Miami’s billion-dollar art fair becomes platform for selling everything

By Reuters

Dec 04, 2014 08:22 PM EST

Miami is readying for the 13th installment of Art Basel Miami Beach, among the world' most important contemporary art fairs, a five-day extravaganza that has become a magnet for high-end real estate and luxury brands to align themselves with the artistic set to attract the world's biggest spenders.

The annual fair, which officially opens Thursday, is one of three similarly named events also held in Switzerland and Hong Kong. It has mushroomed in recent years, adding at least two dozen local satellite fairs that have helped shift Miami's image away from bikini beach party frolicking toward more edgy cultural sophistication.

The New York Times is hosting a luxury conference with speakers including designer Diane von Furstenberg along with the chief executives of watchmaker Audemars Piguet and Neiman Marcus Group. Tickets for the sold-out, three-day event at the posh Mandarin Oriental went for $4,250.

Art Basel organizers, once leery of the carpet baggers, now embrace the activity on its fringes.

"Anyone who is a serious member of the creative class who's in town is going to come into our fair. We're getting a lot of request from CEOs and CMOs (chief marketing officers) who've never come to the fair," said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler.

This year more than 1,000 galleries and exhibitors from around globe are participating, as well as numerous designers, architects and street artists. Celebrity art enthusiasts attending include actor Leonardo DiCaprio, rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and auto/aerospace entrepreneur Elon Musk.

J.P. Morgan will host international clients at a private party, dubbed "An Evening of Warhol," at the Raleigh penthouse with Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol Museum.


"Given our high net worth clientele and J.P. Morgan's longtime focus on art collecting, Miami Art Week has become our Super Bowl for connecting with clients and building our brand," said Tony Baumer, south Florida manager for J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

The trendy design-oriented W Hotels group is holding its own 1980s pop art exhibition at its South Beach property, featuring works by Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The week is an especially heady time for Miami's booming real estate industry. Developers have proposed nearly 300 condo towers along south Florida's shores, according to CondoVultures, a Miami-based real estate consulting firm.

Many of them are signature projects by some of the world's most celebrated architects. Pritzker Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid will be on hand to break ground for her first tower in the Western Hemisphere.

Guests at a preview of a new Miami Beach project, 1 Hotel & Homes, are being lured by a farm-to-table brunch and Tesla chauffeur service by hosts Barry Sternlicht, founder and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, and New York real estate magnate Richard LeFrak

Not everyone attending has bulging wallets. Hipster street artists sipped free tequila cocktails from a Don Julio mobile cocktail truck while admiring newly painted walls at one satellite event Wednesday night.

"Whoever you are, corporate or independent graffiti artist, this is the place to be this week. It's all about visibility," said New York street artist Anthony Arias.

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