A Preview Of Art Miami, As The City’s Famous ‘Art Week’ Kicks Off

I have been a contemporary art fan since high school, by which I mostly mean that I used to go to shows with my boyfriend and make out in the bathroom and behind installations. Look, in Fresno, California the museum of modern art was two tumbleweeds and a crooked sheriff short of a ghost town. And, after I moved, they closed it down, so my sex patronage was really making a difference in a small town art scene. But, I digress…

Those who follow contemporary art for less kissing-related reasons know ’tis the season for art in Miami. Art Miami (@artmiamifairs) runs from December 5-10, and Art Basel, the US incarnation of the famous Swiss show, hits Miami Beach from Dec. 7-10. The city is overrun with movie stars, deep pockets, and models galore — it’s a full on scene.

Known around the world as one of the country’s leading contemporary and modern art fairs, Art Miami attracts over 85,000 guests from varied backgrounds — all clamoring to view the finest investment quality photography, paintings, drawings, prints, video art, and sculpture from the 20th and 21st century. Modern masters and blue chip contemporary artists are on exhibit, as well as the most sought-after living artists. This year, the main fair will offer over 960 artists from more than 140 galleries worldwide.

Just as the helipads of South Beach started to get crowded, festival director, Nick Kornioff, sat down to chat with us about Art Miami and its sister fairs: CONTEXT Art Miami and Aqua Art Miami.

Can you just tell me a little bit about the history of Art Miami?

Art Miami is the original contemporary art fair in Miami. It was first located on Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center where Art Basel now takes place. This is our 28th edition. In 2007, we actually ran two editions. One during our regular dates the month of January at the convention center and then we moved to align ourselves with Art Week in Miami in the month of December. Since 2007, we have been located in midtown Wynwood Arts District.

Is the new location then a permanent location moving forward?

Well, we have a long-term lease there. That still will remain.

You have a real commitment then to the city and that area.

We do. We have been on the city side for the last 10 years. Most of the satellite fairs and Art Basel are on the beach. We’re big supporters of being on the city side. We love the reorganization of what’s happening to downtown Miami. We’re located right on Biscayne Bay next to Museum Park with the PAMM Art Museum, the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which is only about six years old, and the new Frost Science Museum, which just opened. We’re very close to the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center.

We’re really in the hub of downtown. The Venetian Causeway really provides tremendous access, and we are nestled in between the Venetian and the MacArthur Causeways. The Venetian provides direct access to mid-Miami Beach and Art Basel directly at the convention center.


Yeah. Our new location has a tremendous number of hotels located right next to a large six story parking garage with over 4000 parking spaces. When we launched our show back in 2007, we really helped develop the neighborhood of Wynwood and midtown. The construction grew around our show. We were regularly having 80,000 people attend.

The developers really built up around what we were doing every December. We got to the point where we needed to find a new home. It took three years. We landed on our feet in the last undeveloped, most important piece of real estate in Miami on the waterfront.

Art Miami isn’t just one singular thing, though, because it has two sister festivals or sister events?

Correct. Right. There are two additional fairs that happen during Art Week alongside Art Miami. One of the shows is called CONTEXT Art Miami. That happens right on the same property as Art Miami. Then the other is Aqua Art Miami, which happens at the historic art deco hotel The Aqua Hotel off of Collins Avenue. That’s a 47-room hotel in which we remove all the furniture and we install very young, emerging, cutting edge artwork.

The difference is with CONTEXT — it’s really for gallerists that are working both with emerging and mid-career cutting edge and living artists only.

Really, Aqua becomes an incubator for CONTEXT. CONTEXT is the next great wave of young, emergent, and mid-career cutting edge artists and galleries that represent them. It’s living artists only. In Art Miami you have more of established gallery programs and established artist programs. Both living and non-living artists are represented.

In Art Miami you can find Warhol, Picasso, Lichenstein, at the highest level and you can also find some of the great living artists like Koons, Kusama, and many others. Those galleries are galleries that have participated in some of the greatest fairs that are running around the world from the Armory Show in New York to Art Basel.

In Art Basel, we exchange dealers. Many times, if they don’t get into Art Basel then they apply to us and vice versa. Also, Design Miami. We have dealers that have been in Design Basel Miami. Even Frieze Masters and the AVA Show in New York. It’s quite the combination of dealers with very powerful presentation. The quality of their exhibits attract the top collectors from around the world when they’re in Miami.

