Basel Attendance Down But Decent

Art Basel Miami Beach gave itself a clean bill of health Monday, reporting modest declines in attendance and decent sales in the face of a global financial crisis.

“We were happy to see the art market still has a demand for great work,” said Marc Spiegler, co-director of the Swiss-based show held each December at the Miami Beach Convention Center. “A lot of people sold far more than they expected.”

He said the show estimates attendance will barely top 40,000 this year, a 6 percent decline from last year’s estimate of 43,000. Basel organizers have cited that 40,000 figure since the show opened to the public Thursday, and Spiegler said it’s based on ticket sales, complimentary passes, media attendance, and other factors.

Basel does not track sales, but many dealers at the country’s largest contemporary arts show reported selling less than in previous years. But many also said they thought the Miami Beach show would go worse than it did, given recent stock market crashes and widespread economic problems.

“Everyone was expecting a bloodbath,” said Adam Sheffer, a partner at New York’s Cheim & Read gallery, which saw sales drop about 60 percent from last year at Basel. “They thought no one would show up, and nothing would sell. Luckily that wasn’t the case.”

Hotel bookings also got a last-minute boost as room rates dropped, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. While occupancy declined slightly countywide this year for Basel week — from 83 percent to 80 percent — it held steady at 84 percent in Basel’s home base: Miami Beach.

That was a big improvement from a bureau survey about two weeks ago that saw Beach hotels posting occupancy rates in the mid-70s. Facing weaker bookings, hotels in recent weeks dropped rules requiring four- and five-night stays during Basel — costly minimums that drew the ire of fair organizers and exhibitors in previous years.

“Obviously the hotels were seeing the lay of the land, and they got a little more aggressive with discounted rates,” said Rolando Aedo, the bureau’s senior vice president for marketing. He speculated the cheaper Beach rates drew more Basel goers from mainland hotels, where rooms typically rent for less.

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