MIAMI - Art Basel. The history of this prestigious event and the artists involved are almost legendary in the minds of art lovers everywhere; a space where the newest innovations in the art world are available for public viewing and private consumption. Miami Beach generally brings about a different image entirely.

For me, the image is one heavily influenced by television, pop culture and idyllic beachfront scenery, so I was apprehensive of what this juxtaposition of fine art and a notorious party scene would produce when Sotheby’s Institute sent over seventy of us art business students to explore the most talked about art fair in America.

Art Business students from the Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York visit Miami during Art Basel.

We stepped off the plane in the humid airport, shedding our New York layers of clothing in the warm Florida sun, and were immediately immersed in the most vibrant art scene I have ever encountered – the land of the big, the bold and the shiny.

For this one week in December, Miami Beach is completely taken over by a myriad of special exhibitions, satellite fairs and tens of thousands of people flocking to see the newest and most dynamic work in the contemporary art sphere. Art Basel Miami Beach is the main attraction where we were surrounded by, and occasionally lost in, the most amazingly diverse showing of art that I have ever had the privilege to see.  With powerhouse galleries such as Gagosian, David Zwirner, and Hirschl & Adler in the same space as established and emerging galleries from all over the world, this fair cumulatively housed an immense collection of what was presented as the most important contemporary art. As my classmates and I walked through the seemingly endless rows of internationally known gallerists and artist works, and I realized that I was amidst the very artworks and professionals that inspired me to come to the Art Business program in the first place. There was palpable tension between participants as deals were brokered, and a high level of excitement from onlookers encountering artists and artworks for the first time. For those of us lucky enough to be present, it was a riveting example of the goings-on at the heart of the art business world. 

Sarah Shelburne, a first year Art Business student at Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Although the main attraction of the week was the bustling mecca of Art Basel Miami Beach, I was most impressed by the caliber of the surrounding art establishments. The incredible collected works of the local art museums and private collections serve as the heart of the Miami art scene long after the tents and partitions have been taken down on the beach and the gallerists returned to their far away cities. It was in viewing these collections that I began to see more wholly the potential of the art market’s presence in Miami. Individual collections such as those owned by the Rubell and de la Cruz families and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse not only demonstrated savvy collecting for the current market, but more importantly, each presented an individual taste set and personality through the choices in artwork and presentation.

One aspect of the Miami art scene that I was not expecting, but happily surprised by, was the vibrantly fresh Wynwood Walls, an outdoor setting for curated street art. Upon reflection it makes sense to have this fresh medium taking permanent residence in the city that strives to exhibit the most current and relevant aspects of the art world. That eagerness to reflect the present is the force that both connects and drives the institutions and installations. This realization enabled us to reflect more critically on what each gallery brought to display, and how a ballerina performance piece and a sculpture of an inflatable red lobster actually together reflect the reality of the art market.

Installation view from Art Basel Miami Beach 2014.

The art that populated Miami Beach during this week fit perfectly into the spirit of the vibrant city – it was big, it was neon, it was shiny, and it pushed the envelope of what is expected of art and art fairs alike. The week allowed my classmates and I to explore our own distinctive tastes by visiting the vast array of art fairs and events along the beach, while also allowing us to widen our contemporary understanding. There was no better environment for us to solidify our enthusiasm, and deepen our understanding of this world, than in one of the most contemporary venues in America.


Sarah Shelburne is a first year Art Business student at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York City. She is from Albuquerque, New Mexico and plans to further explore the art market opportunities in New York upon earning her degree.

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