– by Wendy Morley –
The world’s largest art fair, Art Basel began in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland, where it’s still headquartered today. It now takes place in three cities each year: Basel, Miami and Hong Kong. I’ve been lucky enough to attend
shows in both Basel and in Miami, courtesy of Art Basel’s Corporate Sponsor, Davidoff Cigars, a company that – close to my heart – chooses to truly support and honor art with its sponsorship as opposed to just throwing money out, creating the Davidoff Art Initiative, which you can read about here.
They say the show in Basel is like the older parents sitting in their cardigans and going to bed early while the show in Miami is like their children, up late being loud and partying. This is a pretty apt description in my experience, and really just reflects the two different cities, one a sleepy Swiss town and the other a big American city with Latin, Caribbean flair mixed with spring break fun.
Both shows offer a mind-boggling collection of art, with convention centers filled to the brim and local art galleries and museums also taking part. What I like about Art Basel Miami as opposed to Art Basel in Switzerland is that the art spreads beyond these convention hall and gallery walls, becoming Miami Art Week (but everyone still calls it Art Basel). A number of satellite shows mean an almost infinite selection of art that can be a little overwhelming. While the Miami Beach Convention Center is the epicenter, art and events seem to be almost everywhere, especially on Miami Beach but also in the city itself, around Wynwood and the Design District and in galleries and museums located elsewhere. (Be sure to check out the graffiti in Wynwood and, if it’s daytime, Overtown during your visit.) There truly are hundreds of different events taking place during the week, from film showings to art collectives, and you’ll have to be choosy.
Design Miami is one of my favorite spots to go during this week and one I think people often neglect. Personally, I love checking out design because it shows the intersection between art and life. The term “art” means completely different things to different people and they are all valid. Some people denigrate art as useless and unimportant and to me design is living, breathing proof that this is not the case.
Art Basel Miami also offers three more of my passions: multidimensional art, art outside and art that seemingly appears from nowhere. A favorite spot for me each year is the park in front of the Bass Museum of Contemporary Art on Collins Ave. Here you will find a selection of three-
dimensional art that sometimes goes well beyond that, with sound and movement as well. A walk down the beach boardwalk can also yield great results, with often surprising and certainly delightful installations set up on either side.
To the irritation of some purists, there are always plenty of parties and launches going on during Art Basel in Miami. Many of these functions are private but others are open to the public. If you’re interested in such things, you should scour the local websites to see what’s happening well in advance, and check back often.
Yes, Art Basel Miami has its poseurs and celebrities, its people who look at art as purely an investment with barely a thought for the art itself, and “art” that others ridicule as being not art at all. No question, many people who love art do not fancy such a love fest. Consider Simon Doonan’s oft-shared piece on Slate called Why the Art World is so Loathsome.
To that I say, meh, whatever. To me, Art Basel is like a buffet created by all the most popular chefs in the world. You’ll find some chefs and restaurateurs whose egos are disproportionate to their skill, you’ll try some horrible-tasting fare with a ridiculous price tag. You’ll find the old standby dishes you feel might be a little past their prime and you’ll encounter gastronomic components that should never occur in the same dish together. But you will also discover some new, skilled chefs who create dishes you’ll hold in your memory for years to come, and who you’ll seek out whenever you are able to. Some might have a recognizable name and some might still be patching together jobs just to trying to eke out a living.
As for the spectacle, well that type of thing suits some people more than others. Some love it, some hate it and even those for whom that atmosphere might once have been like manna can grow tired of it. I, for one, like to sample a taste of the party atmosphere and then go for a run on the beach or a walk through the city all alone, stumbling upon wondrous and surprising installations along the way.
My first Art Basel Miami I didn’t see nearly as much as I wanted to, mainly because I completely underestimated the breadth of the event and therefore went in somewhat blind. Here, then, as one no longer a novice, is my advice.
- Go to Art Basel/Art Miami knowing that you’re not going to see and do everything.
- That being said, while you might be perfectly happy spending the entire time in the convention center, please venture beyond. There’s so much more.
- Know what you’re there for. Find out as much information as you can ahead of time and choose what’s really important to you. There’s so much going on it’s easy to get distracted and find you’ve missed something you really wanted to see.
- Be ok with missing things you couldn’t manage to get to. It happens. You’ll find something else wonderful.
- Plan in advance. Go to www.artbasel.com/miami-beach and www.miamiandbeaches.com, where you can find plenty of other links.
- Keep in mind that Miami Beach, where most events are held, is an island, and Art Basel is very busy. Miami traffic is tough at the best of times, but during Art Basel it can literally take you an hour to get on or off the island.
- Bring good walking shoes.