State-of-the-art: Art Basel in Miami Beach

As a visitor to Art Basel in Miami Beach, you have to give yourself time, recommends Marc Spiegler. After a couple of hours at the fair, the city has plenty for visitors to discover on a short break, after which they can rejoin the fray, refreshed and invigorated. Spiegler is director of one of the most important art fairs in the world. He takes us on a personal guided tour of the year’s most glamorous art event.

Hendrik Lakeberg

Design District

“The District has been revitalized over the last ten years. It’s a great place for those who like luxury shopping and there are also lots of fantastic new restaurants. This year, the new ICA Miami building is opening there during Art Basel in Miami Beach. Ellen Salpeter and Alex Gartenfeld have organized a major group exhibition exploring the significance of the artist’s studio from the post-war period to the present day.”

Florida Keys

“If you like driving motorcycles or cars, rent one and drive down the Florida Keys to Key West. The Seven Mile Bridge is magic.”

Wynwood Art District

“Wynwood is more of a hipster area – a great place to get things like cold-brew coffee but also with a lot of space devoted to subculture and graffiti art.”

The excellent private collections and museums

“You have the amazing opportunity to view the city’s internationally renowned private collections and museums, which are all worth a visit. This includes the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, the Margulies Collection and the Rubell Family Collection, as well as museums such as the Pérez Art Museum Miami, ICA Miami, MOCA and the Bass Museum.”

The sunset at Stiltsville

“During Prohibition, a bunch of houses were built on stilts in the middle of the ocean in international waters by bootleggers and smugglers. Today, it’s beautiful to take a boat trip there at sunset. We do that trip every year at the end of our Selection Committee meetings.”

Art Basel Miami Beach was brought to life in 2002. How is it different from the Art Basel fairs in Hong Kong and Basel itself?
Marc Spiegler: Art Basel in Miami Beach was conceived in the late nineties as the second of the Art Basel fairs. The idea was to launch a presence in the United States, long the strongest art market in the world. But Art Basel also saw in Miami a gateway to Latin America. Another reason for choosing Miami Beach at the time was its location and climate – it’s a place where people can go to the beach in December to relax and have fun. None of which is contradictory to being a great place for discovering art.

In what ways has Art Basel in Miami Beach changed its profile over the years?
Spiegler: Originally, the fair was also intended as a crossover from the art world to the broader creative class of design, fashion and music. At the beginning, a lot of galleries assumed it would be best to show flashy pop-oriented art in Miami Beach. Now they realise it’s a place where you have to have high-quality works to succeed.

For somebody who is new to collecting art, what is the best way to approach a fair like Art Basel in Miami Beach?
Spiegler: You don’t have to be an art buyer to get something out of the fair. There is the Film series, for example, and there is the Conversations series. Whenever someone says to me “I don’t like contemporary art,” I challenge them to go to our fairs with an open mind, spend a few hours and see if truly nothing excites them.

But how do you avoid being overwhelmed by the fair and the sheer volume of art that there is to see at the fair?
Spiegler: It’s always good to do research ahead of time. We have an app that includes thousands of artworks that will be coming to the show, and while it is good to have a plan, it is also good, and important, to get lost. Here's the beauty of the Miami Beach show: you can go to the fair for a couple of hours, then head outside to the Botanical Garden and have lunch in the sun and go back inside for a few more hours.

Would you say that the city of Miami itself has changed through this boost to the art scene?
Spiegler: To a degree, in that the fair has helped to transform Miami. Great museums have been established since we came, such as the Pérez Art Museum, built by the architects of Herzog & de Meuron. This year, during Art Basel in Miami Beach, the Institute of Contemporary Art will open its new space in the middle of the Design District. Miami Beach has changed a lot, and for the better. When the fair came here, the city was going through a difficult time. It had a tough reputation. Now many collectors enjoy spending time here throughout the year.

What do you personally like best about being in Miami?
Spiegler: Besides meeting lots of inspiring artists, gallerists and museum directors from all over the world who visit the fair, I love to be outside and in the water. Recently, I had a 7 a.m. meeting with Craig Robins, who is the owner of Design Miami and also the founder of the Design District. I was on a paddleboard and he was in a kayak. That’s a very Miami-style way of doing business.

Marc Spiegler

The 49-year-old art business executive began his career as a writer for publications such as ARTnews and New York Magazine. Chicago-born Spiegler was appointed Global Director of Art Basel in 2012. Art Basel in Miami has grown into a million-dollar business for the city and has been a welcome shot in the arm for the hotel and gastronomy sectors as well as the art scene in the city. BMW is an official partner of Art Basel.