Art Basel Miami Beach

Art Basel Miami Beach

The first week of December 2019 marked the 18th year of Art Basel Miami Beach.  It was the first sister city to be announced for the global expansion in 2002 of the Basel Art Fair that will have its 51st edition in Basel, Switzerland come June 2020.  But Miami, unlike any other city in the world, embraces all its visitors with welcome arms and a multi-cultural flavor full of a joie d’ vivre spirit.

As the Mayor of Miami Beach once said when Art Basel first arrived, it was a match made in heaven.  To paraphrase him, “The Swiss are organized and on time.  The Miamians are a bit disorganized and never on time.  But the Swiss may be a bit boring while in Miami we know how to throw one hell of a good party!”  And the rest as they say is art history.

For those uninitiated ‘Baselers’, Art Basel is the granddaddy of all contemporary art fairs in the world.  In Miami, it is an art fair held in the Miami Beach Convention Center. It grew so much over the 18 years that the City of Miami Beach underwent a major expansion and contemporary renovation of its convention center with a cool new architectural façade and state-of-the-art interior unveiled for Art Basel 2018.

Miami Art Week

But when people refer to Art Basel in Miami, they are really referring to what has become Art Week the first week of December every year.  It is an explosion of creative stimulation in every nook and cranny of both Miami Beach and Miami.  Public places, private spaces, museums, hotels, stores, lounges, nightclubs and entire districts (Wynwood Art District, Miami Design District & Faena District) have all gotten in on the art scene riding on the coattails of Art Basel.  Multitudes of satellite art fairs (more than 20 in 2019) pop up in both cities during what is now called Miami Art Week.

Along the way, Art Basel has become a global brand name associated with the best of the contemporary art world.  It has also become a verb for those “Baseling” about town and a noun, “Baselers” for those who are in the act of “Baseling”.  It is an exhausting week with an overload of stimulation for all senses, ages and ethnicities.  It does take its toll if Baselers don’t pace themselves.  This year, a rock star artist who created the infamous Rolling Stones logo, literally had a mild heart attack ending the week up in the hospital.  The week is definitely an “Art Attack”, but not meant to yield heart attacks.  However, even the most experienced of jetsetters and partiers, need to take some R&R downtime decompressing at the end of Miami Art Week to cleanse their body and soul of overstimulation!

Some venues even provide an “oasis” of sorts offering spa-like treatments, but most people are just too busy Baseling to slow down.  This year there were several branded pop up restaurants within the art fairs so collectors and scenesters could get some flavorful nutrients along the way without veering off the art track.  Endlessly flowing bubbles from sunrise to sunset and beyond encouraged a liquid diet for many energetic Baselers.  Ruinart is the official brand for Art Basel while Perrier Jouet rules the roost at Design Miami.

Art Basel Miami Beach Recap

But back the art!  The art scene is what turned Miami into a global cultural mecca after Art Basel arrived in 2002.  In 2019, Art Basel Miami Beach invited 269 premier galleries from 35 countries with works by more than 4000 artists (showcasing works from early 20th Century Modern art to the present) from around the world to participate and collectors attended from 70 countries with a total attendance of 81,000.  When you add in all the others who come just for the art parties, the number mushrooms even more.  Hotels are sold-out this week and ubers are in overdrive!

Design Miami Fendi presents Roman Molds by Keung Caputo Courtesy of James Harris

Amid all the political turmoil in America and abroad, and tax reforms, Florida offers an attractive place for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Sometimes people just want a break and Miami is the ideal place for that.  For many, Art Basel/Art Week is just the excuse to pop on a plane and head to the sunshine state.  The art and the artsy parties are icing on the cake.

Meridians at Art Basel Miami Beach

This year Art Basel added a new section called Meridians for monumental artwork pieces.  It was a huge success with several pieces being sold the first night at the unveiling.   Meridians was curated by Magali Arriola, Director of Museo Tamayo and exhibited in the grand ballroom of the Miami Beach Convention Center. It featured 34 sculptures, paintings, installations, film and video projections, as well as performances.  One of the most popular pieces was Tom Friedman’s life-size Cocktail Party with mannequin guests from diverse walks of life all at the same party.  It was a fun installation to walk around spectating as a voyeur from all angles.

Is That Really Art?

