One Brazil-Colombia War Don’t Help Art Basel

Everyone agrees that the Colombia tiff-watchers haven’t really made a difference so far. Art Basel, the big art fair that takes place every December in Miami, has seen a bump in buying from wealthy buyers from the Colombian capital since the rough diplomatic dispute broke out last fall. And most of the galleries here that deal in contemporary art can expect the same, say those on the ground.

“We’ve seen growth in Latin America,” Art Basel director Axel Steinberg told me, as he checked in to the local Equinox Hotel, which was recently taken over by art fans. (It is where Gregor Zuckerman, a conceptual artist from Germany, was staging an enormous performance. See below for a photo.) “And we always expect that growth in this part of the world to grow at the fair.”

The message resonated at the Equinox, which sits right next to the bus terminal in Bogotá’s busiest quarter. Sure, businesses in the mall have been hurting, and the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture from the 1950s and 1960s that clogged the surrounding streets is all but gone. Still, foreign tourism and business interests kept growing even as the economy faltered in many parts of the world. Nowhere is that more visible than in Bogotá, which is one of the world’s biggest travel destinations. It is home to three U.S. embassies, and is considered to be a prime regional hub of culture, hospitality and, of course, fashion. (Also, the Colombian economy ranked as the world’s fastest-growing in 2017, with double-digit growth and job creation across all sectors.)

“So we have seen growth, because we have a global presence,” said Mr. Steinberg. “We can bring clients from Miami to Bogotá and make that viable. That’s why we come here to meet with dealers.”

Things are heating up ahead of this year’s event. The Equinox is gearing up to sell art from the 2011 and 2014 editions of Art Basel Miami Beach, which will be featured in the Colombia space at the fair this December.

It already has dozens of prospective buyers lined up, says Michael Bakren, the Equinox’s chief operating officer.

“If anyone doesn’t have a sale next week, they have plenty to sell next week,” he says, referring to that surge of potential buyers.

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