When the owners of the venerable Swiss art show Art Basel first brought a stateside version of the show to Miami Beach in 2002, they were gambling on whether the contemporary art community would support a somewhat novel, tropical frontier. Not only was the show an immediate success, in the past 10 years Art Basel Miami Beach has become arguably the most influential show in the Americas—framing a ritualistic week on the calendar of every top collector, curator, museum director, and general art aficionado. The show has swelled to include more than 260 of the most prestigious international galleries, featuring an increasingly ambitious program that now boasts outdoor and public video, sculpture, and performance, spread all over town.

Art Basel Miami Beach also helped spawn a cultural renaissance of sorts across South Florida: Blue-chip collectors opened private spaces, a raft of public institutions have been commissioned or revitalized (the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and the Miami Science Museum are all currently building new homes), and the Wynwood Arts District and Design District blossomed with cutting-edge galleries, furniture boutiques, and artist studios.

“It was an exciting decade—not only for the show but also for Miami Beach,” offers Annette Schönholzer, who, along with Marc Spiegler, has served as codirector of the show since 2008. “The city evolved from being the winter destination for art lovers into a year-round cultural hot spot.”

The show itself, held within the Miami Beach Convention Center, has matured as well. “The quality of the galleries exhibiting has increased significantly and so has the diversity,” adds Spiegler. “People have come to take the show quite seriously, saving great material and planning their booths all year long. Also, the Miami Beach edition was originally established in part as a link between North and South America; over the past few years we have seen this dream come to fruition in terms of our exhibitors, their artists, and their collectors.” (Last year alone there were a record 26 Latin American exhibitors.)

Spiegler and Schönholzer are also taking the world’s continued financial struggles in stride. “The art market is undoubtedly tied to the ebb and flow of the global economic conditions, and that has its effects, especially on the younger galleries and emerging artists,” says Spiegler. “On the other hand, there are pockets that are still buzzing, and Latin America is one of them. All over the world, artists are constantly emerging and being strongly pursued by curators and collectors. At the same time, many galleries in New York, Paris, and London are expanding, and the number of people interested in art and buying art is increasing over time. Everywhere you look, you see ambition, not retreat.”

Indeed, with the immense proliferation of art fairs, it is no secret that dealers now often do as much as half of their annual business at the various shows; considering this, the Art Basel behemoth is poised to dominate the contemporary art world, now operating shows on three continents after buying Art HK last year. “With the launch of Art Basel’s Hong Kong art show this May, we will be able to provide collectors and dealers with unparalleled access to the global art world,” says Schönholzer. “We are in the advantageous position of being able to apply more than 40 years of experience and know-how to a new market, which makes for an exciting and dynamic future in the Asia and Asia-Pacific region.”

The Miami Beach show, which runs this year from December 6 through 9, promises to be more exhilarating than ever. The most creative and audacious section is often Art Nova, where the rules require dealers to feature only work created in the past three years by just two or three artists. Art Positions, though, was considered a highlight last year by many attendees and also consistently pushes the limits, showcasing work from young and emerging artists (the 2011 standout being Paulo Nazareth’s eyepopping Banana Market/Art Market, a green Volkswagen bus filled with bananas). The Art Kabinett sector tends to be thematically wide-ranging, offering a platform for immense curatorial diversity, including leitmotif group exhibitions, art historical showcases, and solo shows for rising stars. These are presented in delineated spaces within participant’s booths, which are spread throughout the convention center.

Art Public, a collection of outdoor sculptures and performances, is easily the most visible sector and is not to be missed. Returning this December is guest curator Christine Y. Kim, an associate curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who will once again be responsible for transforming Collins Park with a transcendent series of site-specific installations, sculptures, and performances. “We are delighted to be continuing our successful partnership with the Bass Museum of Art for Art Public,” says Schönholzer, referring to the collaboration that was inaugurated last year with the Miami institution that backs up to the park. Kim seemed to focus on the highly conceptual and performative in 2011, which included the much-talked-about performance by Theaster Gates and the Black Monks of Mississippi.

Another exciting partnership that also returns in December is Art Video, a series of public art film screenings on the 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall of the New World Center, designed by Frank Gehry. “We look forward to further developing these relationships,” Spiegler says. “This December we will certainly see the continuing of the evolution of the Miami Beach show.”

For those planning to attend Art Basel Miami Beach this year, make sure to break away from the confines of the Convention Center and hit the legendary private collections and increasingly prominent art spaces that show some of the most avant-garde work around. Much of Miami’s stock of private collections is located in the Wynwood neighborhood, just north of downtown Miami. This revitalized community now boasts the Rubell Family Collection, which is housed in a former DEA drug warehouse and features a list of who’s who in the art world, including Jeff Koons, Kara Walker, and Cindy Sherman. Also of particular interest is World Class Boxing, the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl, which houses their eclectic treasures in a former boxing gym.

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