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As Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), considered by many the monster truck of contemporary art fairs, rounds the bend on its varsity season, South Florida finds itself frozen in the international art community's headlights and quivering over the dynamic transformation the event has effected on the local scene since blazing into town in 2002.
"If you think of the fair in terms of the car show here recently, the public appeal is a chance to look at the Bentleys, Porsches, and Ferraris you don't come across everywhere," explains Kevin Bruk, whose eponymous Wynwood gallery makes its Basel debut at the Art Nova section of the fair inside the Miami Beach Convention Center.
"For a young gallery, exposure at Art Basel is amazing," Bruk says. "Our artists will be seen by superstar collectors and major museum people from all over the world. What we need to remember is that when the cultural elite and the biggest philanthropists from all the world's major cities attend, many end up investing around town, and that's what's most important."
Lining up 195 of the world's top-ranked galleries at the convention center and an additional 20 up-and-coming talents for the nearby Art Positions container show at Collins Park, ABMB also ignites a barrage of megawattage events during the week's festivities that turn our landscape into a virtual art Mardi Gras.
Since its premiere, ABMB has drawn thousands of art dealers, architects, museum directors, collectors, curators, artists, and locals eager to engage the spellbinding assembly of contemporary art and the opportunity to party around the clock in an environment where the complimentary cocktail is the medium of choice.
"People come here to enjoy the world's finest art and the great parties and end up falling in love with and investing in the area," says the fair's local spokesman, Bob Goodman. "Without a doubt, Art Basel has been a spark that has led to a forest fire of interest in art here and positively impacted our economy."
More than 700 media credentials were doled out at ABMB's press office last year, making it one of the most profiled events of the international art season. "We even had National Public Radio, mainstream glossies like W magazine, and television stations from Germany and the Far East," Goodman says. "The press has really fueled a wildfire of interest in art and culture in the general public."
Although ABMB may boast herding the most prestigious galleries on the planet under its roof, one can likely encounter those who didn't make the grade at the handful of satellite fairs simmering in its wake.
"Art Basel's Swiss organizers are of the mind that the more the merrier," Goodman adds. "All of these events contribute toward elevating the sense of excitement."
If ABMB is compared to a tiger shark, the NADA, scopeMiami, and new-to-the-block Pulse, Aqua, and design.05 fairs might be described as hungry remoras comfortably feeding on the convention center's bloated belly. Miami dealers claim that these fairs, cumulatively featuring hundreds of local and visiting art dealers poised to profit during what participants hope becomes a frenetic sales marathon, can be hit or miss. However, the NADA fair, a favorite with collectors and participant local galleries, was wildly successful in 2004.
Aware of the frantic competition, local galleries have trotted out their stables' show ponies, jockeying to attract visiting VIPs and deep-pocketed collectors or hoping museum curators discover the homegrown talent at their spaces.
With the major auction houses and European art fairs posting record sales in recent months, and the contemporary art industry topping $30 billion in revenue last year, the stakes are huge, drawing unprecedented legions of art dealers here for the buyer bonanza.
Undisputedly the biggest boon for locals is a remarkable opportunity to experience some of the most extraordinary modern and contemporary work representing every aspect of the art market, from Modernist masterpieces to quirky, cutting-edge installations.
The sensory-jarring excess bubbling around ABMB and ancillary events can seem a daunting challenge for the public to navigate. The best bet is to schedule a full day's trip to the convention center to absorb works one would otherwise spend a fortune traveling to encounter, before being whisked off by the whirlwind.
Many Miami artists, gallerists, and curators share the consensus that this year's sweep of activities promises to be the most far-flung yet, attracting hordes of industry types and revelers whose appetites might surpass those of locusts.
"I've gotten calls from curators and galleries in New York and Europe asking if I knew of spaces that might be available during the fair," local independent curator Nina Arias says. "Everyone in the art world is trying to make it here for Basel."
