Art Basel Rules the Art Market. Is That a Good Thing for Art?


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This week, what seems like the entire art industry, every luxury company, and every celebrity or status-seeker available will be traveling to south Florida for the 18th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, the final stop on the annual art-market calendar—as well as a champagne-soaked playground for the rich and famous. And while people love to complain about this particular fair, Art Basel matters to the art business in an enormous, almost existential way.

Since its founding in 1970, Art Basel has evolved from a bespoke trade fair for German-speaking art collectors near its namesake Swiss city into a commercial Colossus linking Europe, Asia, and the Americas via three supersized fairs. Each event doesn't only draw buyers and sellers of art who regularly transact in the millions of dollars, or even just the broader constellation of curators, journalists, and art lovers. It has also become a beacon for almost anyone hoping to ride the cultural wave that is contemporary art and its clientele, from major corporations to micro-influencers. And in its wake, literally hundreds of other art fairs have risen up around the world hoping to do something similar.

But have Art Basel and its competitors done more to help the art world, or to hurt it? How have trade fairs warped the way we value artists and their work? And if big fairs have become a big business, why are so many starting to either branch out... or die off? Just in time for Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin weighs in on the past, present, and future of art fairs.

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