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If early incarnations of Art Basel Miami Beach stunned the masses via glittery lineups, high-volume sales, and veneers of exclusivity, this year’s version has left seasoned locals agog over the exponential growth rate of the ancillary events the fair has spawned.
"Last year we had the NADA, Scope, Aqua, Design, and Pulse fairs operating during Basel," explains Miami dealer José Alonso of Alonso Fine Art. "This year the amount of fairs in town has more than doubled."
He points out that in addition to the 190 galleries rounded up by Art Basel at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 2005, nearly 300 other visiting dealers shopped their wares at the various smaller fairs. They competed with hundreds more South Florida colleagues for the deep-pocketed collectors who swooped into town, clamoring for a coveted piece, and for speculators looking to score big in the sweepstakes.
With the market hotter than Vegas asphalt in August, many dealers at last year's Basel, NADA, and Pulse fairs reported brisk early sales, with many regularly switching out their booths to display unsold work.
"This year is going to be crazier. Everyone seems to have gone overboard, and we now have so many fairs in Miami that close to a thousand galleries will be doing business at the same time here this week," Alonso observes.
Bridge Art Fair, DiVA, Photo Miami, Ink Miami, Flow, Pool Art Fair, and Zones Art Fair are all new to the dance.
"It's impressive how many people are involved now. I'm sure the economic impact they leave behind will be as big as any connected with a Super Bowl," Alonso adds. Still, he worries the market might not be able to absorb the numbers, a thought shared by other local dealers and art lovers overwhelmed by the influx.
To get a jumpstart on competitors, Alonso recently opened two photography shows by Cuban artists José Iraola and Tomas Esson in his Wynwood space. He did so, he says, hoping to have time to visit a few of the events taking place during the scheduling bedlam that makes it increasingly difficult for him and others to enjoy Art Basel. "I might only get a chance to see about ten percent of what's happening, but with so much going on, it's better than nothing."
Art Basel organizers say the lure for many visiting dealers now is the perception that the Miami market is not only booming but also is beginning to sustain itself year round.
"The difference is the city has evolved dramatically," says Basel spokesman Peter Vetsch. "There are an incredible number of new Miami galleries, you have a new performance art center, and the Miami Art Museum is planning a new building. The level of local talent is impressive, and the culture that is developing here is really great."
Vetsch says that Miami has come into its own and that anyone who is anyone in the art world wants to visit the city in December. "This year we have more than twelve art fairs that will be running concurrently with Art Basel," he says. "The market is so strong, and there are so many events to choose from, that you really approach it all like a menu now. One must really focus on what they want to see."
In addition to featuring 200 heavyweight galleries at the convention center, Art Basel is showcasing 22 emerging contenders at the "Art Positions" container exhibit at nearby Collins Park. The fair houses the work of more than 2000 artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, with dealers specializing in museum-quality masterpieces sandwiched elbow to elbow with galleries representing edgy neophytes.
Art Basel, which attracts throngs of collectors, curators, museum directors, artists, and locals each year, set a record for attendance in 2005 with more than 36,000 visitors paying customers and comped fat cats. "We have also secured dates here for the next ten years and hope to be around as long as we have in Basel [Switzerland], where we just celebrated our 36th year," Vetsch says.
Typically galleries pony up an average of $30,000 to $50,000 for a stall at the convention center or $10,000 for a beachside container.
This year Art Basel has added an Open Air Cinema to complement its Art Performance program at the container village, and is featuring Sound and Video Arts Lounges at Miami Beach Botanical Garden across from the convention center. The fair has expanded its Art Nova sector to include 62 young galleries showcasing contemporary art trends, and launched an Art Salon offering hourly artist talks, book signings, and roundtable discussions inside the convention center.
Genaro Ambrosino, a Basel stalwart the first four years, has cut ties to the big fair and skated over to Pulse Miami. With Bernice Steinbaum and Ambrosino now out of Art Basel, only three Miami galleries are represented at the convention center: Fredric Snitzer, Diana Lowenstein, and Kevin Bruk.
"The organizers are trying to package the event more like what you expect to see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," Ambrosino says. "I think Pulse does a better job at showcasing work that's fresh and, to me, more along the lines of what you expect to find at the New Museum of Contemporary Art."