An eruption of new gallery spaces has boiled up as a direct result of ABMB's presence here, credit locals, reflecting what they say is the fair's role in South Florida's burgeoning art scene.
"You can attribute that directly to Art Basel," affirms David Castillo, who inaugurated his gallery in Wynwood last month. "Major galleries from Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City have also recently opened spaces in Wynwood, and I can assure you that the fair was a factor in them entering the market here."
Although ABMB is in town for only four days, Castillo and others agree Basel's strong push has catapulted South Florida onto the international art radar during the rest of the season.
"Luminary collectors come here or send representatives for Art Basel who drop by local galleries during their stay, and many return throughout the next twelve months. I wouldn't be surprised if the major international galleries started opening their second, third, or fourth venues here," Castillo observes.
"What's happening due to the presence of Basel absolutely signifies increased activity for our art market," adds the dealer, who says more than 600 people attended his inaugural opening, for which he reports brisk sales.
Several of the galleries listed on the Wynwood Art District's map last year may have folded faster than a busted poker hand, but nearly twenty new spaces have opened in time for this year's edition of ABMB, demonstrating the rush for art moguldom's dollars is on.
Among them is a 50,000-square-foot commercial art space that might be the planet's largest, at least according to its colorful owner, who appears to be angling to land himself in the record books.
"I've opened the biggest gallery in the world with the most important inventory south of New York," Coral Gables transplant Gary Nader says of the former medical equipment factory he converted into a mammoth exhibition space. "It's larger than an airplane hangar and features a sculpture park where I plan to show monumental works. I'm exhibiting paintings from many of the galleries that couldn't get into Basel, from Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and I'm dedicating 15,000 square feet to house traveling museum shows at my space it's so immense," the veteran dealer crows unabashedly, sounding somewhat like a one-man art fair himself.
For collectors looking to pack shopping carts with Boteros, Rauschenbergs, Tamayos, Mattas, and Kippenbergers, Nader's sprawling superoutlet may be the one stop to visit.
The flurry of attention generated by ABMB has invigorated artists and alternate space owners who believe the fair has helped erase notions that Miami is a cultural backwater.
Curated by locals Charo Oquet and David Vardi, "Growth Spurt," on exhibit this week as part of the pair's Edge Zones project at the World Arts Building in Wynwood, features the work of 30 local and visiting talent reflecting the catalyst Basel has been for artists and dealers, organizers say.
"Because of Basel, Miami has become a world player and is now included in the discourse of contemporary art," Oquet mentions. "Not only has it brought us recognition as an art capital, but more importantly it has forced all of us to grow and compete with those the fair represents as the crme de la crme."
Oquet points out that the arrival of major European galleries means the bar has also been raised for local dealers, ticking off the names Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin from Paris and Luis Adelantado from Valencia, Spain, who have opened second spaces here among other recently inaugurated venues she feels are ratcheting up the scene's buzz.
"Local gallerists better keep their engines revved. The pace is accelerating, and these major players who are investing in the community are here to stay," the artist says. "Everyone needs to strap on their skates and rise to the occasion or risk being left staring at the back of the bus."
In a witty effort to develop young audiences, part of Edge Zones' mission, Oquet has also organized "My First Art Collection," a tyke-specific exhibit that might be spoofing Basel's bottom line.
"We've asked 50 artists to submit child-friendly artwork in the 20- to 500-dollar range, and will be serving hot dogs, popcorn, and refreshment for kids," Oquet explains. "We will also be entertaining them with performances and encouraging parents to help start their children collecting just in time for Christmas."
Other local artists express amazement at how far the perception that Miami has become an international art center extends.
Miami-based artist Edouard Duval-Carrié says he was shocked, during a visit to Paris this past summer, when he saw French dealer Emmanuel Perrotin giving a prime-time television interview in which he touted Wynwood as the new art center of the Americas.
