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As Art Basel officials prepare for this year’s 20th anniversary of their Miami Beach fair, they can look back on two decades punctuated with drama. Mark Spiegler, Art Basel’s outgoing director of 15 years, and his replacement, Noah Horowitz, acknowledge that the ride to this historic year hasn’t always been smooth.
From the very beginning, the fair was affected by events beyond the control of the management. Its opening was planned for 2001, but was canceled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which meant that people were unwilling to travel, let alone buy art, and with There was also an economic downturn. There were already huge doubts about whether the Sam Keller-directed Swiss fair had made the right decision in taking its weighty Swiss brand to an unlikely American city. “I thought it was a crazy idea. I’ve never been there, except via Grand Theft Auto Vice Citysays Spiegler, referring to a video game set in a fictionalized version of Miami.
Others shared her warning – Miami was seen by many as a crime-ridden, cultural desert, the best retirement city, and a far cry from the real American art market action of New York and Chicago.
Spiegler, like many of us, believes he was proven wrong. She remembers visiting the first Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002 while working as an arts journalist based in Zurich. After attending a party in the garden of collector duo Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, he says he was struck by two things that went on to define the fair’s success: the overlooked sophistication of the city’s overly busy collectors , and the draw of events now seems to be intrinsic not only to Art Basel Miami Beach (where they do a poolside party very well) but to the entire contemporary art market. “It was not a done thing at the time,” Spiegler says.
Miami’s other advantage, Spiegler felt, was how close it was to Brazil, which had a major collector base and booming economy in the fair’s earlier years. And, of course, the weather helps. “The first biting days of winter [in New York and Europe] Make Miami attractive,” he says.
At the time of its Miami launch, it was unusual for any fair to take its brand overseas, which became something day For large companies in the middle of 20 years. “Art Basel Miami Beach proved that there is something about the success of Art Basel that can be exported,” says Spiegler.
This laid the groundwork for Art Basel in Hong Kong, a fair he opened in 2013 and more recently in Paris – both launched among highlights of his Art Basel career, which began in 2007. In both instances, the fairs changed existing events rather than entering the complete unknown, as Keller did in Miami. Art Basel bought out ArtHK, which launched in 2008, while in Paris the Faire Group occupied the slot at the Fiac Faire for almost 50 years. The increase in institutionalization in the world of fine art is not to everyone’s liking, but has been an inevitable trend as the market expands in popularity with rising prices for art.
“I started at a company that had two events and an office in Switzerland with 22 employees. I’m leaving a business that runs four fairs, has over 100 people in offices and has a significant online presence, Spiegler says. Art Basel’s growing international stature during Spiegler’s reign attracted media scion James Murdoch, whose company Lupa Systems bought a controlling stake in Art Basel’s parent company MCH Group in 2020.
While Miami has helped Art Basel grow, the fair is certainly credited with helping energize Miami’s cultural scene—and give its hotels, restaurants, and Uber drivers a post-Thanksgiving boost. “The city was ready for it, but the fair brought more great collectors, more great galleries to the city. It gave it an audience, it was showtime,” Spiegler says, with characteristic enthusiasm.
Horowitz, who worked for Spiegler as director of America’s Art Basel between 2015 and 2021 and now joins the fair group after a year at Sotheby’s, also sees a change in the city. “There were a handful of galleries in 2001 and over 100 in 2019, although what I find more incredible is what has happened since then,” he says.
The Covid pandemic brought more people and businesses to Miami, sunny, liberal and low-tax, as real estate moguls and sun-seeking snowbirds gave way to crypto bros and high-rolling financiers. The art scene jumped at the opportunity. “It’s not just the absolute numbers that have gone up, but the depth and ambition of the gallery it’s here now,” says Horowitz. He cites this year’s new entrants, Jupiter and Central Fine Galleries, both in North Beach, as well as the growing influence of longtime locals like Nina Johnson. The growth hasn’t just been commercial: Horowitz notes cutting-edge and influential exhibitions at institutions like ICA Miami and The Bass Museum.
Horowitz and Spiegler have presided over some eventful editions. At Horowitz’s first show in 2015, there was a violent, though non-fatal, stabbing during the fair (many of us initially thought it was an artistic performance). The following year, the Zika virus threatened to ruin the fair, and then the convention center, which has always held the event, went through a complex renovation that cut into exhibit space and was finally completed for the 2018 edition.
Just when everything seemed to be back on track, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and forced the cancellation of the 2020 fair. Like other Art Basel fairs that year, Miami had an online version—which benefited from Horowitz’s experience ahead of time with a digital-only VIP art fair—and continues to drive business. By the time Horowitz had skipped Art Basel, just before last year’s head-to-head return, the Omicron variant had started causing an uproar. “It was up to me to make Floridians wear masks,” Spiegler semi-jokes.
This year, Spiegler — who hasn’t said what he’s doing after a six-month transition — is handing over the reins, just as the economic downturn begins to bite. Horowitz has a bigger company than his predecessor he inherited in 2007 and comes as the conglomerate’s first chief executive officer. There is a management structure to be finalized – while the plan is to have an artistic and managing director for each of the fairs, the Miami and Basel events still lack direct leadership. Vincenzo De Bellis, until now a curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and former artistic director of MIART (the Milan International Fair of Modern and Contemporary Art), has been hired to oversee all four fairs and unlock new ways to expand the brand. appointed for.
Horowitz has what he described as a “bird’s eye view” and sees many opportunities to develop “the engine that is Art Basel”, at least in Asia. He says that his year at Sotheby’s has helped him gain a broader understanding of some of the business aspects of the art business. Now, his priority at Art Basel is maintaining Spiegler’s legacy of an “extraordinarily strong baseline” of the fair, he says. As the Miami fair opens its largest edition to date, in an increasingly international and delicate market, the role is – says Horowitz – “a high threshold to step on” at all levels.
November 29 – December 3, artbasel.com