norman miller writer and photographer
norman miller writer and photographer norman miller writer and photographer norman miller writer and photographer norman miller writer and photographer

Christie's International Real Estate

Contemporary art is a tried-and-tested way of transforming a home but how about a whole city? Step forward Miami – a one-time beacon of glitzy beach-focused hedonism now become one of the world's premier contemporary art destinations. 

Things kickstarted two decades back with Art Miami - a fledgeling art fair that saw pioneering dealers including Fredric Snitzer, Gary Nader, Dora Valdes Fauli, Jorge Sori and Virginia Miller using art spaces to bring new life to areas like Coral Gables. Today, the fair is a major landmark in the US art calendar, with one recent year's event attracting 8000 collectors, curators, artists, connoisseurs, and designers for its launch night, and 55,000 visitors over a week.

Design Miami, meanwhile, weighed into the local art fair scene in 2005, and quickly became arguably the world's leading showcase for museum-quality 20th and 21st century furniture and other decor objets under the banner of 'collectible design'.      

The game-changer was the 2002 arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach, a transatlantic winter offshoot of the prestigious art fair held in Switzerland each June. This cultural extravaganza is the most important art show in the US, bringing over 250 key global galleries and dealers plus major collectors to Miami each December. Its ripples, however, spread through the city year round. “Every gallery and institution plans their best shows during Art Basel,” notes Terence Riley, former director of the Miami Art Museum,  “But they generally stay up for months afterwards. It’s a time to see international, museum-quality art.”
Prestige art fairs plus the corresponding influx of cultured high-spenders has proved the catalyst for Miami's cultural makeover. “Art Basel revived Miami,” says Rick Moeser of Christie's International Real Estate, “It encouraged new developments and the restoration of historical properties.”

Take Wynwood. In the last decade, empty spaces and cheap rents in this former industrial district have attracted around 70 galleries, from alternative spots like the tiny Spinello with its 'street cool' focus on graffiti and graphic artists to international names like Emmanuel Perrotin, an offshoot of the renowned Paris gallery, housed in a former refrigerator warehouse. Wynwood's 'Second Saturday' evening gallery walk has become a monthly Miami must-do, meanwhile, with hundreds of happy aesthetes taking in the latest exhibitions while refuelling at the gourmet food carts clustered by the outdoor street art showcase Wynwood Walls.

Wynwood is also home to two of the major private collections that are a USP of the Miami artscape - the Rubell Collection with its ever-expanding overview of the post-Warhol scene, and the world-class collection of modern photography, video, installation and sculpture on show at the Margulies Warehouse. Just to the south, meanwhile, philanthropist Ella Cisneros's CIFO includes a globally-renowned Latin American collection, while a few blocks north the De La Cruz Collection is a jewel of the Design District.

Like Wynwood, the Design District is a barometer of the power of contemporary art at work in Miami. Over the last decade, the coolness quotient of this area of 18 Midtown blocks has risen steadily, transforming it  from the epitome of urban decay to a globally-renowed confluence of chic art and luxe design, where dozens of galleries mingle with high-end showrooms for the likes of Vitra and outlets for Louboutin, Yamamoto, Hermes and Dior.

Crucially, many of the collectors behind Miami's superb private galleries - Martin Margulies, Rosa de la Cruz, Don and Mera Rubell - are also in the property business, and therefore hyper-aware of the synergies between a vibrant art community and neighbourhood desirability. “Contemporary art is the new glamour” is how de la Cruz put it in the New York Times in 2008, and as well as her eponymous gallery, de la Cruz has provided free space in vacant offices and shops where young artists can make new work and small galleries – such as her low-key but influential Moore Space – can show it.

Though Wynwood and the Design District hog the present-day spotlight, other areas began the trend.  Miami-born developer Craig Robins and his company DACRA led the way with the late 1980s sprucing of South Beach's Deco gems, followed by similar image-bolstering around Lincoln Road using a tried-and-tested method – buy up rundown buildings then invite in the creative set to change the neighbourhood vibe. And while small cutting edge galleries may have begun the process, a major venue has finished it with the 2011 opening of Frank Gehry's New World Symphony building as the grand icing on the Lincoln Road cake.   

