Glitz As Culture

Art Basel Miami Beach has become one of the world's biggest and most glamorous fine-art parties. With its new director, Noah Horowitz, the popular art fair enters a new era.

WORDS Debbie MIchaud
May 2017
When it comes to Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual blowout of wealth and beauty on the Florida coast every December, the headlines write themselves: “Miley Cyrus Kissed Paris Hilton While Patrick Schwarzenegger Watched at Art Basel Miami”; “The Wolf of Miami! Leonardo DiCaprio ‘Spends Almost $1 Million’ at Art Basel During First Day”; “At Art Basel Miami Beach, Squeezing Art Out of the Picture.”

Mention the event to a friend and she’ll reply, “Oh, that’s the thing that Pharrell goes to, right?” Yes, Pharrell has attended Art Basel and its many parties. DiCaprio is a regular, as is Sean Combs. Kim Kardashian stopped by as part of her continued effort to #breaktheinternet last year. Jay and Bey have also done a little shopping at the high-end art fair.

Like the city it calls home, Art Basel Miami Beach is glitzy and expensive, cultural and cool. The art fair has become a pop-culture phenomenon and is a spectacle worth witnessing. Basel is as much about the parties as it is about the art. Perhaps more so. Whether or not it should be that way is a constant source of debate.

Art Basel began more than 40 years ago with a fair in the Swiss city of the same name. In 2002, Art Basel Miami Beach launched, and over the past 14 years it has become a premier fair of the Americas. Held the first week in December, it lures more than 70,000 people to the city to view works by more than 4,000 artists repped by more than 250 local, national and international galleries. While the name Basel technically refers to the main fair, it’s become shorthand for a dizzying week of long days and late nights centered on art in Miami. Miami Art Week includes more than a dozen satellite fairs such as SCOPE and NADA (each with exhibitors numbering in the hundreds) and parties, parties, parties.

“There’s definitely an electricity to the city during that time,” says Norma Moreno, aka Norma Now, a Miami-based event producer. “[During Art Week], the city is buzzing with inspiration and excitement. With an influx of out-of-towners who are contributing to the cultural scene here, it just makes events feel more fulfilling and exciting. It’s really magical.”

Last summer, Art Basel hired Noah Horowitz, 36, as its director Americas, a newly created position in which he’ll direct the Miami fair and act as a liaison between the organization and North and South America. Previously, a network of people in Basel and New York handled the massive annual gathering in Miami. But Basel has been expanding (a Hong Kong fair was added in 2013) and responding to the increasingly diverse look of the global art market. What, specifically, Horowitz’s impact on Miami will be is anyone’s guess, including Horowitz’s, but he comes to Basel with a reputation for a discerning curatorial eye and a tendency to value quality over quantity.

Art fairs are multiday pop-up shops for some of the world’s most expensive and unique merchandise; places for the super rich to jet in and drop stacks on art-world-approved work. Fairs contain an astounding amount of thought-provoking art, albeit presented in jam-packed mall-scapes.

“They are when the tribe meets. A lot of what’s being done is touching antennae,” says Jerry Saltz, longtime critic for New York magazine. “They’re also time machines. A deal or connection that would take six months or six years to form can now be done in four days, and that is an incredible thing for a young kid in a gallery.”

In the last decade or so, the number of art fairs has ballooned to more than 180, with most of them taking place in the U.S. They serve a hungry and growing global art market now worth $57 billion. That’s a seven percent increase over the previous year and higher than the good ol’ days of 2007, when its value sat at $53 billion. Forty percent of art sales by value now come from fairs.

“This is a business. This is an industry. Art has become a commodity; we can’t deny it,” says Daria Brit Greene, vice president of SCOPE, a contemporary art fair focused on emerging artists and galleries.

Horowitz, an art historian and author of The Art of the Deal (2011), spent the past four years as director of New York’s Armory Show, a key date on the art-show calendar. During his time at the Armory, he made a strategic attempt to streamline and diversify the fair. The exhibitor list was cut by 25 to 30 percent, Horowitz says, and the fair’s focus was shifted from New York and the U.S. to include more international representation.

“It was really validating and rewarding to see all of these really important gallerists come back to the fair, and within our industry just to see this huge shift in perception around the fair,” he says.

“The Armory Show in its last few iterations has been pretty energetic and great,” Greene says. “[It] has been highly curated in the last few years — more attention to detail, less cramming galleries in and more thoughtful presentations. Trying to take away the art-fair clamor and put in more of a curated show I think is something that [Horowitz has] been really successful with.”

Horowitz is proud of expanding the Armory’s reach worldwide and sounds hungry for similar opportunities with Art Basel Miami Beach. Latin America in particular, he says, is increasingly attracting attention for its artists and a growing number of compelling arts institutions. He refers to Miami, dubbed the capital of Latin America, as a gateway and an open access point to the region, and he views his new job as a chance “to be part of a global conversation that scales across the continents.”

“There’s a lot of people coming from throughout the States and internationally that the fair touches, and I think that’s incredibly interesting,” Horowitz says. “One of the things we’ll certainly be looking at in the future is how to build upon that and continue attracting an increasingly international audience, from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, etc.”

