed by Kavi Gupta gallery composed of “D.I.Y.” utility poles, shoes, crystals, and silk flowers. The work focuses on the urban custom of hanging shoes from telephone lines and the many ways it can be interpreted. It was created in response to the upheavals of 2020 and the concept of impromptu monuments.

As participants and organizers reflect on how far they have come with the event, Art Basel, which is managed by the Swiss Company MCH Group, is also going through some changes. 

The company has announced Marc Spiegler’s departure as the fair’s worldwide director. Former director of the Americas and day-to-day director of the Miami Beach fair, Noah Horowitz has been promoted to chief executive, a new role. As a part of the transition, Mr. Spiegler will serve as an adviser for six months.

“We have grown tremendously,” said Mr. Spiegler, a former creative journalist who shared the duty of running Art Basel for many years, before taking charge solo in 2013. He noted that when it began, there were about 25 employees. Today, it has grown to around 120.

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