Art Basel lands in Miami Beach

Hotels, building terraces, restaurant entryways and even Biscayne Bay itself will be transformed this week as Art Basel Miami Beach comes ashore with one of its most eccentric contemporary shows yet. Artists, dealers, collectors and art aficionados from around the world are converging on Miami for the December 5-8 fair, one of the biggest of the season. This will be the 12th year that the Swiss art franchise has shown its wares in Miami Beach, transforming the beach resort into a cultural capital for a week. "We have passed the first decade of a cultural movement, winning renown in the country and the world," Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado told AFP. On Wednesday, he inaugurated the Perez Art Museum, a lavish new venue in the center of the city designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. Art Basel's presence since 2002 in Miami Beach, a separate municipality with its own mayor, "contributed to developing other areas of Miami that today are modern cultural capitals," the Cuban-born mayor said. "In terms of tourism, hotel occupancy, art transactions, this week will bring in some $200 million to Miami." Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, who opened the event with a preview for special guests at the Miami Beach Convention Center, said the fair was there to stay, even though the venue is set to undergo a three-year renovation. "We looked at different scenarios," he told the Miami Herald. But considering a Basel fair outside Florida "was an extremist scenario because what we've built in Miami Beach is so strong," Spiegler added. This year's fair will feature sculptures, painting and installations of 258 galleries from 31 countries. During the event, art literally takes over the city's public spaces. Giant colored bears adorn the sidewalk of the Brickell financial district, while four huge bulldogs by Belgian artist William Sweetlove stand proudly on a rooftop terrace of the Miami Children's Museum. Graffiti covers the up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood, central Miami has murals, furniture stores exhibit works by local artists and a huge alligator head made from reclaimed metal floats across the water. For small gallery owners, "this is the week where the work of a whole year is in play, and the most important thing is to bring together that mass of experts and buyers from Europe and cities like New York," said local collector Veronica Induchaga. The fair's sales figures are jealously guarded by gallery operators and organizers. The galleries' main goal is to connect rich collectors with new art forms and living artists who already have an international reputation. "Many of us have learned to appreciate contemporary art and artists who will have a lot to say later on," said a Mexican collector who did not want to give her name, as she examined a $20,000 sculpture with a curator in a showroom.