Minutes after Art Basel Miami Beach Chair Norman Braman announced he was stepping down, we ran into the old family friend walking the fair, with his wife Irma. “He surprised everyone but me,” she told us, of his decision. A longtime philanthropist and collector, Norman Braman was originally known for the Braman Cadillac logos adorning many Miami motors, after the war, when many in the Beach didn’t buy German.
“Always advance your collection, even if you have to spend more,” he told the prominent developer at my side. A friend of Braman’s daughter in Prep School, he had just cashed out and was art shopping, shopping, shopping — or simply shifting his assets, depending on your viewpoint. “Get the best you can find and then you’re going to be alright,” Braman continued. “Just apply the same principle that you did for real estate. Try to get the best of the artist. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s Picasso. Not everything he did was great. And you need somebody to give you some advice.”
Art Basel is Braman’s baby. He convinced the Swiss art fair to open a second outpost in a town whose main claim to the arts, in those days, was the Morris Lapidus Neo-baroque Fountainbleau Hotel.
“It’s time for me to move on,” he told a room of journalists. “We have a new facility. Everything is new and it’s time for a new chair.” The Miami Beach Convention Center had just completed a renovation adding 260,000 sq. feet and walls of glass, making it an airy 1,500,000 sq. ft. structure. Next there will be an 800-room Convention Center hotel.
This year, according to Art Basel Director of the Americas, Noah Horowitz there will be guests from over 70 countries and 250 cultural institutions from around the world.
Art Basel Miami’s success emboldened Basel to expand, first to Asia in 2011, then, Hong Kong in 2013, Art Basel Global Director Marc Spiegler told the room. They also have a presence in Bogota, Kabul and Buenos Aires, as well as in digital development.
“This fair continues to be a place that converts buyers into collectors, and collectors into patrons of the arts,” said Spiegler. Emerging markets may attract attention, but, “the reality is this, there is no continent or region that is adding more collectors to the art world every year than the Americas. In that sense, this is the fair where galleries meet new collectors, people who are coming into the game quickly and are converted into working with their galleries and with their artists.”
And that is the cornerstone of Art Basel Miami Beach, the brainchild of a local billionaire that transformed his town into an international art hub and Basel into an international brand.