Article by Susan Askew
MIAMI BEACH, FL – (December 6, 2019) When the 18th Art Basel Miami Beach fair kicked off this week, Mayor Dan Gelber likened the milestone to that of a child growing up. “If you have kids, you know when they turn 18 it’s kind of a big deal. You get a chance to see where they are and get excited about what’s going to happen to them next. And after 18 years – Art Basel, our community – an entire generation has grown up with Art Basel Miami Beach. We get a chance to look at what this is and what it’s done and how fantastic it’s been.”
Pointing to the new Pride Park which sits on the old parking lot to the west of the Convention Center and the new Collins Canal Park on the north, both of which now display publicly accessible works of art, he said, “Everywhere you go you see something in this city that tells you that Art Basel has been here.”
As he often does, Gelber recalled his high school days working as an usher in the old Convention Center when the only fare was professional wrestling and boxing. “Today, we are no longer aspirational. We’re no longer emerging. This is really like any 18th birthday where it’s a coming of age for our city. We are no longer an emerging art and culture destination.
We are an art and culture destination.” “So much of this building, if you walk around it, it’s fantastic art. It’s public art. It’s public art in Pride Park. It’s public art everywhere in our city now [and that] is because we have recognized that art needs to be democratized so that anybody can see it and anybody can understand it and feel it and be united by it and we are trying to do that everywhere.”
He noted the recent increase in expenditures on public art from 1.5% to 2% of the hard costs of City construction projects. “I don’t think there’s another city in the country that has more than 2% committed to art. That’s $7 million around this convention center in public art that our residents and visitors get to see and feel and experience every day because of that,” Gelber said. “I thank our residents because I think they realize how this has elevated our community and made it a special place.”
Gelber also lauded Irma and Norman Braman for their efforts in the art and culture arena. Norman Braman, who announced he was stepping down last year as chairman of Art Basel Miami Beach, attended the kickoff press conference with his wife.
“Norman, your vision decades ago was to not only have this fair here but to make our community resemble it in every way possible so that we weren’t simply an art and culture destination or the center of the art world for a week but that we were experiencing art and culture every day of every year,” Gelber said. “I think we’ve done that now. I think you can walk around our city or simply go outside our city to Arsht and the PAMM and the Frost and to your museum, to the Rubell's. You see that this community has changed. Wynwood and the Design District, Lincoln Road, Collins Park, it is now a critical mass of artistic expression and I can assure you as someone who was born here, it was not that when I grew up. There was nothing like that and that is because, Mr. Braman, you had a vision that this was going to become something amazing and you’ve not only stuck with it, but you demanded everybody else stick with it too… We are very grateful to you.”
“The imprint of this fair cannot be explained in any way,” Gelber concluded. “It’s just changed who we are and, I will say it again, we have become the best version of ourselves because of the art and culture that has come to this community and been embraced by our community.”
Noah Horowitz, Director Americas for Art Basel, noted collectors were expected from over 70 countries and over 200 cultural organizations and museums worldwide. It isn’t just the numbers, he said. “We have a lot of people that come to Art Basel Miami Beach every year and many of them are back but there’s a certain vibrancy in the air this year that’s palpable to me, to our team.”
“There are many people that we hold high, museum directors, curators, collectors, artists, curiosity seekers that are coming to Miami and new this year,” he said. “Many that are returning after a long hiatus. That’s because of what we’ve collectively built. Mayor Gelber, I think you summed it up very well about how Miami has become a cultural mecca and how important Art Basel is to that journey and I think we’ve really turned a chapter this year and there are a number of reasons for that.”
Horowitz praised the results of the Convention Center construction and the team from Art Basel and the City that worked on it. “The building is beautiful. It’s state of the art and it’s extraordinary to see it this year in its entirety. Collins Canal Park to the north, Pride Park to the west, mark a green campus that now surrounds the building and complements the Botanical Garden which has always been my favorite part of the campus around us here,” Horowitz said.
He also commended the City for its purchase of the art in and around the Convention Center. “These are extraordinary commitments and extraordinary commissions by great artists from around the world.”
This year, the City announced it would purchase a work of art for up to $100,000 from one of the emerging artists exhibiting at the fair, giving the community an opportunity to vote on three finalists selected by the Art in Public Places committee.
“This is a real achievement,” Horowitz said. “It’s a real sign of the commitment, I think, that the City of Miami Beach has with Art Basel, the faith they have in the quality of artists that come to this show.”
“The big news this year is the launch of Meridians,” he said, an exhibition of large-scale sculptures, installations, paintings, and performances made possible by the opening of the Grand Ballroom. It includes 34 projects, 33 in the Grand Ballroom and one outdoors.
In the main exhibit hall there are 269 galleries this year from 33 countries, Horowitz said, noting what he called a “generational shift” with 14 galleries that have “graduated” to the main Gallery sector. There are also 20 first-time participants in the fair, he said.