Art Basel

Global Economic Engine

By Hope Gainer

From Switzerland to Miami Beach, Art Basel Co-Founding Mastermind Lorenzo Rudolf Moves to Transform  the Culture Scene In Singapore

Art Basel is a phenomenon that has transformed culture in South Florida. In less than a decade, Miami has blossomed from a cultural wasteland to an epicenter of the art world, thanks largely to the presence of the leading international contemporary art fair founded in Basel, Switzerland, in 1970. Global art collectors have descended upon Miami, and now, the phenomenon is working to transform the art scene in Asia, with Art Stage Singapore.

The Renaissance of Global Art Fairs
Art fairs have become an economic engine for host cities internationally. Art Basel in Miami Beach attracts visitors from around the world, pumping an estimated $500 million into the local economy. It has influenced 2,270 new art-related businesses and more than 8,300 jobs. For example, The Wynwood Arts District, founded the first year of Art Basel Miami Beach, is home to approximately 30 galleries. The Design District has become a luxury lifestyle art and design hub. And, the Perez Art Museum Miami designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron opened last December, bringing the Magic City a world-class art institution.


Lorenzo & Maria Elena Rudolf

How did the conservative Swiss town of Basel choose Miami Beach as its sister for its renowned art fair?  It was the brainchild of a Swiss man, Lorenzo Rudolf, the former Director of Art Basel in his home country.  Rudolf took the helm of Art Basel in 1991, transforming the modest event into a template for today’s art fairs.  He incorporated a strict selection process for galleries and added corporate sponsors to help underwrite expenses and allow the fair to grow.

Art was always a passion for Lorenzo, who took a turn from his legal background to become the second director of Art Basel in Switzerland. In the mid 1990s, he realized the U.S. art market was going to overcome the European market. He made a strategic decision then to launch a top Art Basel branch in America. His city selection for the fair was Miami Beach. The international art world declared him crazy to put an art fair on a ‘white spot’ of the global art map. But to Lorenzo, it was the perfect place. He felt the New York galleries would prevent European competitors from entering their territory. While Miami, on the other hand, was the ideal climate in the winter, a destination attracting wealthy New Yorkers, with unique art deco architecture and a big pedestrian zone perfect for a more socially oriented fair. It was the right place for upcoming trends like the crossover of art with design, architecture, video, music and fashion, and was the ideal location for building a bridge to
integrate Latin America.

Art Basel Develops in Asia
Fast-forward to 2011. Entrepreneurial Rudolf headed to the Far East and launched his new baby, Art Stage Singapore. Like Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Stage Singapore has been pivotal in putting Singapore on the global art map. When Art Basel Miami Beach closes the art calendar year annually in December, Art Stage Singapore launches it with their event late January. The 2015 edition will be January 22–25.

The Singapore government is investing in making the city a leading hub of contemporary art, funding its museums and art institutions, including the much anticipated National Gallery, South East Asia’s biggest flagship museum. In addition to establishing a major art infrastructure in Singapore, an additional $245 million has been set aside for programming and the integration of arts into mainstream education.


Art Stage Singapore 2014–Entrance Arc by Joko Dwi Avianto

This year, Art Stage Singapore attracted 46,000 visitors. including top collectors from around the world, and 160 galleries. The top sale in 2014 was a painting that went for $1.2 million.
You have an environment that can make Singapore something like Switzerland. There’s a reason why Switzerland is one of the big centers of the art market. Not only because we Swiss like art but, also because it’s a financial place with this open, multicultural society,” said Rudolf.

Singapore itself is an amazing destination and has one of the highest qualities of life in Asia. It is politically and socially stable and, reportedly, has virtually no corruption.

According to the proverb, behind every strong man is a strong woman. It’s true…and I’m proud of it,” said Rudolf. “My wife, Maria Elena, and I are a wonderful team.” Coincidentally, Lorenzo met Maria Elena, an exotic Latina from Ecuador, in Switzerland at an art event. Today, this power art couple maintains residences in Lugano, Switzerland, Miami and Singapore. Maria Elena Rudolf is a partner in Art Stage Singapore with her husband and oversees the VIP programs. Their son Pablo also works with them, holding down the fort in Singapore while Lorenzo and Maria Elena jet around the world to various art fairs and visits to artists and collectors to keep abreast of their global art community.

I love the art world. Even if it is a global world, everything is based on personal bilateral relations. You never face an impersonal corporate entity. It is always a human being, and mostly an interesting one, whether it be a collector, a curator, a gallery owner, a private dealer, an artist, a museum director, an auctioneer, a journalist or an art adviser,”
Rudolf said.

When asked about the next international hotspot for art, Rudolf hinted, “I’m no prophet, but I think one of the next hotspots will be Central Asia: the region of the ex-Soviet Republics like Azerbajdzjan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia. Also, let’s not forget an entire untapped continent, artistically very rich, but without any infrastructure: Africa. Contemporary art is a global language, understood everywhere, independent of all the different languages. That’s why it’s growing into a global phenomenon.”

For more information about the Singapore based art fair, visit:

Art Basel