From six days beginning Dec. 7, art lovers, collectors, gallery owners and artists converged on Miami Beach for the nation's largest art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach. Art Basel Miami is the sister event to Switzerland's Art Basel, the most prestigious art show in the world for the past 38 years. In only six short years, Art Basel Miami Beach has become the nation's top art fair and several Ketchum residents have been making the yearly pilgrimage to expand their art knowledge, collections, business and networking.
"It was overwhelming," said Courtney Gilbert, Sun Valley Center for the Arts curator of visual arts, who attended for the first time. "Visually it was really stimulating. It's hard to put into words. Your eyes get tired because your are looking and looking."
The fair is an important U.S. art show because it brings together a spectrum of cultures and events representing the cutting edge of arts. Art Basel Miami features top international galleries with special exhibitions as well as parties, music, film and architecture and design exhibitions, some of which take place right on the beach. Miami Beach is transformed into one large art extravaganza from its hotel lobbies to the graffiti on the concrete holding walls.
"For my purposes, it's a great way to get ideas for future projects," Gilbert said. "I need to bring in national and international art, so I have to go out of the valley, and this was a great way to see a lot in a small period of time."
Gilbert went to Miami as a guest of Ketchum resident and Sun Valley Center for the Arts board member Jeanne Meyers. Meyers has been an art collector for over 40 years and lives in the valley because of her love of the outdoors but enjoys the distinguished art community the area has cultivated.
"Basel is so much bigger and much more intense than other art fairs," Meyers said. "It is a fabulous way to learn about the world you live in and history. It's filled with bright and weird people."
Meyers said she goes to look for the unknown, and no matter how hard she tries, she cannot see everything. She reads three journals a month and travels to a major city once a month to keep on top of the marketplace.
"The reason I can live in this valley is because The Center brings in all the things that I need in my life," Meyers said.
The Miami show has at least 200 of the leading art galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, and exhibits 20th and 21st century artworks by over 2,000 artists. The galleries are considered the most respected art dealers in the business and offer works by renowned artists and those still making their way to the top.
Several Ketchum art gallery owners attended this year's fair, and have for the past six years that it has been in Miami; several have made the trip to Basel as well. In attendance this year were Frederic Boilox of Frederic Boloix Fine Arts, Barbi Reed of the Anne Reed Gallery, Gail Severn of the Gail Severn Gallery and L'anne Gilman of Gilman Contemporary.
"It's a great educational experience," Severn said. "We touch base with our artists who are there and our contemporaries who have galleries in foreign cities. Lots of artists will rendezvous in Miami. It's also an incredible networking opportunity, and you can do a tremendous amount of business in one location."
As a new gallery owner, Gilman had been to the art fair before, but representing the Anne Reed Gallery. She went this year with the idea that perhaps in the future her gallery might exhibit there.
"It is overwhelming," Gilman said. "But the other part of going is connecting with other artists and dealers. It's good to keep in touch with what is going on outside of our little valley."
The fair also exhibited works from private collections such as the Rubell Family Collection, which was a highlight for not only Gilman, but also several Ketchum attendees. Through South Florida museums and special art collector programs, the fair manages to create very special art encounters.
The Association of International Photography Art Dealers put on its own show at the fair.
"That is a major photography show," Gilman said. "I was just in heaven, especially standing there among unbelievable Weston photographs and contemporary work."
Barbi Reed of the of the Anne Reed Gallery said that it is a great deal to absorb in only a few days, but it is an important to see what is happening nationally and internationally.
"We need to assess everything from 'movements' to such basic knowledge as new framing ideas," Reed said. "This art fair offers an incredible 'buzz' of excitement as you walk amongst booths and down aisles filled with art, hearing a multitude of different languages."
Reed and the Anne Reed Gallery's director Muffet Jones were both left exhausted but very happy at the end of the fair.
The 2008 Art Basel Miami will take place Dec. 4 through 7.