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The Story behind Art Basel Miami

The Story behind Art Basel Miami

by Sep Niakan | November 25, 2013

Photo Courtesy of Juan Vasquez

Inarguably one of the most prestigious contemporary art fairs in the world and second only to its older sister in notoriety, Art Basel Miami Beach offers an incomparably heady experience for artists and collectors alike. During this weeklong fête in early December, the movers and shakers of the art world will descend upon the city of Miami to bask in the balmy tropical weather and soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere. With the spectacular Art Deco architecture of Miami Beach forming what can only be described as oeuvre in and of itself, the city is certainly the perfect backdrop for this ode to everything artistic.

The annual four-day event will highlight culture, social events, and of course, art. Now in its 12th year, this cultural phenomenon offers collectors and art lovers the chance to peruse a host of exhibits and galleries to find that one-of-a-kind piece must-have piece that speaks to their soul.

Art Basel Miami Beach kicks off on December 4 and will close on December 8. As in years past, celebrated works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol will be on display. A variety of new experiences is always on the calendar at Art Basel. This year, the fair will feature the contemporary artwork of numerous Latin American artists, including Liliana Porter, Jose Bedia, Julio Le Parc, and Allora y Calzadilla. A survey of works by artists from China, Cuba, and Brazil will also be on view during the week.

At the epicenter of the fair is the Miami Beach Convention Center, where the main exhibition is held. With more than 250 leading galleries from around the globe, showcasing some of the most cutting-edge art in the world, four days is barely enough to scratch the surface of this massive fair. The spirit of the fair has also expanded throughout the city, encompassing the dozens of satellite fairs and events held during the whirlwind week of parties and art exhibitions that are ideally suited for the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Miami Beach.

Originally conceived of in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland, by a trio of local gallery owners, the art fair was expanded to the U.S. in 2002. Donald and Mera Rubell, who began collecting art in 1964 on a $25 a week budget, were instrumental to bringing the fair from Switzerland to the beaches of Miami. According to Mera, "It took several years to convince Art Basel to come to Miami." The task was successfully accomplished when the couple convinced Art Basel to make the trip from frigid Switzerland to balmy Miami in November. Still, there were more challenges to overcome. For instance, it also took some time to convince the Miami Convention Center to make a space for Art Basel. Over the years, there had been various art fairs held in Miami, but none of them had ever proven to be an economic engine for the city. Ultimately, Mera states, "The community really came together to embrace Art Basel coming here." At the time, there were no public collections in Miami. Today, the massive Rubell Family Collection is housed in a former DEA drug and weapons confiscation warehouse.

The efforts of the Rubells to bring Art Basel to Miami Beach certainly paid off. Today, the event has expanded into one of the most anticipated, and largest, art fairs in the world. In fact, Donald Rubell speculates that the exposure for the artists and the gallerists at Art Basel Miami Beach is greater perhaps than any art fair in the world.



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