What kind of people attend? With the numbers that you’re talking about it’s obviously a varied group of people.

Right. The reality is that not everyone is a buyer. Certainly, we market directly with a collaborative effort with our dealers to the top art collectors in the world, the curators, the museum professionals, the private art advisors, the corporate art advisors, interior decorators and designers. Miami has just become such a hub for the arts.

It’s a very well-heeled audience but certainly there is the element of people that want to learn and get to know the artists of our time and the artists of past times. They attend. It’s a variety. There’s no question about it.

Wow. It’s obviously curated to be the best that it can possibly be…

Exactly. Exactly.

Which is good because that means when you make it in you’ve made it into something that’s based on the work being spectacular rather than tradition or cronyism. It speaks more highly for being included.

That’s exactly correct. The art market is a market that is like every other market. It’s driven by confidence. Confidence is only created by the quality of the artwork and the reputation of the galleries that are representing it. It’s not an easy fair to get into and it’s one that’s extremely well-respected, globally, amongst its peers.

If a person has never been to Art Miami how would you describe the experience? What’s it like to attend?

Well, coincidentally I can tell you that I was hired many years ago as the facility manager right out of college for the Miami Beach Convention Center. The first show that I ever witnessed in my life on my first day at work was Art Miami. It was an amazing experience. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just this unique cultural experience. It’s got a lot of ambience to it and style and sophistication to it that other fairs don’t.

We really like to do our own thing as far as design is concerned and the amenities that we provide our guests. We treat all the collectors, even at the highest level, and the general attendee basically in the same way. There’s something for everyone. Not just from the standpoint of art to buy but different experiences throughout the fair, whether it’s food and beverage, whether it’s parking. It’s really a full day experience.

Art can be very intimidating for people who aren’t knowledgeable about it. It’s a fair that’s extremely accessible. The work is approachable. The dealers are approachable. They really want to educate collectors or potential collectors and they want to create long-term relationships.

It’s a complete experience. It’s obviously very visual. The art does its job and makes the mind think. It creates conversation. There are plenty of areas to relax and just sit and take in the art and enjoy it. We have one gallery coming in from Montreal that’s bringing $100 million worth of art just in their stand. They’ve taken 2000 square feet, which for some galleries aren’t even that large. They’re representing everything from Picasso to Lynn Chadwick to Henry Moore and then some of the younger, hotter, blue chip contemporary artists that are receiving success.

There’s really a wide range. One of our biggest compliments that we always get from our guests we do some surveying at the show. We say, “Hello, what did you like best about the show? What did you like least about the show?” The one comment that always comes back about what they like the least is the fact that we close too early. That’s always nice to hear.

That’s excellent. What artists are you excited to feature this year? I know there’s probably hundreds.

For me, that’s like asking who is my favorite child? I’m fortunate enough that I say I have the greatest art collection one time a year. That’s in Miami. I do have my favorites. I try not to be vocal about them, though, to be honest. I have to be impartial.

Who would you say other people would be excited about seeing? I guess you’ve named a lot of names.

Right. Everyone loves the greats. Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein. One of my favorites I’ll give you is James Rosenquist, who recently passed away. I had the fortune of meeting and spending time with James and his work has always been exciting to me. Now you’re really starting to see things that have been held back for a while come out into the marketplace.

I’m a big fan of Kusama’s work. I’m also a big fan of more minimalist works from certain artists. The show has every artist that is being touted at auction or at other publications or museum shows.

I love how hard it is to categorize specifically because there’s so much.

The depth and diversity of the show are amazing. For example, we have Lino Tagliapietra, who is the maestro of glass from Murano. Every other great glass artist, whether it’s Chihuly or Dante Marioni, has trained with Lino or has worked with Lino. He’s really set the standard. He’s in his eighties. He’s still creating amazing works of blown glass that are just incredible.

We’ve had tribal work in the show before, which a lot of people think art is just about paintings but the three-dimensional work is really, really important to the connoisseurs that collect art. We have that. We have new media and artists like Peter Sarkisian, who is considered the godfather of video art. His work is shown and exhibited in our fair.