Move over snowbirds and retirees. When Art Basel opens in Miami Beach this week there will be a new audience in town ready to welcome its return to real life.

While the coronavirus pandemic took a heavy toll on Florida, efforts to lure the fast-moving finance, law and tech industries to the low-tax Sunshine State have paid off. It is thanks, in part, to Miami’s Mayor, Francis Suarez, a corporate lawyer who has pushed the city’s appeal through rousing speeches, billboard advertising and social media campaigns. Businesses which have moved include the New York-based hedge fund group Blackstone, which has opened a tech-focused office in Downtown Miami.

Suarez’s campaigns have gone down well with some of Miami’s existing collecting community. “He has done an incredible job as an ambassador. There’s huge growth coming into Miami and south Florida, which has been a boom for its economy and real estate,” says Jorge Pérez, a property developer, philanthropist and a major collector of Latin American and international contemporary art. As a result, he says, “the population now is much younger.” 

‘Pop Coroa’ (1966) by Antonio Henrique Amaral © Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Gallerist Nina Johnson — based in Little Haiti — who has a booth at the Nada art fair this week (December 1-4), notes an influx of families with young children over the past year. “We’ve put together a guide, not just about art galleries, but with recommendations of schools, restaurants, places to go and listen to music,” she says.  

Miami’s rejuvenation has encouraged art galleries to commit more to the city than their customary week at the Art Basel fair. “Miami has changed a lot,” says Josephine Nash, director of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery. “There’s still a very diverse community but now young professionals and large companies have outposts there. Even people who are just visiting stay for longer, because of the ability to work remotely.”

Last winter, her New York gallery opened a three-month pop-up in town, in lieu of the cancelled Art Basel fair, and has decided to repeat the project this year while also showing at the fair. Joining them in the fair and in the Design District from late November until the end of January are Goodman Gallery (South Africa, London) and Galerie Lelong (New York, Paris). 

‘Kiss VII’ (2018) by Soshiro Matsubara © Courtesy the artist, Union Pacific & Hannes of Schiefe Zähne

Art Basel Miami Beach will also feel refreshed. Some stalwarts are not returning after the break enforced by the pandemic — a couple have gone out of business, some are consciously reducing their art fair attendance and there’s the usual churn. Organisers have relaxed some of their rules to reflect the more varied art market channels. For example, galleries no longer need to have a permanent space to be accepted in the fair.  

Newcomer galleries are champing at the bit to be in the US, particularly since Covid-19 restrictions on travel meant that there were fewer American visitors at other revived in-person fairs. “We already met US clients who didn’t travel to Europe when we showed at Nada [in Miami] in 2019,” says Nigel Dunkley, co-founder of Union Pacific gallery. “Now there are health concerns and restrictions too, so the split is even more obvious.” His gallery has a booth at Art Basel Miami Beach filled by Japanese ceramicist Soshiro Matsubara, whose installation will include lampshades and a rug, as well as some paintings, all based on the tumultuous affair between the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler.

‘The Changing Past’ (2021) by Ali Banisadr © Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro. Photo: Adam Reich

Other younger, in-demand and more socially-conscious artists join the fray. Victoria Miro has a new painting by the Iran-born Ali Banisadr, “The Changing Past” (2021), that charts how, throughout history, cultures have toppled to accommodate new beliefs. The gallery also brings works by auction-darling Flora Yukhnovich, who explores the two-pronged promiscuous and vengeful personality of Roman goddess Venus. Jack Shainman gallery brings mixed-media, Native American artist Rose B Simpson whose sculptures address the “disempowering detachment of our creative selves through the ease of modern technology”, the artist says.

Such tech will be hard to avoid in Miami this week as artists and brands that were relatively unknown in 2019 make their presence felt. Within the fair, the curator-dealer turned non-fungible token (NFT) artist Kenny Schachter has joined forces with Galerie Nagel Draxler to bring a 14-foot-high digital booth display designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Its crypto artists on view include Kevin Abosch, Olive Allen and Rhea Myers. Schachter worked with the same gallery at Art Basel’s Swiss fair in September, but, he says, that was a “teeny kiosk” compared to what will be in the Miami fair: “This week will be the coming out party for NFTs within the traditional art world.” 

‘Considerati A’ (2021) by Rose B Simpson © Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Just outside the fair, new sponsor Tezos — a blockchain platform — will have a display of NFTs, plus the opportunity for visitors to create and mint a self-portrait on site, courtesy of the German artist Mario Klingemann. Another platform, SuperRare, will have large-scale augmented reality works in the Convention Center, with an auction due to take place during the fair. And of course, Beeple (aka Mike Winklemann), the artist who shot to fame when his NFT sold at Christie’s for $69m in March, is in town. He participates in a talk called “15 Minutes or Forever? Art in the Age of the NFT” at The Bass museum on December 1.

Marc Spiegler, director of Art Basel, downplays the impact of technology on the look and feel of the in-person Miami fair. He acknowledges, though, that the “kinetic energy in town is much higher than it was in 2019”, and says there will be “dozens, if not hundreds, more potential collectors who can now drive rather than fly to the fair . . . This may be the first fair where we see the outlines of the impact of the digital shift catalysed by the pandemic.”

December 2-4,

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