* Downtown Miami once seen as cultural wasteland
* Industrial neighborhoods transformed in recent years
* More than 1,000 galleries applied, only 260 accepted
By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI BEACH, Fla., Dec 6 One of the largest
contemporary art fairs in the world kicks off on Thursday, with
the 11th annual Art Basel Miami Beach drawing celebrities,
art-gawkers and some of the world's top galleries.
The four-day fair is credited with helping transform Miami's
image from one of weekend beach frivolity to an emerging mecca
for the performing and visual arts.
An estimated 50,000 visitors flocked to the fair in 2011,
according to the city's tourism promotion agency, and more are
expected this year.
"Prior to Art Basel we had eight galleries. We now have over
140 in Miami-Dade County," said Norman Braman, a billionaire car
dealership mogul and chair of the local committee that works
with the fair's organizers.
Art Basel Miami Beach was launched in 2002 to expand the
reach of a proven North American art market and seize on Miami's
position as a gateway to the emerging market in Latin America,
said Marc Spiegler, director of MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd, which
owns and operates Art Basel fairs in Miami, Switzerland and Hong
"Everyone assumed Latin America was going to develop and
everyone felt it was opening up toward international art in the
same way we now see the Asian collector base," he said.
Since 2002 the fair has expanded to include a host of
satellite art fairs, spilling over into other, less fashionable
areas of greater Miami.
"What Art Basel has promoted is a whole series of other
fairs ... and those fairs have actually served as meeting points
for artist, dealers, galleries and collectors," said Axel Stein,
head of Sotheby's Latin American art department.
"Art Basel has been that magnet that has put together all of
these people in the same room."
Civic leaders point to Art Basel as a sign of how the area
has sought to cast off its reputation as a cultural wasteland,
led by a growing philanthropic community, including some major
In the early 2000s a public-private partnership built the
half-billion dollar Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing
Arts, lauded as the start of downtown Miami's cultural
renaissance. Today work is underway on a more than $200 million
bayfront art museum designed by the Swiss firm of Herzog & de
Meuron, which will open next year.
On Miami Beach, a state-of-the-art hall for Miami's New
World Symphony, designed by California architect Frank Gehry,
opened to national acclaim in 2011.
BILLION DOLLAR MARKET
During the rest of the year when Art Basel isn't in town, a
growing movement of artists, restaurateurs and nightlife
impresarios has transformed Wynwood, once a blighted industrial
neighborhood, into a vibrant scene, decorated with murals by
celebrated graffiti artists Shepard Fairey and Banksy.
This year more than 1,000 galleries applied to be at Art
Basel and 260 were selected, organizers say. Those that are not
accepted, vie for space in the satellite fairs, such as the New
Art Dealer's Alliance, which Spiegler said serves as "proving
ground" for emerging galleries and artists from around the
At the exhibiting galleries, prices range from a few hundred
dollars at smaller fairs to the tens of millions at the main
event, Art Basel Miami Beach, where it's not uncommon to find
works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. The fair
never releases total sales, but estimates last year put the
total value of work on display at Art Basel between $2 billion
and $3 billion.
The fair is also a forum for banks and other companies to
court high-net worth individuals and families. Swiss bank UBS AG
has been the title sponsor since the fair was
Others include NetJets, a private jet-sharing company owned
by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc, luxury
automaker BMW and cigar maker Davidoff.
New York gallery Wallspace has shown work at the fair for
the past five years. Director Jane Hait said it's a chance to
see far flung colleagues and collectors, and develop
relationships with potential clients.
Wallspace had to scale back its plans for big client dinners
at Art Basel this year as it was one of the galleries in New
York City's Chelsea neighborhood that suffered massive damage
from Hurricane Sandy in October.
"All of the galleries on our block have basement storage
space which was completely submerged," Hait said. "We had about
six-and-a-half feet of water in our basement that came through
She estimated nearly $1 million of damage, yet the disaster
and recovery effort didn't derail plans to show in Miami.
"If we go to a fair and meet a couple of interesting smart
new clients who we don't already know, that's a success," Hait