8 Reasons Not to Miss Art Basel Miami Beach

A crescendo in each year’s fine arts circuit, Art Basel Miami Beach anchors an extravagant week of fairs, sales, cocktail parties, and performances. It’s also the wildest of the three prestigious Art Basel iterations (with siblings in Hong Kong and Basel, Switzerland), drawing some of the world’s most sought-after galleries and devout collectors, as well as an accompanying bevy of critics, observers, and socialites. Following the money, brands activate from South Beach to Little Haiti and Brickell to Bal Harbour. Year after year, the level of excitement escalates along with the number of attendees.

Works on display from art gallery A Gentil Carioca
Works on display from art gallery A Gentil Carioca

But it’s not just fun and games; major works shift hands, new artists forge reputations, and art lovers enjoy a crash course in the contemporary art market and its antics. At the end of each day, Miami offers visitors a chance to enjoy its cultural and culinary offerings—or fall asleep to the lapping of the Atlantic waves. Here are eight reasons to pay a visit.

1. Art Basel Miami Beach Itself

To swoop through Miami Art Week and not set foot in the Convention Center is a mistake for anyone with an inkling of art interest. Powerhouse galleries like Perrotin, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, and White Cube present of-the-moment artists in often clever, well-considered ways. And because many gallerists have presold some of the art on display, this doubles as a last opportunity to see treasures that will soon be privately held. Finally, there’s no better context for an entire year in art than Art Basel Miami Beach (taking place Dec. 5–8, 2019). To comb through booth after booth offers considerable insight on what sold, what didn’t, and the visual trends that connect—or separate—the two.

2. Miami Museums

The Bass Museum of Art
Pascale Marthine Tayou’s exhibition Beautiful at The Bass Museum of Art

With the uptick in international art lovers and critics at Art Basel, Miami museums are ramping up their programming. From Ugo Rondinone’s sad clowns to eccentric showcases by Pipilotti Rist and the Haas Brothers, The Bass Museum of Art (South Beach’s own premier institution) presents group exhibitions and retrospectives of the highest caliber. For Art Basel 2019, The Bass presents the colorful, interactive, and large-scale works of Italian artist Lara Favaretto and a series of conceptually cohesive photographs from the visionary Mickalene Thomas.

Perez Art Museum Miami
Fire by Teresita Fernandez at PAMM

Meanwhile, at the future-forward Pérez Art Museum Miami, a retrospective on Teresita Fernández contextualizes decades of mixed-media creations and largescale sculptures. There’s also the recently opened Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), the Rubell Family Collection, the de la Cruz Collection—and an abundance of must-see Miami galleries, including standouts David Castillo and Nina Johnson.

3. Champagne Activations

Winnie Harlow
Model Winnie Harlow at the Perrier-Jouët party

Art Basel sponsor Maison Ruinart does more than provide bottles of delectable champagne for the fair and its Collectors Lounge. The brand hosts an art event in the city and reveals work from its annual commission. This year, Ruinart’s team tapped Brazilian artist and photographer Vik Muniz; a selection of his pieces will be on view in the convention center. Expect many more surprises to unfold between the artist and the company.

From exquisite hotel installations to open-air, beachside splendor, Perrier-Jouët also makes its presence felt. The brand supports Design Miami as an official partner, and one of its effervescent invitations to an event around the city is a guaranteed good time, with plenty of star-power onsite.

4. Prada’s Party

Prada party Art Basel
Model Sasha Pivovarova at the Prada party

One of the hottest tickets in town, Prada’s multinight party during Art Basel finds the luxury fashion house and art foundation dressing up unexpected venues in extraordinary commissions. In 2017, Fondazione Prada partnered with multidisciplinary artist Carsten Höller to conceptualize a two-part, visually explosive venue known as “The Prada Double Club Miami.” 2018’s theatrical setting—an overhaul of the Freehand Miami by site-specific intervention artist Theaster Gates—played host to the brand’s brand-new event platform: Prada Mode. This year will see the same pairing of an elite artist with a sublime space for socializing.

5. The Hotel Art Scenes

Faena Festival
Performance artist Boychild at the inaugural Faena Festival

Most Miami hotels embrace Art Basel, but two stand above the rest. Hotelier Alan Faena’s recently formed district—which includes the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, the Faena Forum theater and events space, the Faena Bazaar shopping center, and more—holds numerous surprises. Its events roster boasts some of the biggest pop culture and art world names, eccentric performance pieces, and even virtual reality undertakings. The hotel alone is saturated with Faena’s surreal commissions.

A stroll down Collins Avenue from the Faena District brings one to The Miami Beach EDITION. Ian Schrager’s luxury compound hosts events and artists in every corner— from the bungalows to poolside and, come late night, beside the rainbow-saturated ice skating rink and bowling alley. In addition to these, the Delano, Nautilus, 1 Hotel South Beach, W, and Villa Casa Casuarina (once the home of fashion designer Gianni Versace) invite passers-through to stop and admire their art partnerships.

6. Outdoor Art

One of many vibrantly colorful art walls in Wynwood

No city has celebrated street art quite like Miami, which has brought a global coalition of top talent to light with its Wynwood Walls. Several tall, colorful murals honor the development of graffiti as an art—and this is just the start. Many parts of Wynwood offer a glimpse of Miami’s street art scene as well. During Art Basel, a number of organizations erect outdoor sculptures—including The Bass Museum—on their front lawn. Fairs and hotels also place works on the beach itself. As December sets in around the northern hemisphere, Miami provides a pleasant reminder of the value of public works outside.

7. The Design District

Miami Design District
Miami Design District


Miami’s Design District centralizes several creative endeavors. From Italian homewares to French fashion, shopping tends to be the through line. However, be it the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome, groundbreaking new architecture, or star chef-driven restaurants, there’s much more to see and do than simply stock up on items for one’s kitchen and closets. Galleries congregate in the Design District, and during Art Basel every venue, shop, and storefront has something to offer. Both ICA and the de la Cruz Collection also call the Design District home.

8. Other Fairs

Nothing comes close to Art Basel Miami Beach with regard to quality, quantity, or pedigree—and yet at least a dozen other fairs run concurrently. Occasionally, artists will overlap, though gallerists never do. Several fairs, including Untitled, rise up in tents on the sands of South Beach and are worth a visit for their location alone. NADA—short for New Art Dealers Alliance—provides access to the freshest talent. Pulse, Art Miami, and Scope each approach the art world from different angles. Seeing them all provides an elaborate, eagle-eye view of the year in contemporary art.

—by David Graver

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