Art fair showcases growing cultural scene in Miami

Thu Dec 6, 2012 3:44pm EST
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - One of the largest contemporary art fairs in the world kicked off on Thursday, with the 11th annual Art Basel Miami Beach drawing celebrities, art-gawkers and some of the world's top galleries.

The four-day fair is credited with helping transform Miami's image from one of weekend beach frivolity to an emerging mecca for the performing and visual arts.

An estimated 50,000 visitors flocked to the fair in 2011, according to the city's tourism promotion agency, and more are expected this year with hotels 90 percent sold out and rooms going for more than $1,000 a night.

"Prior to Art Basel we had eight galleries. We now have over 140 in Miami-Dade County," said Norman Braman, a billionaire car dealership mogul and chair of the local committee that works with the fair's organizers.

Art Basel Miami Beach was launched in 2002 to expand the reach of a proven North American art market and seize on Miami's position as a gateway to the emerging market in Latin America, said Marc Spiegler, director of MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd, which owns and operates Art Basel fairs in Miami, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

"Everyone assumed Latin America was going to develop and everyone felt it was opening up toward international art in the same way we now see the Asian collector base," he said.

Since 2002 the fair has expanded to include a host of satellite art fairs, spilling over into other, less fashionable areas of greater Miami.

"What Art Basel has promoted is a whole series of other fairs ... and those fairs have actually served as meeting points for artist, dealers, galleries and collectors," said Axel Stein, head of Sotheby's Latin American art department.   Continued...

An art patron is reflected in an Untitled piece by Anish Kapoor at Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida December 5, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Sullivan