How to Basel: Art Basel Miami Beach

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Art Basel Miami Beach-and all the hoopla that surrounds it-is hands-down the most important art event in the United States. The world’s most sophisticated art cognoscenti descend upon the city, a flurry of satellite fairs pop up, and Miami’s most exclusive locales get into the vibe, hosting a slew of Art Basel-themed events, openings, lounges, and exhibitions. It is almost impossible to even begin to understand how to navigate the fair, which is comprised of more than 220 leading art galleries from USA, Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Asia, exhibiting 20th and 21st century artworks by more than 2,000 artists.

That is just the main fair.

In its seventh incarnation, Art Basel Miami Beach has inspired an enormous slew of more than 20 satellite fairs, such as Art Asia, Aqua Art Miami, Art Miami, Bridge Art Fair, Design Miami/, Photo Miami, PULSE Miami, NADA Art Fair, Scope Miami, Sea Fair, and others.

Whether a seasoned veteran or a first timer, it can help to have a cheat sheet to assist in navigating the best the week has to offer. Take our advice, and you won’t be lost in the shuffle of sub-par exhibits and overcrowded locales. But the one thing to keep in mind is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what is art to one may be inexplicable to another. So while we aren’t here to tell you what type of art to enjoy, we can help you enjoy seeing it.

 As for actually viewing the art, the only way to actually get to see everything that you intend to is to break Miami down into districts.

First things first? The main fair. Art Basel Miami Beach

Getting access is easy-just pick up a $35 ticket and you are in. But securing access to the VIP opening can prove to be a tad trickier. The main show premieres to a select crowd of invited guests on Wednesday, December 3, while the main fair opens on the 4th. The more serious collectors get access to the space first, starting early morning, with various entrance times awarded throughout the day based on level of VIP-ness. The official vernissage opens at 5 p.m., but even then, don’t count on getting past the gate without a golden (or in this year’s case, pink and blue) ticket. These are not for sale, and even the most esteemed concierges will not be able to finagle wannabes access. Noel Lanzas, Ritz-Carlton South Beach’s Art Ambassador and all-around Art Basel expert (Lanzas spends months preparing for the fair, creating a “Basel Bible” in order to provide guests with the ideal personalized itineraries), explains that only serious collectors are invited. “This is strictly enforced by Art Basel,” he says. “There is no way to work around that. Those hoping to gain access have to prove that they are a collector, with letters from various galleries and such.” The galleries who present at the fair are awarded only three or four passes to vernissage each, to be handed out to their best clients. In years past, some of the most coveted artworks were sold during the opening event, but the sheer number of pieces on display guarantees that there will still be amazing finds left the next day when the fair opens to the public. If having to wait absolutely turns your stomach, we recommend getting in touch with one of the galleries showcasing at the fair and trying to sweet talk-or buy-your way to VIP status.

Following the opening, a very select invited few will make their way to the Forge for Haute Living’s annual post-vernissage dinner, which takes place in the private wine cellar.

The festival does its best to make navigating the fair as easy as possible. ABMB is broken down into categories: Art Galleries (leading galleries from around the world exhibiting various works); Art Kabinett (small curated exhibitions, shown in a separate space within the exhibitor’s booth); Art Nova (galleries representing two to three of their artists with new works, often fresh from the studio); Art Supernova (20 galleries presenting recent works by their emerging artists); Art Positions (20 young galleries displaying programs in shipping containers converted to public art spaces, beachfront at Collins Park); Art Video Lounge (curated program of contemporary video art, presented in the Botanical Garden); Art Projects (public art projects in Lummus Park and Island Garden on Watson Island); and Art Perform (daily performances by internationally renowned artists). To weed through the offerings, pick up the public program at the Convention Center; it details all of the lounges, performances, breakfasts, visits, receptions, conversations, events, and more.

