The History of Art Basel

Aqua ArtMiami Project Gallery

Circles by Frank Hyder at Aqua Art Miami, Projects Gallery

Burden Cycle by  Derek Fordjour in Josh Lilley's Nova Booth

Burden Cycle by Derek Fordjour in Josh Lilley's Nova Booth

Tony Tasset

Tony Tasset Art Basel

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Art Basel is more than just an art fair, it’s a cultural movement that transforms the city each year and has had major lasting impact on Miami’s role as a major player in the international art world. Beyond all the global importance, it's a major source of fun cultural activities for locals and visitors alike to enjoy every year during the first week of December.

Art Basel Miami Beach is North America’s largest contemporary art fair with nearly 270 galleries from 35 countries showcasing works by more than 4,000 artists. Held at the newly reimagined Miami Beach Convention Center, Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 expects to draw more than last year’s 83,000 art dealers, artists, collectors and aficionados to Miami Beach during the fair held this year from December 5 - 8, 2019.

Where It All Began: Basel, Switzerland

Art Basel has become such in important part of the Miami arts scene, it’s easy to forget the origins of the fair are in Basel, Switzerland where the fair was first established in 1970.

The brainchild of a trio of Swiss gallerists, Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt, the first version of the fair was called simply “Art.” Their vision brought together the artists they represented, as well as collectors, curators and critics from all over the globe for the first Art Basel in Switzerland. Their vision was a success and over 16,000 people attended the first fair.

Held every June, Art Basel draws about 93,000 attendees to the Messe Basel exhibition space making it the most important contemporary art fair in the world. Messe Basel was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. You can see their work here in Miami’s 1111 Lincoln Road, a modern parking garage at the entrance to the iconic Lincoln Road and at the PAMM.

Over the years, the fair has expanded and now includes the unlimited platform for artwork that is best experienced outside the traditional booth structure, panel discussions, film, the Young Galleries for emerging artists and a premier a space for juxtaposing artists from different backgrounds or generations.

Art Basel Miami Beach Is Born

Now in its 17th year, the Miami Beach edition of Art Basel has been an annual fixture every December since 2002. Miami was selected as an ideal second destination for Art Basel because of its unique position at the nexus of North America and South America whose artists are largely the focus of this American wing of Art Basel (in 2018, 31 galleries were from Latin America). Exhibited artwork included paintings, photography, installations and art across a wide array of mediums.

Over the years, with the boon from Art Basel, Miami has become a thriving year-round arts destination in its own right with a vibrant gallery scene, cutting edge museums and world-class street art all boosted by this event that draws the most import voices in the art world, collectors from around the globe and art enthusiasts alike.

Over 500,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Miami Beach Convention Center is divided into sectors: Galleries, Nova, Positions, Edition, Kabinett, Survey and Magazines to make up Art Basel. Galleries serve as the centerpiece of the show where international galleries showcase the work of the artists they represent. In 2019 we will see the addition of a new sector. The new sector, Meridians, will showcase art that doesn’t fit within typical booths such as large scale pieces.

The sectors divide the fair into separate curatorial spaces which were visited by more than 83,000 people last year. Nova exhibits new, cutting edge works from emerging artists and galleries. Kabinett focuses on a body of work by a single artist or a themed group exhibition. Survey is dedicated to art history projects ranging from solo shows to thematic exhibitions with select galleries. There’s also a series of Conversations throughout the week ranging from panel discussions to lectures.

While Art Basel is ticketed and hosted within the Miami Beach Convention Center there have been many off-site ways for the public to experience the event, such as a one night performance at the New World Symphony in 2011 where a film was projected outside of the Frank Gehry-designed building and site-specific installations at the Bass Museum's Collins Park.

The Miami Beach Convention Center, host venue of Art Basel, has been reinvigorated with a $615 million renovation that kept the layout similar but added a new sense of modernity to the fair. The new building includes a new 60,000-square-foot open ballroom that was welcomed with a commissioned piece by Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. The 2019 festival can look forward to taking advantage of the new outdoor spaces with site-specific sculpture installations.

Marlborough Gallery Art Basel
Marlborough Gallery Art Basel

Beyond Art Basel

While Art Basel is technically just the event held primarily onsite at the Miami Beach Convention Center, all of Miami Art Week and the twenty art fairs and more than 1,200 participating galleries are often referred to as “Art Basel.” The city is transformed by pop-up satellite events that are unaffiliated with Art Basel proper, but have been inspired by the fair that started it all.

For example, across the street from the Miami Beach Convention Center is Design Miami, a large tent space with more than thirty five35 international galleries representing the artists who largely focus on the decorative arts. SCOPE, another Miami Beach based fair, has been focusing on contemporary and street artists for nearly twenty years. While Spectrum, NADA Art Fair, PINTA Miami and CONTEXT are held on the mainland. That’s just a small sampling of the many significant fairs that are held in the same time frame as Art Basel.

Miami Art Week has expanded to include digital activations, brand pop ups, site specific and musical performances and culinary events around the city. This satellite fair has become an important avenue for artists of diverse backgrounds who are often overlooked in the more traditional art world to find an audience for their work. Smaller, independent galleries and artists made their own space to showcase their work through collaborations with local institutions both large and small.

Art Basel Hong Kong & Art Basel Cities

A third edition of Art Basel launched in Hong Kong in March 2012. The city sits symbolically at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures, further expanding Art Basel’s global reach and perspective. Art Basel Cities is a new initiative that launched in September 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Art Basel Cities will continue to bring the art fair to a different international city annually. Between Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, as well as the new Cities initiative, Art Basel’s art fairs play an enormous role in shaping the international art world and market.

In Miami, we’re thrilled to be a part of it all.

Read More:

How To Get Around Miami During Art Basel
Miami's Best Late Night Eats For Art Basel
Where To Stay During Art Basel Miami Beach
Public Art at the Miami Beach Convention Center

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