In the main hall of Art Basel there was a diverse mix of artwork on display; some with political overtones, some nostalgic, some colorful and some that just made you think, “Is that really art?”  There was a bronzed toilet for sale.  But the most talked about piece that went viral was titled Comedian by Maurizio Cattelan at the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery booth.  It was a real banana duct-taped to the wall for sale for $120,000 that actually got sold and later got eaten by a ‘starving artist’ which became not so comedic for the gallery owner.  Everyone seemed to get in on the act and the next day, Art Miami had a green apple duct-taped to the wall of another gallery booth.  And yet another girl wore a banana on her head and said her starting bid was $100k and she would feed the banana to the buyer!


Sales Skyrocketing

Sales were robust at the Art Basel fair with individual sales in six and seven figures with collectors plunking money down on the spot without even consulting their art consultants.  One of the top sales was Galerie Thaddeus Ropac’s Georg Baselitz bronze sculpture of two blocky figures, Sing Sang Zero for 3.5 million euros on the fair’s first day.  And then another Baselitz painting was sold two days later for 1 million euros.

Art Basel in 3 Cities with 24/7 365 Day Connections

But when Art Basel Miami Beach closed its doors on the Sunday ending Art Week, connections with collectors continue online and with Art Basel Cities which highlights local art scenes in selected cities. Buenos Aires kicked off in 2018 and had a presence in Miami this year in Collins Park with art pieces and a traditional Argentine asado.  In 2013, Art Basel added Hong Kong as another part of its annual art fair calendar.  The Art Basel Hong Kong dates are March 19-21, 2020.  Then the original fair in Basel, Switzerland is June 18-21, 2020.  In 2020, Art Basel will have an installation that will interface with all three fairs, Basel, Hong Kong and Miami.  Art Basel has become more of a platform offering patrons 24/7 support 365 days both live and digitally and not just on-site at their art fairs.

Design Miami

During Art Week there is no time for sleep.  After mastering the main fair of Art Basel, it’s time to see their sister fair called Design Miami.  It is conveniently located across the street from the Miami Beach Convention Center.  Design Miami celebrated its 15th year presenting exhibitions of 20th and 21st century furniture, lighting and objets d’art.  It has become the global forum for design.  This year the curatorial theme of Elements was Water with many of the brand collaborations and satellite exhibitions embracing the theme. The Design Forum with top panels and workshops ran parallel within the Design Miami tent.  Design Miami takes its show on the road now heading to Basel, Switzerland in June 2020 during Art Basel there.

Design Miami Exterior Courtesy of James Harris

Celebrity Sightings

Celebrity sightings during Art Week is inescapable.  Miami’s cup runneth over with celebs everywhere.  Lenny Kravitz, Rosario Dawson, Tommy Hilfiger and Sean Penn were at a private Dom Perignon party at hotelier, Alan Faena’s house while the Kardashians showed up at the Dior fashion show at the new Rubell Museum along with Ricky Martin, Bella Hadid and David Beckham.  In Wynwood, Paris Hilton checked out the new Diesel building.  And even Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes was in an ‘orgy’ exhibition during Art Week.

Navigating Art Week

Back to the ‘real art’ and the robust schedule of Art Week in Miami — Most Miami Beach Basel virgins check their website and think it all starts on Thursday.  This is when Art Basel officially opens its doors to the public at the Miami Beach Convention Center.  But by then, the top collectors made their purchases and departed on their private jets.  Art Week really begins on Monday with the unofficial kickoff being the Faena Festival in the Faena District in Miami Beach.  This year the theme was The Last Supper. It encompasses several blocks with the Faena Hotel being the centerpiece for scenesters to see and be seen.  The Faena Forum designed by Rem Koolhaus, hosted many events and talks. The Faena Bazaar was curated with cool pop up shops for Art Week. Faena also launched the Gitano bar and lounge of Tulum, Mexico fame in their Casa Faena boutique hotel during Art Week.  Tequila and mezcal cocktails flowed while homemade guacamole, gourmet tacos and other Mexican treats were served.  The Gitano oversized signature disco ball shined brightly on the upper deck while a sparkly disco ball installation adorned the lobby atrium.  But the talk of Faena Festival was the big beach unveiling Monday evening that revealed a monumental-sized silver Buddha by Chinese artist Zhang Huan that immediately became an Instagram sensation.  A headless sculpture was placed opposite of the big Buddha as part of the installation.  In the ocean there was a large video screen display.  Curious minds wondered how the hell they got electricity out there in the middle of the ocean to run the video.  Finally, the Last Supper was served in a circular setting on the beach for VIPS.  Commoners who did not have an invitation to the Last Supper, were handed a piece of bread in the Faena courtyard in front of the monumental Damien Hirst gold dinosaur.  However, where was the glass of red wine to accompany the bread? A libation that would have been much appreciated by all.

