Last week, Art Basel Miami Beach turned twenty. It’s hard to overstate how extremely the once-unlikely Floridian spinoff of the highbrow Swiss art fair has transformed both the global art market and its host city. In the past two decades, countless satellite fairs, pop-ups, and new art stars have come and gone–or thrived, and become institutions in their own right.
Most have been forgottenlike so many blurry nights at the divey cheap hotel bars that used to line Collins Avenue before the arrival of foreign capital power-washed most of Miami Beach’s charming sleaze away along with so much mildew from glitter stucco. But even Russian punk royalty Pussy Riot now appear to be a fixture, orbiting in the fair’s ever-heavier cultural gravity well.
This year’s ABMB was the largest to date, with nearly 300 booths spread across the labyrinthine convention center, and an estimated economic footprint twelve times that of its inaugural edition back in 2002.
Is a larger fair necessarily a better fair? I am typically skeptical of that logic, but this year I found myself so thoroughly impressed that I twice lost track of time wandering its profane/hallowed halls.
There’s a kind of Miami FOMO panic that hits annually when it becomes evident it’s quite literally impossible to see it all. At one point, I realized I had breezed by a perfectly lovely later-career Picasso while power-walking past the secondary market booths to check out the curated sections. I turned around and realized my sisters were actually taking time to really look at the painting and felt a twinge of sadness that it hadn’t occurred to me to do so. The mandate to cover as much territory as possible had overridden aesthetic pleasure—a cruel irony in the art world’s most hedonistic week.