By Sandra Schulman
Miami had one main art museum and a few scattered galleries in the 1990s. A scrappy group called Artifacts held court underground, but most artists left town for dealers in New York City or Los Angeles.
I should know, as I was the arts writer for the Sun-Sentinel and XS Magazine for a decade during those years. It was a colorful scene but strictly small-time. The convention center was undersized and dated.
That all began to change in 2002 when some determined collectors, developers and others movers and shakers convinced the honchos at monster art fair Art Basel, held annually in Basel, Switzerland, to bring their high-end brand to Miami. The fair brought in the global art world and the jet-setting crowd that attends it.
A new documentary feature film, Miami Basel: Art’s Winter Playground, explores the economic, social and cultural impact that Art Basel has had on Miami. The documentary, which premiered last month at the Miami Film Festival, begins by examining where Miami’s art scene was in the late 1980s and early 1990s and follows the trajectory to Art Basel Miami Beach’s debut in 2002.
Director Aaron Glickman went to the source, interviewing the key players that made the fair happen (with one glaring omission — Don and Mera Rubell.) Those who do tell the tale include developer/art collector Jorge Perez, billionaire car dealer Norman Braman, developer of Dacra Craig Robins, and artists including Kiki Valdez and Oliver Sanchez of Swampspace.
It gives a quick overview of what was going on in the ’80s — the crime, the drugs, the lack of culture and the ’90s – Versace, The Bee Gees, the small Miami Art Museum downtown, then cuts to the glitz.
Art Basel Miami brought in Latin Americans, Europeans and eventually the Asian collectors with deep pockets. It blew open the scene, soon spawning dozens of fairs and spurring mega-collectors to open their own private museum-size collections – the De La Cruz Collection, Martin Margulies, and Rubell Family Collection. The film cuts to the 2017 Miami Basel week, which showcased the new convention center and all the satellite events and fairs around it.
Glickman explained what made him want to make this film.
“At the time, I had been working in South Florida media for a decade and had experienced Miami Basel from that perspective. Additionally, I had been documenting the burgeoning Miami art scene and bearing witness to how the arts were reshaping my community. I basically wanted to tell that story,” he said in an email interview.
“And when the idea manifested itself into reality with the help of my friend Joshua Liemer of Vista Worldlink agreeing to come on as executive producer, and my other friend Jordan Levy agreeing to come in from Los Angeles to shoot it, I knew that I had to drive forward and get this film made.”
As for the curators, architects, developers, journalists and collectors he interviews, he found them first through the people that buy the art.
“I started with the collectors,” Glickman says. “Rosa de la Cruz, Craig Robins, Dennis and Debra Scholl, Norman Braman, Jorge Perez. For many years, I’ve had a great relationship with Bonnie Clearwater, currently director of NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and I knew she had to be involved.
“Since YoungArts has been so vital to Miami since its inception in the early ’80s, I knew that I wanted to cover their extensive Miami Basel presence, so I asked Sarah Arison to be involved. Many of the artists, curators and museum directors came on board from there,” he wrote. “And still other key people came into the mix through the organic process of telling the story — Sam Keller (former director of Art Basel) and artists Michele Oka Doner and Frank Stella, for instance. Everything just kind of fell into place.”
Miami is still undergoing enormous changes with massive condo developments and entire neighborhoods being born out of the art scene. Wynwood is a prime example, as developer preservationist Tony Goldman curated a few warehouses with murals and a café to create Wynwood Walls, an area that soon attracted 1 million visitors a year and is now the site of an explosive arts district. Litte River is the newest one, where artists have decamped to open studios and galleries in warehouses.
The large spaces, abundance of parking and convenient location have now attracted traveling art shows such as the recent Banksy exhibit, and the SouthFlorida Art Center, with its massive $100 million endowment made possible from selling a single building on South Beach’s Lincoln Road, will be moving its new home there by 2020.
The downside – which the film doesn’t delve into – is the urban nightmare created by this huge influx. Highways and causeways can’t handle the traffic and mass transportation is lagging. Prices are sky-high almost everywhere, squeezing out artists and middle class alike.
As for what Glickman wants viewers to take away from this, he says:
“In the end, we told an urban development story about how art transformed Miami with Art Basel acting as the tipping point,” he said. “I hope that people around the world have the opportunity to see our film and understand the power of art, and its importance to the health of a community.”
For more information about the film, visit www.baselmovie.com.