Art Basel Miami Beach has become an annual highlight for Miami art enthusiasts, and in this 14th edition, those who have attended the fair in years past will find much that’s familiar. The week’s rhythm will repeat last year, with Wednesday reserved for serious collectors and the public opening at 3 p.m. Thursday. Blue-chip specialists including Acquavella, Marlborough, Gmurzynska and Gagosian will join edgier galleries including Gavin Brown Enterprises, Jack Shainman, White Cube and Hauser & Wirth in the main fair sector of 267 galleries, surrounded by new art in Positions, Nova and Kabinett. Artists, curators, gallerists and museum directors will discuss the heady subjects of the new role for art in Cuba, the ethics of art advertising and the vicissitudes of the art market.
And that’s just at the Convention Center. Art Public, the sculpture exhibition in Collins Park, will still be held in front of the Bass Museum of Art, though the museum itself is undergoing renovation. Sound works will join film presentations this year at the New World Wallcast.
What will be new is the fair’s director. Noah Horowitz, author of the Art of the Deal (not that Art of the Deal) and previously chief of the Armory Show in New York, has been named director of the Miami fair. Like the directors of fairs in Basel and Hong Kong, he works closely with Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director.
This fall we chatted with both Horowitz and Spiegler for a preview of 2015 Art Basel Miami Beach.
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Q: Noah, what exactly is your job?
This role entails engaging the Americas in the broad sense, from Bogota to Los Angeles and engaging with the constituents of the fair -- galleries, curators, museum directors, collectors, artists. Galleries are our primary client. Our business is to represent them, to [facilitate] their ability to sell artworks and meet people that are relevant for what they do in the most efficient way possible.
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about art as an investment class. Is there an art market bubble?
Horowitz: I think there was a bubble, certainly in auction pricing. There was a setback in 2009 and 2010. We’ve rebounded from that; global sales numbers at a higher number last year than in 2007. What we’ve seen subsequently is how global the market is now. So it’s extremely difficult to say whether we’re in a bubble right now
Spiegler: In German, there’s a word “yein” – “ya” and “nein,” yes and no. At any given point there’s work that’s priced more than it will be in a few years. At the same time there are a lot of artists in Cuba, for example, who are priced much less than they will be in a few years. The problem is the phrase ‘art market.’ Every artist, every gallery is its own market. These markets are not interdependent.
History shows that generally, the collections that appreciated the most were ones not built as investment but by people with amazing eyes, even those with limited resources. The value goes up just because they’re early [to recognize an artist.] … By the time an artist’s name is getting brooded about as the next hot thing they’re usually at the top of their market.
Q: The contemporary art auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Philips earlier this month brought $2.3 billion, with the top 10 lots bringing $678.8 million, according to Bloomberg. While some consider that number lower than it should have been at top valuation, it’s not exactly chump change. What does that mean for the art at fairs like yours?
Horowitz: If you spend time looking at a lot of analysis, you find a lot of people spend a lot of time looking at sales at auctions. What’s really unique about what we do is support galleries and artists. It makes these exclusive studies of sales at auctions not that interesting.
Spiegler: The works you hear about the most, the works sold at auction, represent work by just a few hundred artists. In our fair have work by about 4,000 artists. Most of those works never come to auction. We serve a much broader constituency of artists than the ones you hear about the most.
Q: What advice would you give a nascent collector?
Spiegler: If you have the means to buy art and want to treat it as an investment, then you should probably develop a lot more knowledge before you start buying art. You should work with an advisor or join a young patrons’ board or take a semester at the Sotheby’s Institute or the Christie’s institute.
But a better way to think about it is the same way you think about money you spend on a vacation or an expensive dinner. It’s hedonistic pricing, not utility pricing. What is the pleasure owning this work will give me? If you buy artwork you love, it’s a good investment in your quality of life.
Q: What impact will the economic woes in China and Latin America have on this year’s Miami Beach fair?
Spiegler: In China, the super wealthy are still super wealthy. They already have their money out of the country. I’ve been surprised about how many Asians come to this fair.
This fair is really based on North and South Americans. Nobody delivers Latin American buyers like this fair, because of Miami – it’s the de facto capital of Latin America – and because there’s enough cultural activity to keep people interested, but it doesn’t compete with collectors’ time like New York does. The average person comes 2.1 times to this show. That’s really important. And this fair delivers regional American buyers better than any other fair.
It’s really hard to judge how the Latin American economies will affect the show this year. I was just in Brazil, and I learned a new word: “dollarized.” A lot of Brazilians have dollarized their wealth. If you’re an art collector with property here, you want to keep your art here. Serious collectors will continue to collect. What you won’t get is a lot of people new to the market who are feeling super flush. The people I met with in Brazil and Colombia, where I also visited, they all said they are coming to the fair.
Q: How will the renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center affect the fair?
Spiegler: We’re very excited about this convention center renovation. It will be a much more attractive building, and it’s going to get wired for the 21st century. In terms of schedule couldn’t be better for us. Construction will start right after the 2015 fair. It will stop for the 2016 fair, and it will be finished before the 2017 fair.
Q: We used to talk every year about whether Art Basel would stay here. Is that no longer part of the conversation?
Spiegler: No, we’re here. I don’t even know when the next contract comes due. This is part of the art world calendar. We’re staying.
Q: How has Miami changed as a cultural community in the years since Art Basel arrived?
People underestimate the seriousness of what is going on in Miami, not just in our halls but all around town. The seriousness of the artists and works transcends the reputation that people outside sometimes try to tag Miami with. The reality is that anyone who looks around will see that there’s great artwork to be seen, not just in our halls but in private collections and museums. It’s important for an art fair that it not take place in a vacuum. This is a place where both public and private collections bring the best work they can in December. It’s important people walk away thinking their week in Miami was worth it…
The fact that someone like (the new Perez Art Museum Miami director) Franklin Sirmans would come here to work, that (the New Museum Triennial co-organizer) Alex Gartenfeld is working at the Institute for Contemporary Art - Miami means something.
It’s very hard to build up an art ecosystem. If people look at what is here compared with other cities of this size or what’s here now versus 10 years ago, it’s night and day. It’s always good to be ambitious, but it’s also good to look at far we’ve come. The fact that the top talent is willing to come and work here, that means something.
IF YOU GO
Art Basel Miami Beach is open to the public at 3 – 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, noon – 8 p.m. Dec. 4-5, and noon – 6 p.m. Dec. 6. Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive. One-day tickets $47; $30 students / seniors; multi-day tickets available. Artbasel.com