First US visit from world-renowned Art Basel could attract 15,000 to Beach
By Frank Norton
Still limping out of recession, the local hospitality industry is about to get a shot of adrenaline.
Next week, Art Basel, considered the world's most prestigious art fair, descends on Miami Beach, the show's first incarnation outside of its hometown of Basel, Switzerland, in its 32-year history.
"We wanted the United States for one, and there are only a couple of places there that can host this event," Art Basel Miami Beach Director Samuel Keller said from Switzerland.
"We are not targeting a local or regional public but the world, and we need a place where people can fly in easily from North America, Europe and Latin America," he said.
Smaller than its European mother, Art Basel Miami Beach is expected to draw as many as 15,000 visitors Dec. 5-8, including 2,000 very high net-worth collectors and about 160 of the most esteemed galleries in the world.
"That's what makes Art Basel different from every other art show in the world," Mr. Keller went on. "We get four times as many applicants as we have gallery spaces, so we can make very strict selections - only the best."
While the total value of art that will be for sale is unknown, Mr. Keller said some individual galleries could feature tens of millions of dollars worth in paintings, sculptures or installation pieces.
Richard Gray gallery of New York, for example, is bringing well over $10 million in paintings alone, including works by Matisse, Fernand Leger and David Hockney - whose "A Closer Grand Canyon" will be on sale for $4 million, said Richard Gray dealer Andrew Fabricant.
"Miami appeals to a lot of Europeans, where at this time of year it gets pretty soggy and dark," said Mr. Fabricant, who said he sees Miami Beach a unique backdrop for the traditional European show.
"I think you'll find much more of a physical divergence between the artwork and people's preconceived notions of what South Florida is all about, which is fine. If Art Basel in Switzerland reflected people's preconceived notions of Basel it would be the most boring show ever," he said.
Major Art Basel Miami Beach sponsors include UBS Financial Services Group, which has backed the show in Switzerland since 1984, and Basel-based global logistics group Danzas, also responsible for transporting much of the construction material for the show.
In terms of impacting the local economy, neither Mr. Keller nor his US associates could provide any estimates, though some local experts commented anecdotally.
While benefits from million-dollar art transactions do not typically spill into the local economy, they said, the hospitality, transportation and logistics-servicing needs that make those deals possible do.
"Any service they buy whether it is hotels, transportation, entertainment or shipping is a US export," said E.N. Roussakis, chairman of the Finance Department and professor of finance at Florida International University's college of business. "And to they extent that those are locally originated services, they definitely have an impact on the local economy in the short term."
Still more valuable than the short-term boon to service providers, he and other experts said, is Greater Miami's brand recognition as a host for world-class business and cultural events.
"There's a tremendous publicity value in the mainstream press and the art world, but I don't know how you quantify that - very hard to do," said Bob Goodman, president of Garber & Goodman and Florida representative for Art Basel.
"We do know that it will expose our Miami to a lot of new eyes and ears and generate tremendous attention and articles and pictures that will feature in major papers and television stations around the world," he said.
Art Basel Miami Beach is to debut Dec. 5-8 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Jackie Gleason Theater and other South Beach venues. Directors canceled its planned debut last year due to complications in travel after 9/11.
The 33-year-old Art Basel Switzerland attracts about 50,000 people each June and was introduced to Miami by former event director Lorenzo Rudolph.