Robin Pogrebin asked ArtBasel’s management about the VIP Vernissage attendance and they confirmed that the numbers were off a substantial 9.4%. That’s pretty big news. With further reports of hotels slashing their rates and vacancies, the visitor numbers for the public access to the fair may be well off the past numbers too.
Pogrebin summarized the welter of causes assumed to account for the drop:
The reason, many agreed, had to do with several factors: fear of the Zika virus, a tentativeness in the art market around the presidential election and too many art fairs. But the result was a general sense of relief — turmoil in the world has winnowed out some of the dabblers, and purchases are more deliberative.
Nonetheless, reported sales remained relatively strong—though with private sales there is no reliable information to go by—which bolster’s Pogrebin’s point about the art market. It remains dependent upon a relatively small group of buyers. Does that mean the art market is better off when the less committed don’t show up? Or do buyers need the audience to validate their purchases?
The emphasis at ArtBasel Miami Beach has always been more in expanding the broader culture’s awareness of Contemporary art than maximizing sales. That may be one reason the fair in Basel itself remains the premier art fair in the world. Access is limited.
But ArtBasel is a business and its revenue is dependent upon providing its exhibitors with real buyers. No matter how successful the company has been in creating a hugely successful yearly event that benefits Miami’s economy more than any other single constituent, the fair’s health depends upon the exhibitors’ success. If ArtBasel has invested in growing the public’s awareness of Contemporary art and its importance in contemporary culture, it needs to reap some of the return for that. (And you can see the fair trying to do that with its Cities initiative which builds upon Miami’s success by trying to launch a consulting business.)
For now, like the art market itself, a pullback in fair attendees and a diminution in the frenzy in Miami might offer the event an opportunity to shift gears.
At Art Basel Miami Beach, Fewer Dabblers but Deliberative Sales (The New York Times)