Art Basel and Miami Art Week 2012

We never need an excuse to go to Miami—at least in winter. We love the architecture and the atmosphere of South Beach, the rejuvenation of neighborhoods like the Design District and Wynwood, and of course, the restaurants. As discussed in the other Miami blogs from this trip, we sampled some of each on this trip.

But, while we typically travel to Miami at least once every couple years, it is typically an adjunct to Thanksgiving with family. This year, we decided to break with Thanksgiving tradition and visit Miami a couple weeks later for a very different type of celebration—a celebration of contemporary art.

After years of reading and hearing from friends about Art Basel Miami Beach, we decided it was time to see for ourselves. But for all the talk of Art Basel, we were scarcely prepared for the huge number and wide range of events of the citywide Art Week festival that has formed around Art Basel.


Art Basel Miami BeachThe Main Tent

Art Basel Miami Beach, an offshoot of the annual Basel Switzerland event, is by far, the largest, highest end contemporary art festival in the country. Its scale is immense. The Miami Beach Convention Center is filled to the rafters with booths sponsored by hundreds of the world’s leading galleries, each offering the creme de la creme of contemporary art–everything from classic Matises and Picassos to the most avant garde installations. The prices match the glitz. Although few dealers were gauche enough to actually post their prices, many pieces were priced at several hundreds of thousands of dollars and a few, well into the millions. One of the Picassos we dared to ask about, for example, was offered for $8 million.

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The variety was astounding: from oil paintings and metal sculptures to blown glass and mixed media. The quality, from what we could judge was consistently high and a number of pieces were downright fun.

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Art Week Festivities

But, while the convention center was certainly the premier show venue, it was, by no means, the only one. Art Week venues spanned the city, from Coral Gables and the Zoo, through North Miami Beach. Most of the off-site activities, however, were in South Beach, midtown, and especially the cities two up-and-coming art neighborhoods, the Design District, and especially Wynwood.

Art Basel has already spawned more than two dozen (and growing), smaller satellite fairs that bask in the image and the audiences attracted to the big show. Some specialize in areas including Asian art, African art, prints, photography and so forth. Others are broader—and much larger. There were, for example, several large tents (especially in Wynwood), such as those sponsored by Context, Select, Scope and the Miami Project. Each of these venues housed dozens, or even hundreds of additional galleries, each showing a wide range of contemporary art, some of which was more edgy, and most, lower priced than that in the Convention Center.

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In addition, several Miami Beach hotels reserved blocks of rooms in which smaller galleries and individual artists from around the country showed their own, typically more varied and lower priced works. And, in the spirit of the democratization of art, work from new generations of street artists was broadly represented.

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Meanwhile, some Miami Beach hotels, such as Lords South Beach, turned itself into a work of art. Others, like the SLS, are almost pieces of art themselves.

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This, however, was just the beginning. There were salons, lectures and symposia. Dozens of Miami area museums (such as the Bass and the Lowe) and large galleries (including Gary Nader and Art Fusion) had their own shows. So did many less conventional art venues, such as Fairchild Botanic Garden and even the Cherry Blossom Learning Center preschool. There were even exhibits in parks, on the beach and in some highway underpasses. Even the World Erotic Art Museum got into the act with a display of Helmut Newton photos. The Beatles and Rolling Stones also made virtual appearances in the form of a Betsy Hotel display of about 200 previously unseen photos from the archives of Bob Bonis, the manager for these groups’ first U.S. tours.

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And this does not even include the concerts (think Lenny Kravitz, Kanye West, Lou Reed and others), the breakfasts, the brunches, the formal balls and the after parties. And then there are the hundreds of luxury suites and dozens of exclusive, invitation-only parties to which “randoms” such as us were not invited.


The Rebirth of Wynwood

Although much of the action focused on the convention center and the many satellite venues, one did not have to attend Art Basel to see and get a chance to see and buy art.

Contemporary art is all over Miami. This is particularly true in the Design District, which has galleries interspersed among, and in some cases integrated into furniture and home furnishing showrooms, fashion boutiques and restaurants. Then there is Wynwood, which has dozens of galleries that show work from undiscovered and less publicized artists. As discussed in our Miami Activities Update blog, the Wynwood district in general, and many of its galleries in particular, focus on exposing the talent of street artists and those working in new styles and media.

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Pictures of Wynwood galleries

The former warehouse district was generally reborn out of a shell of low-end shoe stores and auto body shops. Spearheaded by recently deceased real estate developer Tony Goldman (who pioneered urban revitalization projects such as Miami Beach’s South Beach and New York City’s SoHo), the neighborhood’s turnaround was spurred Goldman’s opening of Joey’s (the area’s first full-service restaurant), and by his creation of the Wynwood Walls, a series of courtyards for which he commissioned some of the country’s leading graffiti artists to create murals.

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While these courtyards now house a number of galleries and a recently opened, art-filled restaurant (Wynwood Kitchen), they also served as catalysts for the entire neighborhood. The rest, as they say, was history. Galleries, crafts stores and some very unusual stores (such as Asif Farooq’s “gun store” which sells cardboard representations of all types of guns) opened, restaurants, bars and coffee houses attracted visitors and building owners across the neighborhood commissioned other graffiti artists to create murals for their own buildings.

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The entire area—the walls, the restaurants and the galleries—became showplaces for the work of hundreds of street artists and Wynwwod began to develop into one of the most unique and vibrant communities in the country.


Wynwood Second Saturday

Wynwwod, with its satellite art fair tents, its Walls and its galleries drew thousands of Art Basel attendees and other contemporary art aficionados to the neighborhood. As if this weren’t enough, the art fair happened to encompass the second Saturday of the month—the day on which Wynwood holds its Second Saturday celebration. Galleries and boutiques are open late into the evening, bands perform in the streets and DJs play music from several buildings on every block. There is also a big open air crafts fair and a food truck village, in which more than fifty trucks fed hungry participants.


Although we have not seen official numbers, the streets were packed, restaurants were filled and there were waiting lines to get into galleries and into the Wynwood Walls courtyards. We conservatively estimate well over ten thousand people. And many of these people bought. A couple of Wynwood gallery owners with whom we spoke Monday claimed that Saturday was one of the best days they ever had.

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Missed Opportunities

Although we were pretty much “arted out” on this Mimi trip, there were a few other things we would have liked to do. We had, for example, hoped to get to the Lowe Art Museum for an exhibit of photos on Cristo and Jean-Claude installations. We would have also liked to return to the De La Cruz and the Rubell Family Collections.

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