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How Art Basel helped transform Miami’s art scene

December 7, 2015 at 6:20 PM EDT
Now in its 14th year, Art Basel Miami Beach is a huge gathering of artists, dealers, collectors and galleries. The show has helped expand Miami’s art scene, spawning satellite fairs across the city, and bringing in millions of dollars for the local economy. Yet some complain that the focus is too much on big name outsiders and not enough on the local scene. Special correspondent Jared Bowen reports.
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, one of North America’s biggest contemporary art fairs wrapped in Miami this weekend.

Special correspondent Jared Bowen was there to see how the annual gathering is changing the city’s identity.

JARED BOWEN: For a week every December, Miami becomes the center of the contemporary art world. Art Basel, now in its 14th year, is an international gathering of more than 260 galleries, 4,000 artists, many big-name dealers and collectors, and an estimated 70,000 art aficionados from all walks of life.

NOAH HOROWITZ, Director, Art Basel Americas: Fairs have become a real central meeting point for a lot of those different constituents.

JARED BOWEN: Noah Horowitz is director of Art Basel Americas.

NOAH HOROWITZ: These are the leading galleries anyway really. And they’re coming here to show some of their best work. So, collectors come really because of the quality of the galleries and the quality of artists on view. You don’t get this anywhere. And for us, that is what makes it so special.

JARED BOWEN: Think of all the works you see in museums around the world. They’re here, but for sale, from Picasso masterpieces to a towering tree by Chinese sensation Ai Weiwei.

There’s supposedly $3 billion worth of art on display this year, and the show has spread across Miami to some two dozens satellite fairs showcasing works by artists from around the globe.

Chilean sculptor Ivan Navarro says he has seen an enormous shift for Latin American artists in just the past decade.

IVAN NAVARRO, Artist: When I started showing here in 2005, it was just the beginning of Latino-American art being available to the wide market. And now it’s absolutely an art that is recognized as important as American art, as European art. It’s just part of the universal art history.

JARED BOWEN: Navarro is represented here by Maria Baro and her gallery based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Why are you here?

MARIA BARO, Baro Gallery: I’m here because I want to sell. I do to do sold out.

JARED BOWEN: Frances Trombly is a Miami native, this year displaying work at a satellite fair called Pulse.

LEYDEN RODRIGUEZ-CASANOVA, Co-founder, Dimensions Variable: What we try to do every December is concentrate on the artists that are working in Miami.

JARED BOWEN: She and her artist husband, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, are also co-directors of an independent gallery in downtown Miami called Dimensions Variable. They say they have seen a sea change in Miami’s art scene since Art Basel.

LEYDEN RODRIGUEZ-CASANOVA: Because of the fair coming here, because of this new awareness of what is going on here, there’s a lot of people coming to visit here, whether it’s curators, collectors, that are kind of looking to Miami and looking into what’s happening in the city. And the artists that are working here are being able to take advantage of those possibilities.

JARED BOWEN: One of the most visible signs of change since Art Basel came to Miami is the graffiti-clad neighborhood of Wynwood, a warehouse district once avoided by locals. It’s now a magnet for gallery, studios and perhaps most of all developers.

CRAIG ROBINS, CEO, Dacra: I build neighborhoods. And to give neighborhoods a sense of place, I feel that art, design, architecture are all important components that can make a neighborhood really feel special and different.

JARED BOWEN: Collector, philanthropist and developer Craig Robins stands at the nexus of art and commerce in Miami. After helping redevelop South Beach, in the ’90s, Robins started work on a desolate site in Midtown, leveling abandoned buildings to produce a mix of high-end fashion and furniture stores, all surrounded by giant works of art and renamed the Design District.

He also helped bring Art Basel to Miami.

CRAIG ROBINS: Miami has become a city where we define ourselves with culture. And you see many different examples of that. Art Basel was clearly a catalyst. There are incredible art collections in the city, and there are lots of museums that exist or are merging on a new level.

JARED BOWEN: Two of those museums are the Institute of Contemporary Art set to open in a new building in the Design District in 2017, and the Perez Art Museum Miami, which moved into a brand-new $200 million building in 2013.

FRANKLIN SIRMANS, Director, Perez Art Museum Miami: October 15 was my first day.

JARED BOWEN: Franklin Sirmans, who only just recently arrived from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is the Perez Museum’s director.

FRANKLIN SIRMANS: In a city like Miami, our past is short. If you’re going to the museum of modern art, you have to work through Picasso. There is no way that you can deny that presence, whereas, here, it’s a little bit shorter history.

JARED BOWEN: His task at the Perez, take it from a place with the base of community support and a shiny new building and find the money to turn it into a world-class institution.

Another newcomer is Alexandre Arrechea, a Cuban sculptor who this week created a participatory piece at the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation downtown.

ALEXANDRE ARRECHEA, Artist: You have to remember places like New York at some point are very expensive to afford for many artists, especially coming from South America, and Miami suddenly becomes a good opportunity, a place that you still can afford places for studios and to create business. There is obviously a big competition here, but I think there’s a lot of opportunities here.

JARED BOWEN: Opportunities, yes. The fair brings in millions of dollars each year to the local economy.

But some complain that amid all the hype of Art Basel, the vast sums of money being spent, all the VIP events, the focus is too much on big-name outsiders and not enough on the local scene.

FRANCES TROMBLY: We run the space because we feel like the city and the community and the people here have things to say, really important things to say. And we want to foster that.

LEYDEN RODRIGUEZ-CASANOVA:
And what ends up happening sometimes, I think, with like the fairs is that you have got a circuit of fairs, where people travel the world. And they’re basically looking at the same artist in every single city they go to.

JARED BOWEN: Part of the challenge is to translate the energy and excitement Art Basel generates into the rest of the year here in Miami and to define what it means to be a great art city in the 21st century.

From Miami, I’m Jared Bowen for the PBS NewsHour.

You can see more of Jared’s coverage of the arts, which he does for our Boston station, on their Web site, WGBH.org.

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