Showtime All the Time

  • Work by Joaquín Torres García
  • Work (detail) by Joaquín Torres García
  • Photo by Michael Richter
    Work by Tony Cragg Photo by Michael Richter
  • Photo by Michael Richter
    Work (detail) by Tony Cragg Photo by Michael Richter
  • Photo by Edouard Fraipont
    Work by Sandra Cinto Photo by Edouard Fraipont
  • Work by Lygia Clark
  • Work (detail) by Lygia Clark
  • Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images
    Held in December at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Art Basel Miami Beach annually draws some 50,000 people from around the world. Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images
  • The residential Porsche Design Tower (shown here) is scheduled for completion in 2016.
  • The residential Porsche Design Tower (shown here) is scheduled for completion in 2016.
  • The residential Porsche Design Tower (shown here) is scheduled for completion in 2016.
  • Photo by Michael Weber
    The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort (shown here) opened in 2012. Photo by Michael Weber
  • Photo by Michael Weber
    The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort (shown here) opened in 2012. Photo by Michael Weber
  • Guilherme Torres’s Mangue Groove (shown here) was at Design Miami in December.
  • Photo by Martha Cooper
    Wynwood Walls showcases murals by Ryan McGinness (shown here) Photo by Martha Cooper
  • Photo by Sara Boni
    Wynwood Walls showcases murals by Shepard Fairey (shown here) Photo by Sara Boni
  • Photo by Iwan Baan
    The Pérez Art Museum (shown here) opened in December Photo by Iwan Baan
  • Photo by Iwan Baan
    The Pérez Art Museum (shown here) opened in December Photo by Iwan Baan
  • Photo by Emilio Collavino
    In 2011 Miami’s New World Symphony moved into its Frank Gehry–designed concert hall Photo by Emilio Collavino
  • Photo by Michael Richter
  • Photo by Michael Richter
  • Photo by Edouard Fraipont
  • Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images
  • Photo by Michael Weber
  • Photo by Michael Weber
  • Photo by Martha Cooper
  • Photo by Sara Boni
  • Photo by Iwan Baan
  • Photo by Iwan Baan
  • Photo by Emilio Collavino
<< Back to Robb Report, February 2014

As Art Basel approached its fourth decade, it had become the world’s premier show for modern and contemporary works. The fair, which launched in 1970 and is held each June in its namesake Swiss town, was drawing about 50,000 visitors from around the world to view and purchase art displayed by some 300 galleries. The event was so successful that organizers decided to launch a second Art Basel—in winter, in a different part of the world.

In stepped a cadre of extremely wealthy and influential art collectors from Miami. They included Norman Braman, a car-dealership magnate and a former owner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, and Craig Robins, the CEO of the real estate development company Dacra, which was largely responsible for revitalizing Miami’s South Beach District in the 1990s by restoring the neighborhood’s art deco landmarks. Why not stage an Art Basel in Miami? Braman, Robins, and others were tired of their city being labeled as God’s Waiting Room or the Catskills South and of its reputation as a flashy and unrefined destination where crime and pastels were rampant and culture was scarce. If these art collectors could bring Basel to the beach, it could change Miami’s image forever and signal its status as a hub of sophistication.

The logistics favored Miami. The city offered an abundance of hotel rooms, a convention center with 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, direct flights from virtually every major city, and warm winter weather and wide beaches that lured Americans and Europeans from thousands of miles away. 

The Swiss were sold on Miami, and so every December since 2002 (the initial show was scheduled for 2001 but was canceled because of 9/11), the city has hosted what has become the most breathlessly awaited art fair in the New World. The four-day event is circled on the calendar of every major curator, museum director, and collector. Like the original Art Basel, the Miami Beach version draws some 50,000 visitors

with a program of cutting-edge artwork and glitzy jet-set parties. “Art Basel generates a great deal of excitement,” says the Miami resident and renowned photographer Bob Adelman. “It’s the collision of glamour, intellect, and money. It’s a great place to bring your yacht.”

For Braman, who serves as the chairman of the fair’s host committee and owns an art collection that includes Picassos, Calders, and Warhols, Art Basel Miami Beach is a more enjoyable venture than the Eagles ever were. He calls the fair “the Super Bowl of art,” but that is where the favorable comparisons between art and football end for the 81-year-old Braman, who was once a water boy for the Eagles before he became a billionaire and, in 1985, bought the team. (He sold the Eagles in 1994, when he was already living in Miami.) “It is much easier to own an art collection than a professional football team,” he says with a laugh. “You don’t have the pressure. Pro football was 365 days a year, lots of sleepless nights. Collecting art is much more pleasant.”

For Robins, a 50-year-old Miami native, the launching of Art Basel Miami Beach has meant more than prestige or the gratitude of local art lovers. It has lent credibility to his company’s reclamation projects. Art and artists have been key components of the strategy he has employed in resuscitating the city’s derelict buildings and giving them new life as boutique hotels and retail shops. These include the buildings in the Miami Design District, a once-abandoned neighborhood that Robins has transformed into a gallery center for contemporary design and art. In December, the district hosts the annual Design Miami fair, which Robins cofounded. The development also includes hip restaurants and some 50 upscale retailers purveying everything from watches to bathroom fixtures.

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