Art Basel is an annual art fair in Basel, Switzerland Seismic world events have wreaked havoc on Miami Beach twice. First, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the art fair’s inaugural edition was postponed for a year. Then, last year, the coronavirus pandemic was to blame, but an online viewing room replaced the live fair.
The fair has grown to become the focal point of a thriving Miami art scene and a larger cultural economy in the years since.
With 253 galleries from 36 countries and territories, Art Basel returns to the Miami Beach Convention Center from Thursday to Saturday; it meets a pent-up demand — you could say the supply chain for a certain kind of prestige fair has been unclogged.
“I think Miami is going to be crazy,” said contemporary art collector and New York-based investor Peter Kahng, who has attended several times and plans to return with his mother and a friend.
Mr. Kahng, along with his parents, Maria and Stephen Kahng, serves on the Blanton Museum of Artboard in Austin, Texas, recalled purchasing a photograph by Danh Vo from the gallery Kurimanzutto at the fair several years ago.
However, he clarified that his attendance was not always for the purpose of making purchases. Mr. Kahng explained, “I go more for relationships and to survey the market.” Seeing the local collector-founded exhibition spaces was also a draw.
Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, predicted a strong turnout this week.
“At the fairs in Europe this fall, Americans were scarce on the ground,” he said, referring to his fair in Basel, Switzerland, which took place in September. “And we expect them all to show up in Miami,” says the narrator.
“Everyone who didn’t go to either one is now regretting it,” Mr. Kahng said, referring to the Basel fair and the October edition of Frieze London. That’s something I keep hearing.”
There are no significant changes to the fair’s format this year.
“We didn’t think it was the right time to reinvent the show,” Mr. Spiegler said, noting that the Meridians section, which features large-scale projects, has been relocated from a convention center ballroom to the main show floor.
Behind the scenes, Noah Horowitz, Art Basel’s director for the Americas, resigned this year and has yet to be replaced; he was in charge of the Miami Beach event.
A recent negative test is required, or visitors can provide proof of vaccination or recent recovery, according to Covid precautions at the fair. There is also a mask requirement for all, which Mr. Spiegler stated would be enforced.
Mr. Spiegler has a personal connection to the subject, as he contracted a mild breakthrough case of Covid in October. He claimed, however, that the smooth implementation of the safety measures at the Basel trade show in September convinced him that “we are on the right track.”
Mr. Spiegler explained, “It taught us two things.” “It is possible to put on a show the way we did it, with extreme caution.” It’s also possible to sell art in those circumstances.”
This year, 43 of the participating galleries are making their first appearance at the fair. Partially by design, the make-up of those dealers has shifted. The fair’s organizers have relaxed some of the requirements for participating dealers, such as the length of time that galleries have been open; there is no longer a minimum gallery age requirement.
Mr. Spiegler explained, “We wanted to reflect society as a whole.” “As a result of Black Lives Matter and other movements, new galleries run by people of color are springing up.”
“A more diverse group of gallery owners than we have had in the past,” Mr. Spiegler said.
“It’s still not diverse enough,” he added, “but we’ve made significant progress.” He mentioned the Afriart Gallery in Kampala, Uganda, as a notable debut.
Pequod Co. of Mexico City, a new gallery to the fair, was founded in February 2020 by Mau Galguera and his wife, Mara Garca Sainz; they began with digital content and opened a physical space in June of that year.
Mr. Galguera said, “This is our first time at an international art fair, and it’s a big deal for us.”
“The new generation of Mexican artists” is the gallery’s focus, he said. Paloma Contreras Lomas, a member of that group, is the focus of the gallery’s solo booth in the Positions section of the fair.
The installation, which was created specifically for the fair, incorporates a variety of media, including video, sculpture, and drawing. Mr. Galguera said Ms. Contreras Lomas’ work, which is heavily influenced by comics, examines “the play between science fiction and reality.”
The Detroit gallery Reyes Finn, which is also making its debut at Art Basel, will dedicate its booth to a solo exhibition of Maya Stovall, who was featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2017 Biennial. “A____ That Defies Gravity, no. 40-49” will be one of her featured neon works (2021).
According to Bridget Finn, a co-founder of the gallery, Ms. Stovall addresses a current hot topic in one of the series on view, which highlights crucial dates in history.
Ms. Finn explained, “There’s a lightness to the medium of neon, no pun intended.” “I think that works for the context of this fair because it balances the seriousness of the topic.”
The trick with galleries that show multiple artists is to get the mix just right.
“Fairs are a great opportunity to do a mash-up,” said Marianne Boesky, a New York-based dealer with two locations in the Chelsea district who has attended every edition of the Miami Beach fair since it began.
Her booth will include well-known artists such as Frank Stella and Jennifer Bartlett and up-and-coming artists such as Jammie Holmes and Michaela Yearwood-Dan.
“I like to have both emerging and established artists,” Ms. Boesky said, “to see the historical threads that bind them together.” “If the new work can stand on its own, it will be elevated.” It feels new if the old work looks good.”
At least three Art Basel galleries — Goodman Gallery, Galerie Lelong & Co., and Mitchell-Innes & Nash — will expand beyond their booths. They’re also launching a series of seasonal pop-up shops in Miami’s Design District, which will open during fair week and run through January.
Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a co-founder of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, said in an email about her 2020 effort, “Since Art Basel Miami Beach was canceled last year, we launched our seasonal Miami space so that we could maintain a foothold; in the city.” This is the first year she’s had seasonal space at the same time as a major fair.
The gallery inside the convention center will feature a number of works, including Jacolby Satterwhite’s “Skeptic’s Allegory” (2020).
The pop-up space includes works by self-taught artists such as Ike Morgan and Billy White and canvases by New York-based painter Eddie Martinez, including “Untitled” (2006).
Mr. Martinez said of the show, which will have around 45 works in total, “I’m mostly self-taught, so it made sense to pair them.”
For the pop-up show, Mr. Martinez will be in Miami. “We’ll see,” he said of attending the Art Basel fair before quickly relenting and saying, “Of course I’ll go.”
He recalled some of the previous years’ discoveries and unexpected juxtapositions in the art-filled hall.
“It’s great to see things that appear out of nowhere,” Mr. Martinez said.
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