Nicknamed the “Super Bowl of the art world,” Art Basel is one of the most prestigious art events of the year. Ten of thousands of people flock to the Miami Beach edition of the fair, which has been going strong for more than two decades. Now in its 21st year, the fair takes place from December 8 – 10 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. It plans to bring together 270 exhibitors from 34 countries and territories.
While we look ahead to all of the incredible art we have yet to see, have you ever wondered how it all began?
We’d have to look back to 1970, when Swiss gallerists Trudl Bruckner, Ernst Beyeler and Balz Hilt founded the fair with the goal of connecting collectors, galleries and artists all under one roof. The inaugural show, taking place in Basel, saw more than 16,000 attendees and featured 110 exhibitors from 10 countries.
“From the beginning, the parties involved agreed that the projected Basel art fair would not only be open to gallery owners who represented contemporary artists and sold their works directly, but also to art dealers offering works from the 20th century,” an excerpt on the the fair’s history on www.artbasel.com reads.
In the years that followed, Art Basel would establish itself as the ultimate destination for art enthusiasts. Looking to expand beyond Switzerland, fair organizers looked to the meeting point between North and Latin America: Miami. The city’s multicultural scene and warm climate, especially during the winter, certainly commanded the attention.
But that alone didn’t bring Art Basel to the Magic City. While the beach likely played a role, it was actually the help of several local figures in the art world, from Mera and Don Rubell of the Rubell Museum to Martin Margulies of The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, to bring the fair over to Miami (and the U.S.) for the first time.
Art Basel Miami Beach would debut in 2002, with its first edition featuring 160 galleries from 23 countries, and attracting 30,000 visitors. Compare that to the 80,000 visitors the fair currently receives.
Today, Art Basel is sited in Basel, Hong Kong, Paris and Miami Beach, showcasing the highest quality of modern and contemporary art. Each show has its own identity, defined by its host city and region, which is reflected in its galleries, artworks presented and programming. Although it’s crazy to see how far things have come, it’s nice to see that the art fair has stayed true to its roots.