ArtNexus, one of the fair’s partners, will host guided tours of the Convention Center, which is home to Galleries, Kabinett, Nova, and Supernova. Qualified art critics and historians will help groups develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of some of the best works presented. The tour lasts one hour and surveys 30-plus pieces of art. And the fair wouldn’t leave anything to chance; the website goes so far as recommending area restaurants, including the likes of Casa Tua, The Forge, and Pacific Time. Opened specifically for the fair, Rest Café at the Pelican hotel on Ocean Drive will be operated by Art Basel Miami Beach’s Art Café team. If you have not yet made your reservations, check in with the concierge at your hotel immediately-the area’s top concierges booked out the best restaurants long before their rooms even sold out. The Ritz-Carlton’s Lanzas began preparing back in June, reserving tables under ghost names for his guests.

As for actually viewing the art, the only way to actually get to see everything that you intend to is to break Miami down into districts. Plan on spending one day at the Convention Center and in the Botanical Garden. Another day should be dedicated to the Wynwood, one to the Design District, and one to the hotels, many of which house their own exhibitions. This includes the Ritz-Carlton, one of the city’s only two art hotels, thanks to its multi-million dollar art collection on permanent loan from Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts. Ms. Lowenstein happens to be one of the principle owners of the hotel and is also a respected gallerist. The hotel will offer periodic art tours of its collection, which will be enhanced by exhibitions from local artists, including that of Fran Steinmark and Lanzas, who doubles as an artist.

The city’s other art hotel, the Sagamore, will be the home to a spectacular, 150-ton sphinx sand sculpture, created by Swiss artist Olaf Breuning. He will also create an absurdist wall mural in the lobby, and tours will also be offered of the hotel’s permanent art collection, which includes works in various mediums, from photography to sculpture to video art.

While appreciating the thousands of works over the weekend, it is easy for eyes to become strained. It is best to plan your itinerary based not only on area, but also on genre. “I would start with some abstract,” suggests Lanzas. “Then go into some photography, which is more focal, then go into sculptures, then go back to square one, so that way, your eyes are not completely frozen from looking at too much art.”

The Fringe Fairs

In years past, many of the satellite fairs were spread throughout the Design District and Wynwood, making traveling, parking, and navigating a complete nightmare. Combine this with the fact that there are some seedy neighborhoods on the outskirts of the art district, and it really was a recipe for disaster. This year, the fairs wised up, thanks in part to the efforts of Midtown Miami. From December 3 to 7, the area will be home to an unprecedented eight fairs, all consolidated in a convenient, safe, pseudo art district, complete with ample parking. The Midtown Miami complex will effectively change the way visitors navigate the art scene, creating a new centralized hub. Just minutes from the main fair via the Julia Tuttle Causeway, Midtown will offer shuttle busses to the Convention Center in conjunction with all of the area’s fairs.

One of the most talked-about fairs in this art haven is Scope Miami, the original emerging art fair (Scope launched the same year as Art Basel Miami Beach). VIPs will have an opportunity to experience the “Art Fair as Resource” vibe that Scope prides itself on during an exclusive First View on Wednesday, December 3 from 10a.m. to 12 p.m., while the launch of the third Collector Mentorship Auction (which provides beginning collectors with networking and educational opportunities) will take place later the same day.

Art Asia, the first Asian contemporary art fair in Miami, has joined forces with Scope, creating a dynamic partnership. “Working together, we can introduce collectors to new and provocative Asian artists and Asian galleries to American and European collectors,” explains Alexis Hubshman, president of Scope Art Fairs. A VIP preview party for Art Asia will take place at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental on December 3 at 7 p.m., while the main exhibition will open in Midtown on the 4th.

Nearby, Red Dot Fair will feature 40 galleries from across the Western Hemisphere, while Bridge Art Fair will present one of their two Miami fairs in Midtown. (Bridge Miami Beach, which is located at the Catalina Hotel, allows visitors to browse through 60 rooms that are devoid of the typical hotel furnishings and filled with innovative contemporary works.)

The Art Photo Expo Miami (which took place last year in the Sagamore) is going to be one of the hautest stops in town. The second-annual In Fashion Photo exhibit will showcase more than 250 works of photographic art from more than 35 of the leading icons in fashion photography. It will also feature an unprecedented Naomi Campbell Retrospective, featuring shots from the leading fashion photographers. The grand opening of the exhibition-which will be attended by Ms. Campbell and David LaChapelle-is certainly one of the most coveted invites of the entire week. Midtown is also the site for Art Miami, Pedestriart, and Green Art Fair.

