As I roll up to the entrance of the Nobu Eden Rock Hotel in Miami’s South Beach, I’m immediately surrounded by a sea of sun-kissed individuals: men dressed in crisp suits and women draped in lavish gowns. As I struggle through with my less-than-fabulous airport clothes, these beautiful humans spill out of the grand foyer of the Eden Rock and onto the golden stairwell, laughing and smiling. It’s a radiant sight and the energy is infectious, making even my post-flight self feel alive again.
It’s my first time in Miami for Art Basel, and this initial dazzling impression sets the tone for the entire event. I’m quick to learn that these guests are here at the Eden Rock for one of the premier Art Basel Miami fundraiser parties. For many, this marks the beginning of a swirling weekend filled with glitz and glamour—but most importantly, filled with art.
Art Basel Miami, a sister occasion to those in Basel and Hong Kong, is recognized as one of the largest modern and contemporary art fairs in the world. For the past 15 years, it has taken over Miami during the second week of December. More than 250 galleries from around the globe showcase contemporary painting, sculpture, film, photography, and installation pieces. The main attraction takes place at Miami’s Convention Center, but events are also found throughout the city at offshoot galleries, hotels, beaches, and parks.
The Miami Convention Center is currently undergoing significant updates and expansions, and 2017 marked the first Art Basel to be housed in the newly renovated exhibition spaces. Step in and be immersed in a maze, free to get lost for hours and bounce about the sectioned crisp white rooms that galleries from North and Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa have claimed as their booths. It’s the chance to see work by celebrated artists like Canada’s Robert Landau and America’s Jean-Michel Basquiat, but also to discover something new, fresh, and intriguing, like neon light installations and bold, colourful oil and canvas paintings.
While the big deals are being made (the late Basquiat’s Wire drawing was pre-purchased for $850,000 USD by Leonardo DiCaprio), it’s best to let your senses guide you through the crowd. The installation Sphère Miroir by Julio Le Parc was a magnet for many: made of plexiglass and aluminum, it’s an oversized disco-ball-like figure with floating silver pieces. It drew a quiet, patient group of viewers, all eager to take a quick video or photograph to capture their own reflection.
As the weekend continues, head out before the hangover rush and catch some morning sunshine along the South Beach walking trail. Take this time to visit the satellite fairs such as NADA, Scope, or Pulse, or visit pop-up art along the beach or at hotels. In 2017, the stunning boutique property Faena installed Phillip Smith’s 120 Degree Arc East-Southeast, a long row of sharded mirror that stretched across the sand.
Art Basel coincides with Miami Heritage Month and many Art of Black Miami events. The latter was implemented four years ago, presenting the often-overlooked art from minority communities in the city. Last year included a visit to historical Overtown, home to the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theatre (a movie theatre turned church that shuttered by the 1960s and was restored in the early 2000s) and the Art Africa Miami Arts Fair. Some noteworthy art on display included Nigeria’s George Edozie and his textured sculpture Shifting the Paradigm. Made with brilliant coloured fabric, it depicts an African woman surrounded by baskets suspended from the ceiling—a celebration of the African diaspora and black female form.
Stay fuelled with at least one breakfast at South Beach Soho House; sit back and sip a latte amongst the textured pastel decor in the garden. If visiting from abroad, visit the Lil Greenhouse Grill soul food joint in Overtown for an exceptional dinner with baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and fried fish pops.
Viewing art makes us feel alive again, and Miami is the perfect setting in which to do so. Although Art Basel can be a bit overwhelming, just leave your airport clothes at the hotel and take it all in with open arms.