Art Week Tuesday

Tuesday hails with the vernissages of satellite fairs like Art Miami, Context, Acqua, Red Dot, Spectrum and more.  This requires a trip over the Miami causeway which was wall to wall cars during all of Art Week.  Thus, venturing from Miami Beach to Miami or vice versa was not an easy or fast task.  Both cities of Miami and Miami Beach collaborated and provided free shuttle service.  Since satellite fairs are scattered about in both Miami and Miami Beach including NADA, Pulse, Ink Miami, Pinta, Prizm and Miami River Art Fair, transportation is an issue.  The Miami Children’s Museum provided programming for the kiddies.  Also, this year Art Miami made their fair child-friendly collaborating with Young at Art Museum.

Art Week Wednesday

Wednesday kicks off with Art Basel’s morning press conference followed by first look into the fair for the billionaire collectors and press.  That evening is the vernissage for normal VIPS with lots of air-kissing and drinking in the Collectors Lounge for those privileged to have the Basel VIP card, a true status symbol during Art Week in Miami.  After the Art Basel vernissage, the convention center crowd ventures to the Bass Museum vernissage.  This year it featured exhibitions by Haegue Yang’s In the Cone of Uncertainty, Lara Favaretto’s retrospective, Blind Spot and Mickalene Thomas’ Better Nights.   For those UHNW in the upper 1% of society wealth, private dinners were hosted by companies like UBS and Netjets among other proud Art Basel sponsors. This year San Lorenzo Yachts joined this elite list of brands in the Collectors Lounge along with BMW.  The city of Vienna once again was also a sponsor pouring Austrian wines to VIP visitors inside the lounge.  Elliman showcased their real estate developments as architectural art pieces with interiors just begging to be filled with fine art.

Design Miami Perrier Joet Installation – Courtesy of James Harris

Art Week Thursday

Thursday marks the night for PAMM Museum (Perez Art Museum Miami) to join in the fun with their own arty party overlooking Biscayne Bay.  Dj’s even get in on the art scene. DJ Khaled hosted his birthday party at PAMM during Art Week.  The Design District becomes the spot to be on this night with many stores, galleries and restaurants jumping on the Art Week bandwagon.  Diesel unveiled a building they bought.  Baccarat opened their first concept shop, Baccarat Boutique BBar and Lounge decorated in  Miami colors like fushia and lime plus pink bling to be bought while slurping bubbly from their crystal of course.


Art Basel Weekend

Friday and Saturday are good for visits to the art tents on Miami Beach like Untitled and Scope art fairs.  Untitled had a particularly interesting and eye-catching installation at the Catharine Clark Gallery booth by artist, Stephanie Syjuco of green costumed pilgrims.  Three vibrantly- colored figures from the series The Invisible were on display wearing garments representing iconic moments in American history fabricated with chroma key background material.  This symbolizes how American history itself has been fabricated and manipulated.  The message is about the mythology of the country being founded by Plymouth Pilgrims at the expense of the native American Indians. It also is meant to make the viewer question the democratic ideals of the American Revolution of 1776 which only granted citizenship for free white men.  Plus, it reminisces about the Antebellum South which was the seat of Confederacy and an economy based on slavery and white supremacy.  Phew!!!!  What a provocative art installation to take in when all the layers and meanings behind it are revealed.  This was one artwork that stood out with a strong story compared to many that have only surface subtext.

Architecture as Art

Architecture is art too in Miami.  Developers of new residential towers like the recently completed, Zaha Hadad museum quality masterpiece, One Thousand Museum hosted a cocktail party.  The Aston Martin building not yet built, greeted guests in their sales lounge and aboard a yacht.  Speaking of yachts, the Miami Superyacht Marina at Island Gardens also hosted a sexy soiree at their outdoor venue, The Deck.  It overlooks the gigayachts docked there with the magical Miami skyline as the backdrop. All the scenesters seemed to show up at this bash.

