With 268 galleries and a new-look exhibition area, the 16th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach holds the perfect conditions to take over the American continent.
Does Art Basel Miami Beach still hold its charm? In 2016, America's sexiest fair was more subdued than usual. The first day registered its usual harvest of big sales (Gagosian sold a painting by Richter for $5.8 M, for instance), but without the frenzied buying typical of the Florida event. Now that the Zika virus is no longer menacing the city and the country has digested the presidential elections, Art Basel Miami Beach can hope to regain its high number of eager visitors. The 2017 edition should notably benefit from the reopening of the Bass Museum after two years of refurbishment and a new, more ambitious approach, as well as the young Institute of Contemporary Art's move to a brand-new museum. Above all – a decidedly good omen – the fair renewed its lease with the Miami Beach Convention Center in late September, thus ensuring use of the premises until 2023. The city has even agreed to provide $2.8 million for a lift and an escalator. "Well, Art Basel now brings in around $500 M to Florida each year," says the mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine. Meanwhile, Tom Postma's design should make a visit even more comfortable, with larger spaces, high-end catering and more: enough to satisfy not only a well-heeled clientele but a broader audience, too, as pointed out by the independent Swiss curator and art critic Philipp Kaiser, who is curating the "Public" section this year. Like the area devoted to films, entry to this is free. Monumental sculptures by eleven artists, including Daniel Buren, Noël Dolla and Cyprien Gaillard from France, will be set up in Collins Park, "extending the fair experience into the city".
Frivolous, Art Basel Miami? Its pharaonic celebrations certainly seem to suggest it, but it remains "incontestably America's leading fair", according to the co-director of the Parisian Mor Charpentier gallery, also a regular at Frieze New York and the Armory Show, and now taking part in the Florida show for the sixth time. For the event that represents "a key date for the acquisition committees of the great American institutions", Philippe Charpentier wanted to devote his stand to a "duo show" – the first of its kind – featuring Teresa Margolles, who is building a wall with 900 bricks made of mud from the Rio Grande, thus with a decidedly political slant – and Rosangela Renno, with a "major" work on memory. These two artists, respectively Mexican and Brazilian, should attract the attention of the many Latin American collectors attending the fair, who tend to support their national artists. "Since its creation in 2002, ABMB has always been designed as a bridge between South and North," says Philipp Kaiser. "This is one of the fair's great achievements: creating a dialogue between Latin American artists and the rest of the world – a conversation that continues with Art Basel Cities in Buenos Aires." Barack Obama singled out Miami as a symbol of the successful integration of Hispanic communities; Art Basel demonstrates the same desire for diversity, yet fails to reduce the numerical imbalance that lies between galleries from North America (overwhelmingly represented by 159) and those from Brazil (19), Mexico (8), Argentina (5), Peru, Cuba and Columbia (1). A spread that is proportional to the maturity level of the various markets, which are still seeing the arrival of new players, despite the crisis that has impeded their development latterly. Chile, for example, though absent from the selection, has set its transition in motion, according to Philippe Charpentier (20 % of whose sales come from the Latin American market). In fact, numerous exhibitors play the Latino card. These include the Lelong Gallery (Paris) which in its "Kabinett" section is presenting the little-known work of Brazilian artists Hélio Oiticica and Ivan Serpa, and the Richard Saltoun Gallery (London) with a solo show by the Argentinian artist Edgardo Antonio Vigo.
Collectors take power
This open attitude to the art scene of the South owes a great deal to the tenacity of its collectors, some of whom live in Miami all year round (like the powerful Argentinian philanthropist Jorge M. Pérez), while others sit on Art Basel's Global Patrons Council, and are thus involved in the organisation of the various fairs. Its 154 members include the Brazilian couple Mara and Marcio Fainziliber, who has been Chairman of the Board of the Museu do Arte do Rio (MAR) since its inauguration in 2013; Juan and Patricia Vergez, who help to support Argentinian compatriots like Tomas Saraceno, and the Colombian Leon Amitai, living in Bogota, whose 250 works adorn the offices of his flourishing textile company. He discovered Leonor Antunes and Carlos Motta at the fair. "Its proximity and the presence of the world's leading galleries make Art Basel Miami Beach the best alternative for Latin American collectors – especially since its quality has been very high over the past two years." Less regional than the Colombian ArtBo, more accessible and stimulating (to quote Leon Amitai again) than Arco Madrid, until now, at least, it has succeeded in maintaining its monopoly in the field.