Latin America is no longer a geographical description: it’s a cultural phenomenon. Never does the city of Miami feel more a part of the south of the great American landmass as when the art crowd hits town for the powerhouse fair Art Basel Miami Beach. And not only for the mothership, as ABMB has now become, but also for the plethora of her acolytes: at least a dozen satellite fairs will pop up in Miami next week to take advantage of the fairground atmosphere that visits the city each December.
The influx of both talent and commercial acumen from central and South America is greater this year than ever, according to Latitude: Platform for Brazilian Art Galleries Abroad, a project supported by the Brazilian government and the Association of Brazilian Art Galleries. No fewer than 22 galleries from Brazil alone, they report, are showing across six fairs: 13 at Art Basel Miami Beach and nine others at Context, Scope, Art Miami, Untitled and the Brazil Art Fair, including some that have never before ventured beyond their own borders.
The Brazilian art scene amounts virtually to a craze at the moment. It is also, incidentally – interpret this how you will – the only national art market in which all the bestsellers are female: viz Lygia Clark, whose “Bicho Invertebrado” (1960) fetched $1.9m at Phillips New York this month. Numbers like this should put a gleam in the eye of her galleries at Miami – DAN, from São Paulo, and London-based Alison Jacques.
Other recent Brazilian sales also imply good news. Two works by the late Brazilian Sérgio de Camargo sold for over $1m at Sotheby’s New York last week, including a record for the artist brought home by “Untitled (Relief No 21/52)” (1964) at $2.2m, almost quadruple its estimate. New York’s Mary-Anne Martin gallery should also have high hopes for the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, whose “Women reaching for the Moon” (1946), recently went for $1.4m. And results from last month’s ArtBo fair in Bogotá were cheering too.
The wealth of Latin American talent assembled in Miami has a geographical rationale, of course – the city sits at a significant crossroads. And, despite their tigerish economies, there is still in the southern countries of the continent a cultural insecurity: coming to the US to buy and sell, to see and be seen, is still an important validation for dealers, artists and collectors alike. Miami has its magic. Now celebrating its 11th edition, ABMB is no longer seen as the baby sister of its European senior sibling, but as a distinctive phenomenon – in fact, the two are utterly different in feel and mood.
And, as grown-up fairs do, it has had a powerful effect on its hinterland. Not only the eager satellites but also some superb public shows are in prospect: Tracey Emin at the excellent Miami MoCA, Ai Weiwei at the new Pérez Museum, fine displays at the Rubell Family Collection and other privately funded venues. Not to mention installations on the beach, the obligatory art bar, and much more.
Which goes to show that, despite the chatter of Spanish and Portuguese voices among the artworks on display in Miami next week, the rest of the world is hardly under-represented. Among the grand total of 253 galleries showing across six sections at ABMB, newcomers and regulars include Asian and European galleries as counterpoint to the (roughly) 50 per cent from the Americas.
The linguistic bridges lure galleries from Barcelona and Madrid, taking advantage of the Hispanic mood. Others simply do what they are good at – Galerie 1900-2000 from Paris brings Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia; Chemould from Mumbai brings Shilpa Gupta and Jitish Kallat. From as far afield as Oslo and Beijing, Athens and Buenos Aires, geography goes into the great melting pot of the art souk.
Tom Wolfe’s 2012 novel Back to Blood, which mirrors “class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption and ambition in Miami, the city where America’s future has arrived first”, contains a hilarious-but-vicious portrait of the super-rich vying for first entry to the city’s premier art fair. It’s hardly a pretty picture, but it’s an unforgettable insight into the passion and madness that drives this burgeoning phenomenon. According to a recent article by my colleague Georgina Adam, in 1970 there were three main art fairs in existence (Basel, Art Actuel and Cologne). By 2005 there were 68 and in 2011 there were 189. Who knows what 2014 will bring.
Art Basel Miami Beach runs December 5-8, artbasel.com
Get alerts on Arts when a new story is published