Miami Private Collections

Between visiting all the art fairs and attending tons of arty parties, it’s always cool to take time to visit the private collections of top Miami collectors. Miami probably has more mega art collectors than any other city in the world.  Their collections are so huge that they must buy warehouses to store and display them to the public.  This year marked the inauguration of two new private venues that went beyond the Wynwood neighborhood and ventured to Allapattah based even further west.   Leading the collector pack is Mera and Don Rubell who with over 7200 pieces from around the world, needed to expand to a bigger space. Voila, the newly named Rubell Museum consisting of a 100,000 square feet campus was unveiled during Art Week.  Dior pumped up the volume with a major runway event at the Rubell Museum that was a celeb-spotting scene.  Another Miami collector and renowned real estate developer, Jorge Perez who the PAMM Museum in Miami is named after, decided it was time to open an alternative space called El Espacio 23 with 23,000 square feet to enable more people to see his art  collection and to have a place where artists could live and work.  The De la Cruz collector couple open their home that is a living breathing gallery of sorts to outsiders during Art Week with a casual Saturday breakfast viewing of their home collection on Key Biscayne.  Marty Margulies Warehouse Collection in Wynwood is another worthy stop on the collector trail.

Art Basel Anat Ebgi Gallery with Cosmo Whyte & Jordan Nassar

Miami & Miami Beach Art Museums

Also, there are a myriad of art museums to visit during Art Week in Miami.  Besides the Bass Museum in Collins Park, there is also the Wolfsonian Museum on Washington Avenue as well as the Jewish Museum, all in South Beach.  Past PAMM is MOAD Museum of Art & Design in Miami.  Enroute to Coral Gables is the Frost Art Museum and Lowe Art Museum which hosted “Bubbles & Brunch” on Sunday.  In the Miami Design District, ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) is a major draw. While on foot in the Design District, the public art of Pink Beasts by Fernando Laposse provided a playful backdrop for more fun Instagram selfies.

Design Miami Pink Beasts by Fernando Laposse – Courtesy of James Harris

Wynwood Walls

The best way to see the Wynwood Walls, which celebrated their 10th Anniversary during Art Week 2019,  is by bike.  The Walls epicenter is the original site founded by visionary, Tony Goldman.  But to truly see all the colorful murals it’s best to peddle around the Wynwood Art District.  Along the way are hip stores and fun food spots such as Salty Dog serving gourmet donuts with fillings like guava, cheese and maple bacon or Dasher & Crank ice cream shop with flavors like raspberry wasabi.


Emerging Art Neighborhoods Like Little Haiti

Not to be missed are emerging neighborhoods like Little Haiti. It is the new ground zero for many eclectic galleries priced out of Wynwood already.

Brunch & Booze

Back on South Beach, the Sagamore Hotel hosted their annual brunch Saturday morning where thousands of folks of all ages came to reunite and say hello in a festive arty atmosphere.

Hitting the Sands of South Beach

And when Baselers were finally full of art, it was time to hit the sand in South Beach.  But beware, because even there, was a ‘traffic jam’. This year the city of Miami Beach commissioned Argentine artist, Leandro Ehrlich who created the installation, Order of Importance with 66 sand sculpture cars and trucks that beachgoers could interact with and get yet another perfect South Beach selfie.

Miami Art Week 2020

By the end of Art Week 2019, the real traffic jams and sand sculpture versions all disappeared.  What will miraculously appear during Miami Art Week 2020 is yet to be seen.  But for sure, all the art world movers and shakers and scenesters will once again make their personal pilgrimage to Miami, the global epicenter for art the first week of December.  Mark your calendars for November 30 – December 6, 2020 and reserve your room now.  In the meantime, be sure to get plenty of rest before your feet hit the sand again in South Beach for Art-Mania 2020.

Hope Gainer
Hope Gainer is President of Hope International Marketing & Hope International Properties. She is a global imagemaker, marketer, and branding expert with over 30 years of lifestyle experience with a focus today on the luxury sectors. She produces unique, upscale events around the world. Gainer is a contributor to several luxury magazines. She also represents spectacular ‘trophy’ real estate properties globally and luxury properties in South Florida from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to Palm Beach.

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