"The man was going on about how Wynwood is becoming the epicenter of contemporary art outside of Europe and about the new space he opened here. I couldn't believe it and wondered if the French had ever even heard of Wynwood before," he muses.
Those making the pilgrimage to a landscape that many are convinced the contemporary art world is playing a role in reshaping, will be greeted by Duval-Carrié's Lady of Miami, a colossal bust of the seductive vodou deity Erzulie, which the artist hopes will kick visitors' teeth out.
"So blue she's black," Duval-Carrié says of the towering Janus-head sculpture. It features the goddess of love on one side and the mother goddess on the other and is unveiled this week as part of the One Miami Riverwalk project. His gallerist, Bernice Steinbaum, calls it "a new Statue of Liberty for the Americas."
The thrumming hive of homegrown talent, a growing collector base, an expanding gallery scene, and the fallout from ABMB is the formula European galleries cite as making Miami the place to be.
"All these things combined have made the area exciting for curators, collectors, and young artists," explains Luisa Lagos, director of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin's Wynwood branch. "The level of young talent here is incredible, and internationally renowned curators such as Hans Ulrich have taken notice."
Since Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin planted its flag in Wynwood, the space has been generating a cacophony of interest and has left local dealers agog with envy.
Perrotin represents art royalty Maurizio Cattelan and Takashi Murakami and has shepherded rising Miami talent under his umbrella. He's signed locals Daniel Arsham, Martin Oppel, and Cristina Lei Rodriguez to his Miami space and will be showing these artists along with the Fredric Snitzer Gallery's Bhakti Baxter and Naomi Fisher in Paris.
Lagos mentions that during a recent visit, Ulrich selected the work of local Cristina Lei Rodriguez, whose career has gone nuclear, for inclusion in a museum survey of 25- to 35-year-old skyrocketing art stars, touring Oslo, Paris, and New York.
"As an artist in Miami, it's an exciting time to work here even though the city is still growing and trying to define itself," Rodriguez says. "As I've been traveling internationally, people have been giving Miami a lot of respect and saying it may be the next Los Angeles in terms of the work evolving here."
Other dealers from abroad opening new spaces here echo the belief that the presence of international galleries in town is a benefit for Miami artists seeking to make the jump overseas and that ABMB has been the trampoline.
Enrique Parra of the recently opened Kunsthaus Miami, a sister space to Mexico's Kunsthaus San Miguel, states that the repercussions of ABMB reverberating throughout the international art circuit began after the fair's second year.
"People began looking at Miami with its important collectors like the Rubells and the De La Cruzes and other collectors coming to the city during Basel, Art Miami, and Arte America then became motivated to open spaces here," he says. "The level of talent here is surprising."
"Hardcore Contemporary from Venezuela just opened here; Luis Adelantado, one of Spain's foremost dealers, has as well; Frenchman Perrotin is now here," Parra assesses. "The benefit of that is that many galleries coming here will not only show their own artists but locals as well who they will open up international markets for."
Parra, whose space he says will concentrate on ultracontemporary work, is featuring "Mattresses," a photography exhibit and installation by Mexican artist Tania Candiani.
New York galleries are also visiting in droves and anticipate capitalizing on the feverish attention radiating during the fair's comet streak.
Brooklyn's edgy Pierogi gallery, which exhibited in one of ABMB's cargo containers last year, has opted to showcase its artists in the Design District this weekend.
"I liked the idea of showing work outdoors in the containers on the beach but found we really couldn't put a killer show together featuring a broader range of work without a bigger space," comments Pierogi's Joe Amrhein. "We will be working with Craig Robins during the Art Loves Design Night and have organized a show we feel very happy with."
The New Yorker says the limited space, often-contentious selection skirmishes, prohibitive costs, and competitive backbiting associated with many fairs are what make locations like the Design District an attractive choice for visiting galleries.