The completion in 2006 of the $470m Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in downtown Miami served as another centrepiece for growth spurred by culture, kickstarting redevelopment of a nearby 56-acre rail yard and industrial area which had previously lain desolate for years.

Such arts-led regeneration hugely improves real estate as well as the cultural estate, with condos around the Design District now commanding over $400 per square foot, almost double their 2007 level. And while Miami's art hotspots have shown the most spectacular gains, rises have spread across the city as a whole -  in the 12 months ending April 2012, the average price per square foot of a Miami home rose from $154 to $166 (8%), and for condos from $214 to $252 (18%). 

Latin American influences have played a central role in the renaissance of a city commentators have dubbed the art capital of Latin America on US soil. A plethora of local galleries focus year-round on artists from the region while exhibitors at Art Basel Miami Beach often set out their stalls with top work from Latin America. Leading Paris-based dealer Chantal Crousel went so far as to say Latin American collectors were “the reason we come to this fair”. It's a strategy that works, with important collectors such as Argentina's Juan Vergez and Patricia Pearson-Vergez frequent attendees at the December fairs, along with buyers from other boom economies in the region such as Brazil.   

Miami's new-found prestige as a cultural powerhouse is reflected in the prices commanded by the art it sells. Taking Latin American work as an example, star offerings at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2010 included a canvas by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco for $200,000, prints by Puerto Rico-based duo Allora & Calzadilla at $70,000, and pieces by Brazilian Vik Muniz with price tags of $150,000. Miami's historic legacy as a hotbed of all-things Cuban was exemplified by the $3m sticker on late Cuban painter Wifredo Lam's 'Les Fiances' at Miami gallery Cernuda Arte.

Again, property money has followed art money. “It's no coincidence that record numbers of internationals have been purchasing real estate at the same time that Miami has been rapidly developing as a world-class cultural centre,” says Ron Shuffield, President of prime local realtors Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell (EWM). “International buyers now represent almost 40% of every Miami home and condo sale.”  In 2009, 17% of international buyers in the Miami area were from Venezuela alone.

Its two decade transformation has seen contemporary art spread throughout Miami, woven into the very fabric of the city. The streets of Wynwood, for example, have become a globally-renowned hotspot for world-class graffiti work, complementing the brightly-coloured Pop Art pieces of Brazilian street artist Romero Britto which have become familiar landmarks on the city streets since his arrival in 1988. 

Even garages have become a quirky part of the Miami art scene, with the edifice at 1111 Lincoln Road now one of the hippest venues for events during Art Basel/Art Miami. This is no ordinary garage, mind you, having been designed by A-list architects Herzog & de Meuron, complementing others in the city created by the likes of Zaha Hadid, Enrique Norten and Arquitonica. Even parking your car in Miami now comes with a sprinkling of creative stardust!

'Art hotels' have become another unique part of Miami's cultural renaissance. The Sagamore and The Betsy present regular exhibitions by rising stars, while the W South Beach not only hosts a string of events during Art Basel and Art Miami but also boasts a $40m art collection including works by Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Following the Miami trend, the W has also successfully hitched a property wagon to its glitzy visual arts allure, selling nearly $300m worth of condo-hotel residences since 2009.  

If you wanted a final sign of how much contemporary art has become part of Miami's DNA head along to the city's newest major sports arena. The Marlins Stadium comes adorned with works by Joan Miro, Roy Lichtenstein and Larry River among others, while an eye-popping 74-foot high sculpture by multimedia artist Red Grooms lights up the left field with giant pink flamingos and leaping fish every time one of the Marlins' baseball stars slugs a homer.

Miami isn't resting on its contemporary art laurels though. A dramatic new Herzog & de Meuron-designed pavilion is rising on Biscayne Bay to provide a new expanded home for the Miami Art Museum, set to open in autumn 2013. Built on land provided by the City of Miami, this new cultural beacon has been funded by a combination of the ordinary citizens of Miami-Dade county ($100m of bond funding) and wealthy art patrons including an individual donation of $35m by leading Latin American art collector Jorge M Perez which bagged him the naming rights.

The Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) will be an anchor of a new Museum Park on the shoreline, a glorious oceanside 29 acres that will also include sculpture-dotted public gardens - yet another marker in Miami's reinvention as America's seaside art paradise.


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