Greene says galleries bring their “A” games to Miami. The result for Basel, and for Miami Art Week in general, she says, is more cutting-edge work and more people willing to take chances. “The art fairs in Miami,” Greene says, “more so than in New York or L.A. or Switzerland, for instance, sort of dictate the tone that the following year will take.”

On that note, Horowitz points to Basel’s Public program, which is led by respected New York Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator Nicholas Baume. “I think we can absolutely, with the support of somebody like that, help set the trends,” Horowitz says.

Just as important is grooming younger generations of gallerists and collectors. Basel shows emerging artists and organizations primarily through its Nova and Positions subsections, two of 10 tracks into which the art fair is organized. “[Nova and Positions are] why the fair is so attractive and important to attend if you’re a serious collector, if you’re a serious curator,” Horowitz says. “And if you’re a casual visitor, you get this incredible access to artists, many of whom either have already been in a museum or biennial context or certainly will shortly thereafter.”

Gallerist Anthony Spinello can speak to that. He runs Miami’s Spinello Projects, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Spinello, 32, has shown at Basel’s main Miami fair twice, first in Positions and the following year in Nova. He says it opened doors for him that wouldn’t have been available at that point in his career.

“It felt like some sort of validation, like we were going in the right direction,” Spinello says. “It was the right time. My artists were producing the best work they’d ever produced. It’s no doubt that Basel brings a specific audience and a big audience, and you need to be prepared for how to deal with it. I felt it brought us to another level. It was a milestone.”

Basel has a way of making everything feel special or important or necessary. FOMO is real here and it’s tiring.

“Vampires have to stay up late with each other,” Saltz says, “and that’s what art fairs are for.”

Part of that has to do with the fact that as Art Week has grown so has its idea of a VIP. “The notion of what a VIP is is shifting, and it’s starting to include people who are not necessarily above the age of 60 with museums in their name. It’s also influencers and bloggers,” Greene says. “It is exhausting. I’m a victim of it, but I’m also a perpetrator. You really do need to prioritize and have a sense of why you’re going and what you’re looking for.”

For the serious collector — those high rollers with the deepest pockets and most exclusive access — the parties may not factor at all. Their to-do lists likely involve more research than RSVPs so that they arrive ready to buy. Horowitz resists the idea that major art fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach are prohibitively expensive.

“I think one of the misperceptions around Basel and many of the leading fairs is that the price point is inaccessible, more than normal people can afford, and I think to the contrary,” he says, pointing to work available from younger galleries. “Art fairs — even Basel — are actually quite a bit more accessible than many people think.”

Certainly, that depends on one’s definition of affordable, but art fairs are a proven model for getting certain artists paid and expanding art collections. Horowitz says that one of Art Basel’s strengths is the leadership position it holds in the world of art fairs. That advantage “will enable the organization to look at other models and other ways of supporting galleries in a really fundamental way and cultivating new collectors and supporting existing collectors,” he says.

It’s worth watching to see how Horowitz will operate in this new director Americas position. Art Basel is a cultural Ironman that’ll test your endurance, but, as Horowitz puts it, “To see all these exhibitors that are coming from all different parts of the world is very, very cool.”

The Art Basel Hot List

Public at Art Basel Miami Beach
Since 2011, ABMB has collaborated with the Bass Museum of Art to present Public. Curated by respected New York Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator Nicholas Baume, Public includes installations, sculpture, performances and more at Collins Park and on the beaches. “I think Public, as a visitor, for me, has always been really exciting,” says Noah Horowitz, director Americas, Art Basel Miami Beach.
Le Baron Nightclub
“Everybody tries to go every year to the pop-up nightclub Le Baron,” says Jose Duran, web editor at Miami New Times who’s covered Basel and its parties over the years. “It’s a nightclub in Paris and has popped up here at the Delano Hotel in the FDR Lounge for the last few years. It’s that unofficial VIP club everyone wants to get into — if the doorman deems you fit.”
Littlest Sister at Spinello Projects
Celebrating its 10th year, Miami gallery Spinello Projects will present the fourth edition of Littlest Sister, a mini art fair within the gallery that proprietor Anthony Spinello first staged in 2007 to try to rope in part of the crowds who may be in town for the art fairs but are not necessarily coming to galleries. The title is a spin on the pet name for Art Basel Miami Beach, sometimes referred to as Art Basel’s little sister. Spinello resurrected Littlest Sister in 2009 and 2010, each time with a new twist. This year’s edition includes 10 solo booths by Miami-based, women-identifying artists as a response to the underrepresentation of females at art fairs and in the greater art world.
Juxtapoz Presents at SCOPE
SCOPE Art Fair is teaming up with Juxtapoz magazine for a specially curated section of 18 galleries. Together with Detroit printhouse 1xRun, they’ll be releasing a limited-edition print series featuring 10 artists in portfolio editions of 100. “A lot of these artists in the new contemporary genre have fans — also known as collectors — who will come through and can afford a print at a lower price point and own a piece of this artist’s work,” says Daria Brit Greene, VP SCOPE Art Fair.  —D.M.


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