"The biggest complaints many young galleries have with art fairs are the generic spaces, expensive booths, and the hassle of having to play by the rules or deal with constraints. That and a perception that one needs to have a political base to enter the bigger fairs; that's why you see the smaller fairs running concurrently people definitely want to have a voice."
He also mentions that for visiting galleries who need to keep their spaces back home operating while they're in town for ABMB, the logistics and expenses involved in getting here and setting up shop take a toll.
"If you rent one of Basel's containers that run $10,000, then you have to factor in travel expenses for assistants, artists, hotels, car rentals, meals, shipping, and insurance and other hidden costs; it can get pretty expensive, but the artists and collectors expect you to be here," he adds.
Last year Pierogi's setup at ABMB's Art Positions, where shipping containers are converted to quirky beachfront galleries, became a crowd magnet and a favorite among cutting-edge connoisseurs.
For a majority of Miami artists and dealers, Hurricane Wilma was the main logistical nightmare they confronted while gearing up for a breakaway position before ABMB's starter gun cracked off.
"It set galleries and artists back nearly three weeks in terms of production," rues Miami dealer José Alonso, who's hoping the scent of paint and sawdust clears up before the ABMB crowds discover his just-opened spot. "The city shut down for at least ten days, and laborers, printers, the Internet, everything came to a stop." Like others impelled to ride the ABMB wave, Alonso was undeterred, putting the finishing touches on his space in time for the fair.
"Art Basel is such a big monster that everyone wants to tackle its clientele. No other event in the U.S. can touch it in quality, and in terms of opportunity it runs parallel to the dynamic of auction houses where people watch what others buy and join the feeding frenzy," he says.
"Money calls money; these are people who won't buy croquetaswhen they can invest in blue-chip stocks."
Alonso has christened his digs with "The Garden of Mistrust," an installation by Alexandre Arrechea, one of the founders of Cuba's vaunted collaborative Los Carpinteros. The challenging piece consists of a fourteen-foot, white enamel, metal tree sprouting surveillance cameras from its branches.
Hurricane Wilma tore into tight production deadlines and forced many artists into a madcap race to deliver their first museum shows on schedule.
Sam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, who form the conceptual duet Friends with You, experienced what they call "mad adventures" while preparing for "Cloud City," their interactive exhibit launching MoCA at the Goldman Warehouse this week.
"Dude, after Wilma, we had to run all over town with a generator. We were working with fiberglass people, seamstresses, and upholsterers, and no one had [electrical] power. It was like a relay going from place to place with the generator so these people could finish the work on time. It turned into a crazy mission," Borkson chuckles.
Another Wilma survivor, Carlos Betancourt whose North Bay Village studio roof blew off had artwork for ABMB destroyed and also saw his property red-tagged. He calls himself a lucky guy.
"Like many others in the community, I had to hurry to find a U-Haul truck and relocate my life's belongings, but I'm an optimist and consider myself very fortunate." The artist, whose solo show "The Hand of the Eye: Questions of Travel" premieres at Diana Lowenstein Fine Art this Saturday, might be as familiar a sight as dead presidents on greenbacks during ABMB.
Betancourt is exhibiting "Untitled/1000 with Souvenirs" at the Bass Museum. It consists of a self-portrait photographic image in which he appears wearing a mask of himself while holding a world globe, a palm frond, and hibiscus. The image has been reproduced on a monumental piece of vinyl unfurled outside the Bass and replicated on beach towels, mugs, puzzles, and a booklet with the iconic pun plastered across every page, some of which will be distributed at the museum and sold in the convention center.
"It's sort of a spoof on Paris Hilton and the power of that single image you see printed over and over in the magazines," Betancourt says. "It also alludes to souvenir shops travelers visit to satisfy the need for identifying with a place."
For this week at least, it appears SoBe's famous faces will fade into the background, since everyone in town will be gawking at art, and Betancourt's kitschy Miami mementos might likely end up representing the contemporary art world's freshest capital.