It all started in 1970, when Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner, and Balz Hilt – Swiss art dealers from Basel, Switzerland, organized an art fair showcasing contemporary art. Striving to sell contemporary art, to potential buyers from across Europe, they invited national galleries to help market their platform. Balz Hilt, and Ernst Beyeler were both Swiss dealers which went on to become top dealers in Europe, and under inspiration from Art Cologne, decided to venture into new markets, hopefully to attract new buyers from around the world and further their platform.
The event was a first for the Swiss city, situated close to where Switzerland borders on Germany and France, and better known for its biological, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. A convergence of factors – a modern brand of consumer with more leisure time and buying power, coupled with greater gallery activity and extensive mass media reach, fueled interest in modern art and made Basel a cradle of the art industry.
From the beginning, the fair aimed to attract not just leading art collectors, but also newcomers (“In 1972, New York Times critic Hilton Kramer called the event a ‘mammoth indoor flea market of 20th-century art.’”)1. The early years saw the entry of US dealers targeting overseas buyers, the American economic downturn, the entry of more and more countries and very big collectors, and the bubble in the art market in the 1980s. In the 1990s, with Lorenzo Rudolf at the helm, Art Basel witnessed new initiatives like the Art Video Forum, the participation of top New York galleries, sponsorship by UBS, and the Art Basel website (the earliest official Internet address for an art fair).
By the early 2000s, led by Sam Keller, Art Basel forged on, with its entry into overseas markets, opening in 2002 Miami Beach Art Basel, thus penetrating this confluence of Latin and North American currents,as well as focusing on young artists, and hosting panels on art.
In 2013, under the leadership of Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer, Art Basel launched its first fair in Hong Kong. Half of the galleries which participated came from the Asia-Pacific.
Art Basel is involved in several initiatives to advance the arts. These include BMW Art Journey Award, a travel grant for artists, a Crowdfunding Initiative to marshal support for non-commercial projects in art around the world, and The Art Market, a yearly analysis of the worldwide market for art.
Today, Art Basel has become the central event in contemporary art. It has been described as “Facebook of the Art World” and “the world’s most important family of art shows.”
Art Basel Director Marc Spiegler Group goes beyond this, calling Art Basel “the world’s most important art show.”
Its Miami and Hong Kong shows have become equally important in their respective areas. With Miami attracting a global audience in the December months, and Art Basel Hong Kong, which is a new addition, breaking ground on opening day this year by the sale of Untitled XII (1975) by Willen de Kooning just an hour into the fair.
Having attending Art Basel Miami several years, it should be noted the impact and influence the fair encompasses. In Miami, other top fairs and exhibits showcase popular artwork from the world as well, during Art Week – the several days in December which these fairs run. Scope, Contemporary, Untitled, Aqua and many others all run during art week, attracting tens of thousands of visitors.
Additionally, sites such as Wynwood Walls, has been a popular destination for both visitors and street artists who have depicted their work on the famous walls for many years. The Wynwood area itself is home to many galleries dotted among its numerous street art and murals.
Art Week has many fairs opening Wed, Dec 5th, and goes on until Sunday Dec 9th, though some fairs may start earlier with previews or opening night galas. Check our list of Miami Art Week fairs.