As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama spar week after week over unemployment rates and job creation, maybe they should both look to the Miami art market as a model for economic revitalization.
Consider this year's looming Art Basel Miami Beach, which will bring another rush of new events, new jobs, and fresh talent to Miami during the December arts confab.
This year's Basel fiesta will be livelier than ever, with seven new fairs, plus the new UR1 Festival in Bayfront Park, where contemporary art will mix with big-time acts like Kanye West, Lou Reed, and Animal Collective.
Don't forget the mainstays either: The Art Basel fair inside the Miami Beach Convention Center will house 260 of the planet's top-drawer galleries and include special exhibition sections of up-and-coming spaces, performance art, public art projects, and video art. All your favorite satellite fairs, from Pulse, NADA, and Scope to Art Miami, Art Asia, and Design Miami, will be back in business too.
Add it all up and there's no question that Basel has become the beating heart of Miami's economy.
The Miami fairs bring all the important elements necessary for a healthy art market, says Aldo Castillo, an internationally known gallery owner and art fair director opening a new minifair called ArtSpot Miami. Basel's phenomenal success is that it takes place for five days in a setting not so much affected by the global economical crisis.
Among the seven fairs opening for the first time this year, Miami Project, Context, Miami Photo Fair, Miami River Art Fair, Select Art Fair, Untitled Art Fair, and JustMadMia are several fresh additions that will be worth art lovers' time, even amid the mad cacophony of Basel week.
Among the newbies, JustMad is the most intriguing and even offers a novel culinary component to complement its bleeding-edge art. Inside the SOHO Studios in Wynwood, the fair will feature 40 contemporary galleries, the bulk from Spain, with a few others from Europe and the Americas.
Among the shopping-mall-style setup of most Basel fairs, JustMad's design should stand out. It was created by Andres Jaque, one of Spain's top young architects. For JustMad, Jaque is eliminating traditional booths and organizing exhibits around plaza-like settings where spectators can amble through open spaces and mingle with gallerists and artists alike.
Jaque's design embraces quirky ideas like Naked, an area where a single artist creates a unique space for visitors to enjoy a combination of audio, video, and experimental works. The layout he created for JustMadMia allows for visitors and galleries to experience the fair in a closer environment, says Rocio Bardin, the fair's organizer.
Bardin, whose fair has run in Spain for the past three years, will also stage a sector called Just Produced, in collaboration with the Art/Center South Florida to highlight new works by Miami artists — ironically, a segment often underrepresented during Basel.
JustMad's most crowd-pleasing feature, though, might be a re-creation of one of Spain's most recognized landmarks, El Mercado San Miguel. A kind of paradise for foodies with ADHD, it was built in 1913 in a Les Halles-style iron façade and is famous for featuring the best of Spanish gastronomy. Organizers are bringing San Miguel merchants and products to the fair; visitors can savor everything from traditional hams and artisanal cheeses to charcuterie and gourmet tapas.
"We believe that high-caliber gastronomy and art go hand in hand," Bardin says.
Two young curators also eschewing the typical art-fair environment are New York's Matthew Eck and Brian Whiteley, who are organizing the Select Art Fair at the Catalina Hotel on South Beach. The pair, who cite NADA and Fountain as inspirations, will fill 64 of the hotel's rooms with exhibits showcasing galleries and individual artists.
The goal of Select is to create a diverse, immersive environment that is on one hand a sales platform and on the other a complete art experience, Whiteley says.
The fair will specialize in edgy offerings, from prints and paintings to performance art from galleries in New York City, Philadelphia, West Virginia, and even a Sarasota-based artist collective.
"You are literally mingling with the world's elite art-world players for a week straight. There is no conversation not worth having. It is the place where deals and dreams are made," Eck says.
Not far from the Catalina, on a stretch of sand near Ocean Drive and 12th Street, the new Untitled Fair offers another appealing alternative to the sprawling megafairs typical of Basel. The beachside fair is curated by New York-based Omar Lopez-Chahoud and will house 50 contemporary galleries and nonprofits.
Most intriguing, they'll be housed in a temporary tent structure, designed by Terence Riley, suffused with natural light and situated right on the oceanfront. Riley was director of the Miami Art Museum before leaving in November 2009 to restart his architecture career. He calls the beach Miami's "greatest public space" and says his structure will emphasize the town's natural beauty.
"Having the fair at the water's edge is bringing art to the heart of the city," he says.
Riley's not the only big name coming to Miami with a new fair. Castillo, who organized the International Wing of Art Shanghai 2012, is launching his concept for a new stand-alone fair called ArtSpot Miami. He'll introduce his event inside the Red Dot Miami, which is also undergoing an unprecedented expansion, with 75 solo artist booths and 70 gallery spaces.
The concept of ArtSpot is to represent established galleries with a lot of history, contemporary galleries, and curated educational art projects, Castillo says.
Can all these new fairs hold up? Castillo, at least, says the Magic City still hasn't hit its ceiling for art appreciation and sales.
"Miami is an established destination for an international and affluent community. It is a cosmopolitan hub with a huge influx of people in the winter months from all over the world," Castillo says. "Europeans are still taking advantage of the recuperating U.S. economy."