Used car salesmen and all their entourage of overhyped and bibulous aficionados filled the rows of the new and alluring showroom of Art Basel Miami inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. Booth after booth of this year’s freshest art pieces were surrounded by elegant but weathered dealers and artists trying to make it big. Miami Beach tries to pull it together by coating the city with sophistication and elite events curated by international powerhouses such as BMW, MGM Resorts and Ruinart Champagne, etc. If the ever-present publicity was not present and if one was not told that there was a world-renowned beach a few city blocks from the main venue, one could mistake it all for Las Vegas.
The true origins of the Art Basel Miami do, indeed, go back to car dealers. One to be specific – Norman Braman, an 86-year-old billionaire car dealer and former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Braman’s enthusiasm for the finer things in life brought him to the art world via his full city block car dealership on Biscayne Boulevard, boasting its very own petrol station. “Braman has become a towering figure in Miami’s art scene. In the late 1990s, when there were fewer than 10 galleries in the entire county, the billionaire collector helped convince a conservative Swiss art fair to open a second edition in Art Deco, neon-streaked South Beach. Seventeen editions later, that fair, Art Basel in Miami Beach, has raised the profile of contemporary art in popular culture more than almost any single other entity”.
Without a doubt, this once a year celebration of the contemporary and classic arts will go on for years to come; despite market crashes and recessions, art will always prevail. All the fanfare, along with vintage champagne and truffled risotto dinners topped with exotic animals, might disappear and possibly revert to a much simpler era. There was a time where all that mattered was enlightening the world with fresh ideas, new art and naive but original talent discussed over an intimate dinner, not at a rave party on a rooftop of a Las Vegas hotel chain in Miami Beach.
Today’s art world is littered with followers that try to mimic what was successful a decade ago; they have created a shiny but blurred déjà vu visible throughout the endless rows of booths. Cars and art are quite similar, if not in the same category; there are a few manufacturers such as Bugatti or Ferrari that still have the passion to build an original avant-garde piece of machinery and the ones that just decide to copy them because it is safer than making a fresh start. The same is seen in the art world. Such safe-bets all we have to look forward to.
Volume 33 no 3 January / February 2019 p26