Not long ago, Lisa Dennison, director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, attended a small dinner in honor of Sam Keller. “It was incredible,” she recalls. “Everyone who’s anyone was there–and this guy runs an art fair.” Make that the largest, most important art fair in the country. Keller is the founder of Art Basel Miami Beach, a four-day bash that draws the world’s best contemporary artists, critics, gallerists, and collectors.
“Traditionally, an art fair is held in a convention center,” says Keller, who launched the event in 2002 (it grew out of the 36-year-old Art Basel fair in Switzerland, his home). “We looked at the full experience of an art fair and asked people what they really wanted.”
What they got last year was a multimedia beachfront fiesta: 195 galleries, plus concerts, a video lounge, floats, sculptures, and performance artists dancing in fountains. There were “taste galleries,” featuring food by Yoko Ono and chef Heston Blumenthal; a “gurning” competition (that’s the British sport of making bizarre faces); and a small plane covered, artistically, with Algerian pastry. Ninety American museums brought their boards of directors; 600 galleries applied to show their work, and more than 30,000 visitors showed up. “We have the traditional mediums covered,” says Keller. “My work is to find the new forms–music, film, architecture, design, fashion–related to art, but with a new audience.” Seems he has found it.