Art Basel Miami Beach swells with galleries eager to reconnect with patrons

Written by Liana Maeby, CNN Miami

Despite the fact that Art Basel is a huge global affair from Switzerland to Buenos Aires to Dubai, there was a slight undercurrent of sense of relief in Miami this week when it became clear that the annual art fair wouldn’t crash this year.

Sure, organizers were mindful of the collective sigh of relief from Miami’s art community — many of whom had had it up to here with Art Basel Miami Beach.

When the international gathering of galleries and collectors started seven years ago, it was supposed to be a glorified pop-up. Having no permanent venue meant that the fair could be set up just about anywhere, each day providing a flow of action that provided an intimate snapshot of the city’s vibrancy.

“Rather than a caravan, the fair” became a theme park. The sheer scale of the event and its daily proximity to Miami’s busiest business districts turned Art Basel into a flea market.

The art fair’s luster, as critics often refer to it, started to wane, too. When three of the fair’s founding funder-sponsors — Morgan Stanley, Atlantic Aviation and AXA — announced that they were pulling out last year, the February 2018 edition proved to be a peculiar footnote in Miami’s art history, its crutches snapped away.

Most art fairs, be they highbrow or lowbrow, are aspirational at their core. They aim to do two things: to cultivate a market and, in doing so, encourage the public to appreciate art.

Miami’s Art Basel, with its proximity to the international art scene, meant that people already connected to that international community were unlikely to pass it up. However, because of the prominence of its corporate sponsors, the fair managed to become a place where global buyers were treated like kings.

Small wonder then that the days of collecting art in Miami Beach are numbered. It was under the guiding influence of an artist and his wife, Edwidge Danticat, that the fair worked to change that, shifting the gallery-gallery model.

The effect on Art Basel, which has become a high-profile institution both in the US and around the world, is likely to be monumental. Many of its galleries, situated in the area, will be made ready for a more intense market — one with far more investment in values and, consequently, much more fervor.

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