Art Basel Miami Beach 2021: A Carnivale for Creators

For nearly 20 years I have enjoyed attending Art Basel Miami Beach. The annual art fair–which began in 2002 as a satellite to the brand’s main fair in Basel, Switzerland–has become a convening of the world’s most creative people. While buying and selling contemporary art remains a focal point of the fair, the last decade has welcomed a juggernaut of splashy high fashion runway shows, intimate musical performances by rap, reggaeton, and pop stars, and unique collaborations and one-off retail pop-ups that make the trip to sunny South Beach a must for any creative. 



And while all these things descended on Miami Beach during the first week of December like many times before, there was something different happening for the first time at ABMB 2021. This year, NFTs and blockchain enabled technologies made their nascent plunge onto the scene at ABMB. Various organizations and companies hosted what amounted to a parallel fair for the crypto community. These creators and entrepreneurs spent their days discussing the metaverse, resale royalties, and blockchain’s usefulness in tracking provenance, while the evenings were filled with raves, afterhours, and electronic music–lots of it. 

The convergence of these two creative worlds–the art and crypto worlds–created some misplaced anxiety for many ABMB veterans: “She paid what for a jpeg?” “What am I going to do with a digital yacht, and why would I pay $650,000 for it?” And the phrase uttered most often by the naysayers in the 305 this week? “I just don’t get it.” 

But for most artists and collectors that I spoke with at the fair, this new medium of expression (and commerce) represents an exciting, inclusive, and welcomed shift in the art market for three primary reasons. 



NFTs empowers artists by providing them with a resale royalty for the first time in the United States. While dozens of other countries offer a resale royalty, or droit de suite, artists in the United States have not been so lucky. A resale royalty allows artists to receive a fee every time their work is resold on the secondary market. For example, an emerging artist might typically sell her work for $5,000, leaving her with $2,500 after her gallery takes the standard 50% fee. If that work resells for $20,000, $50,000, or $2 million, the artist sees nothing from the increased value of that work (with the obvious exception, of course, that the artist’s general profile and market value increases as the price of secondary sales increase). A resale royalty keeps the artist in the economic game, so to speak, as a work matures and resells. Unsuccessful for decades in lobbying Congress for such a right, the smart contract’s award of a resale royalty to artists is a game changer. 


blockchain technology that tracks NFT transactions should eliminate any issues pertaining to provenance and authenticity. Institutional reports suggest that 10-15% of all sales in the art market are counterfeit or inauthentic works. Given the value of the global art market (sales of approximately $50 billion a year), blockchain technology is solving a $5 to $7.5 billion problem on an annual basis. Buyers and collectors can now easily and inexpensively (for free) ensure that they are acquiring the authentic and legitimate work from the artist because blockchain is a transparent ledger that records all transactions, eliminating the need for expensive and time-consuming (and clunky) certificates of authenticity and provenance research. 


the NFT market is not tethered to the historically non-inclusive nature of the art world. While the art world has made extraordinary strides over the past decade in showing and celebrating female artists and artists of color, the usual tropes make it challenging to completely break away from the past. The NFT market, on the other hand, is largely dominated by a younger and more diverse group of creators and collectors, many of whom have celebrated inclusivity as a core value to the market at large. While many new entrants to the art market are often times met with pretense when negotiating with a dealer, NFT creators and marketplaces tend to welcome new collectors (and new money) with open arms because a core tenet of the NFT market is to create community. 


A crowd of fashionable visitors gathers outside the entrance to Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual showcase for contemporary art from around the world.


All of this, however, is to say one thing: Art Basel Miami Beach has become a real Carnivale for creators. Creative directors, painters, sculptors, NFT creators, software engineers, fashion designers, writers, musicians, and DJs have all found a home at the fair, and the interdisciplinary vibe is palpable. Within the first hour of strolling through the Untitled satellite fair on Monday afternoon, I bumped into several clients and friends: the visual artist Daniel Arsham (who has also experimented in a very cool way with an evolving set of NFTs); documentary filmmaker Dennis Scholl; the Armory Executive Director Nicole Berry; University of Miami Dean Greg Levy; fashion designer and entrepreneur Chris Stampd; and Haitian artist Mark Fleuridor, all just before heading to dinner to celebrate feminist artist and icon Judy Chicago with her gallerist, Nina Johnson and others. That potpourri of interactions is what makes Art Basel Miami Beach different than any other art fair, and is why people flock to Miami every December. 

This year’s fair was electric: my favorite moments at the main fair included works by Brazilian painter Zeh Palito and new photographs by Xaviera Simmons. Daniel Arsham’s work with Kohler as well as his own furniture design at Friedman Benda stole the show at Design Miami. And outside the Faena hotel on the sand, the 1-2 punch of Refik Anadol’s Machine Hallucinations–an extraordinary 5-chapter AI inspired work– and Argentine artist Pilar Zeta’s site-specific temple installation showed the world that artists will be artists and will use everything from clay to source code to make work that connects to their audiences. 

For our firm, ABMB has always been an important place to gather with clients. But even that looked different this year. Historically, I would meet with primarily artists and fashion clients in town for the week. I would also meet with other clients who are collectors of contemporary art (even though their day jobs have nothing to do with art). This year, however, I found myself meeting with a wide variety of tech entrepreneurs, NFT creators, and crypto funds; so much so that we decided to throw a party with some clients and friends such as Republic Realm, Decrypt Media and Decrypt Studios, Huobi, Amber Group, Polygon, and Dragonfly Capital. The atmosphere was truly special, and the crowd was even better: a mish-mash of finance, tech, and art people discussing the endless possibilities of the metaverse. 

The next few years for ABMB will be exciting —I know it. By my estimate we’ll see more and more collaboration across platforms, disciplines, mediums, and artists, and many more mixed media pieces that include components of NFT with more traditional forms like sculpture, painting, and film. Whatever the case may be, one thing’s for sure: there’s an uptick in the number and diversity of creatives making Miami their home for a week every December. And that’s a win for everyone. 



by Vivek Jayaram