Art Basel Miami Beach Returns

As cold settles into the northern states, gallerists, collectors, artists, and art enthusiasts, as well as any number of associated acts, head south to the warmth of Miami for one of the most spectacular events on the cultural calendar.

By David Graver

More than 83,000 attendees meandered through the Miami Beach Convention Center for Art Basel in 2018—and about 81,000 worked their way through the sprawling, art-strewn venue in 2019. Brands brought surprise celebrity performers. Pop-up venues poured champagne until sun up. Art institutions set milestone sales records. And, of course, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan taped a $150,000 banana to the wall. But, as Covid-19 swept the globe last year, the 2020 in-person edition was canceled and the nearly 200 expected exhibitors had their entrance applications rolled forward.

Now Art Basel returns to Miami Beach, and the already exclusive event is orienting the experience further toward its VIPs. To prepare for this year’s extravaganza, Art Basel not only limited the number of tickets for entrance each day; they shuffled the entire schedule forward. Opening on Tuesday, November 30, allowed for the addition of another VIP-only day, joining the traditional Wednesday vernissage of Hollywood star sightings and billionaire buyers. Closing on Saturday, December 4, limited the crowding on general admission days. Art Basel Miami Beach has always been a hot ticket—but this year, scarcity plays a role, and for a good reason.

“For the last year and a half, we’ve been playing blind guessing games speculating about when large-scale events would come back,” says Nate Freeman, Vanity Fair’s art columnist (and formerly the writer of Artnet’s beloved and sometimes scintillating industry column Wet Paint). “And alas, even after the vaccines, we are still stuck in uncertainty—our hot vax summer cooled down significantly as the Delta variant spread throughout the country, causing many big events to once again get postponed.” Still, he adds with certainty, Art Basel Miami Beach will host top talent. He knows this because he attended 2020 Miami Art Week—in person—despite Art Basel’s cancellation.

“There wasn’t an art fair in a convention center, but there were dealers and collectors notching deals while cracking claws at Joe’s Stone Crab,” he says, alluding to the fact that Miami itself and its environs have always been among the fair’s best assets. That’s part of why Freeman and other vaccinated art-world power players look forward to its return. “There will be VIP museum tours, there will be chic gallery dinners, there will be big parties where Paris Hilton pretends to be a DJ. I already booked my flight, and I already snagged my reservation at Joe’s,” he says.

PRACTICAL MAGIC

But it’s more than sunshine, snowbirds, and elite galas. From exhilarating programming at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (including artist-led tours with curator Marco Brambilla) to celebrations of the recent reopening of the Hotel Greystone and outdoor events along the art-infused Faena District, the Magic City has much in store. There are abundant ancillary art fairs, as well as numerous exemplary local galleries worth a visit, and an array of other world-class museums. Beyond the deals going down at Joe’s, Miami’s food scene continues to flourish and feature high-profile openings with NYC origins such as proprietor Simon Kim’s upscale Korean steakhouse, COTE.

All together it’s a whirlwind of creative stimulation unmatched in the art world. And people are cautiously eager for its return. “I go to Art Basel Miami Beach because it’s a great opportunity to find inspiration for the coming year,” says Michael Tommasiello, a well-known social media strategist and cultural consumer who—aside from last year—has been going to Art Basel Miami Beach since 2012. “It’s an opportunity for me not just to appreciate the art and the culture surrounding it, but to engage with the artists themselves—not to mention the parties are amazing, as are the art installations within them.” Tommasiello, however, says he will only be back this year if he’s allowed to get a vaccine booster and Florida tightens its regulations.

PIVOTING AND PLANNING

Art Basel, the organizing body, has been busy since last year’s Miami Beach cancellation—which they replaced with “OVR: Miami Beach,” an online viewing-room experience that fetched multimillion-dollar prices for works by artists like Yayoi Kusama and George Condo. The fair’s return to Hong Kong in May 2021, with booths by 100 galleries representing 23 countries, sold out all entry tickets. The flagship Messe Basel event transitioned from June to September with ease. And in between, Art Basel’s global director, Marc Spiegler, released the biweekly Intersections: The Art Basel Podcast, featuring conversations with art-world icons.

Still, there’s nothing quite like Art Basel Miami Beach’s 500,000 square feet of exhibition space, or its frenetic pace and people-watching potential. The city pulls in an estimated $400 million to $500 million annually from the fair, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Art Basel recently inked a deal, including reduced rent at the convention center, that will extend its grand and glorious presence in Miami until 2026. That’s exciting news not just for VIPs but for all art lovers.

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