PULSE Miami, in the SoHo Studios in the Wynwood, not too far from Midtown, will host an array of ambitious programs and instillations, including the second-annual GEISAI Miami. Already garnering buzz is Lincoln Shatz’s Esquire’s Portrait of the 21st Century, featuring generative portraits of the likes of George Clooney and Marc Jacobs. This massive video installation was created in Shatz’s Cube, a 10-foot by 10-foot sculpture portrait environment fitted with 24 cameras that showcased at PULSE 2007.

Just minutes from Wynwood, the Design District is also home to Design Miami/, which can be considered a sister fair to Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel in Switzerland. It is more than an art fair; Design Miami/ is a design showcase that presents highly curated instillations and talks. It also presents an annual “Designer of the Year” award, with this year’s honor going to brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana. (See our Q&A with the brothers on the back page.) Those with a VIP access card to Design Miami/ are not only guaranteed entry to Design Miami/’s vernissage, but are also given access to ABMB’s vernissage and other exclusive events, such as the Wednesday night reception at the Bass Museum of Art, Thursday’s reception at MAM, and Sunday’s Brunch at Fairchild Tropical Garden.

Smaller exhibitions will be taking place around virtually every corner throughout the city. This includes Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, an exhibit by Haute Living photographer Craig Denis, taking place at ECO Studio Gallery in 55th Street Station, as well as the popular NADA Art Fair at the Ice Palace.

The Lounges

With the fair being such an overwhelming experience-and no doubt exhausting-across the city, a number of high-end locales have set up camp, offering weary travelers a bit of respite from the masses. The most exclusive of these is the Cartier Dôme, located across from the Convention Center in Miami Beach Botanical Garden. The Art Collector’s Lounge is housed in remarkable geodesic dome, specially created for Art Basel Miami Beach. During the day, guests can rest with a fine glass of Champagne and assorted treats, while at night, the Dôme transforms into a center of the A-list action. In the Convention Center, the Art Collectors Lounge is reserved for those with VIP access.

The Events

Ah, the events. Really, the tour de force of Art Basel Miami Beach, the reason why so many people flock to the strip of sand every year. Because while the art is no doubt first class, there is no other art fair in the world that can compete with Miami Beach’s social scene.

This year, the events kick off a full two-days before the Convention Center opens its doors to the VIP crowd on Wednesday. Monday night, Haute Living will host a private cocktail reception on Star Island that will showcase a sampling of The Art Inspired by Burning Man, a limited edition bound photo collection retrospective of the desert extravaganza, benefiting Burning Man Arts Foundation.

Tuesday, Gary Nader Fine Art, the largest and most important fine art gallery in South Florida, is hosting an extremely exclusive dinner party in celebration of the exhibit opening for a group show of modern and contemporary art masters. Last year’s affair drew some of the fair’s most high-profile attendees, including Tom Wolfe. Also on Tuesday, Emeshel will host an exclusive evening unveiling of her celebrated new perfume line. The evening will be sponsored in part by Haute Living.

Wednesday revives the annual Master’s Mystery Art Show at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. The private cocktail reception displays various 6-inch by 9-inch works, for sale for $50, with proceeds benefitting the Master of Arts program at FIU. The pieces could have been created by a famous artist, a local painter, a celebrity (past years included works by the likes of Madonna and Andy Garcia; confirmed for this year is Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Jon Secada, Patti Labelle, and more), or a student at FIU; the creator’s identity is only revealed after the piece is purchased. The evening will present 1,500 works, and those not lucky enough to snag an invite will be able to peruse the collection in the following days, when it opens up to the public.

The events continue pretty much non-stop through the week, from Bellini brunches at the Regent Bal Harbour in honor of the renowned artists of the hotel’s spectacular art collection, to the spectacular-and spectacularly exclusive-MAM Ball at the Miami Art Museum. With the amount of alcohol imbibed during Art Basel, it’s almost a wonder that art goers are able to even discern good art from bad. Or, maybe it just explains how some works garner such high prices. In all, the week is a fabulous celebration of all forms of the arts. If you don’t get to see it all, just remember: there is always next year.

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