“I always believed that Miami would grow up and become sophisticated,” Miller said. “But never did I envision what it has really become today, which is very exciting. Sometimes I don’t even recognize my own city.”
While local galleries — estimates of how many there are range from dozens to hundreds — clearly benefit from the exposure during the week of activities that surround Art Basel Miami Beach, they also must compete for an audience with the main art fair, multiple satellite events, private collections and museums.
“The thing that people forget about Art Basel is that Art Basel has shined a bright light on our community,” said Dennis Scholl, a major Miami collector. “And we have received the benefit of that bright light. But the fair is not about our community. The fair is about the collectors and the galleries and the artists and curators and the museum directors that have come from all over the world.”
Snitzer, a member of the Art Basel Miami Beach selection committee whose gallery has shown every year, said local dealers should not expect to be selected for the highly competitive fair just because they live here. A track record at other fairs and a thoughtfully built program are essential, he said.
“If you want to go to Harvard, then you’ve got to study and get great grades and aspire to go to Harvard,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘I live in Boston, so I’m going to be there.’ ”
Art Basel director Marc Spiegler said setting a quota for local galleries isn’t a viable solution.
“We would love to see more galleries from Miami in the show,” Spiegler said in an interview last month. “On the other hand, I think past experience suggests that maybe the worst thing you can do is bring a gallery in too early, because they quite clearly demonstrate they’re not ready.”
The larger-than-life impact of the fair casts a long shadow on Miami’s art scene, said Patricia Maloney, director of the online publication Art Practical. Writers and editors for the San Francisco-based journal spent two months in Miami this fall examining the local visual arts scene in a residency at Cannonball, formerly LegalArt.
“There was so much self-consciousness in Miami among the artists and galleries, very cognizant of that fact that everyone in the art world descends on Miami every year,” Maloney said. “That’s what they have to measure themselves against. There was pressure there and there was a self-consciousness there.”
Other pressures on Miami, said Scholl, include the ease of accessing other art markets, both in person and online.
“The digital revolution has allowed us to shop in every corner of the earth for art,” he said. “If you’re interested in collecting art, the iPad is your window.”
Local galleries say their presence on the web has also helped their businesses reach a worldwide audience.
The growing number of collectors around the globe has buoyed the art world, said Blumberg, of the gallery association, especially when the U.S. economy took a nasty turn. During the recession, she said, galleries overall became more proactive about reaching out to potential collectors.
Gary Nader, an art dealer and Wynwood gallery owner who specializes in secondary work, said the market for valuable pieces by well-known artists still performed well during the downturn.