Update 12/2/13: Check out the Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 event guide
Art Basel Miami Beach is the annual winter-time sister fair to the vaunted Art Basel international art fair held every summer in Basel, Switzerland. The Miami version began in 2002 and, though it started fairly large, has now swelled even further in size. These days, the fair, which returns every year during the first week of December, has become one of the hottest stops on the international art circuit, and a must-do event on the yearly Miami social calendar. Officials have stated that some 40,000 visitors pass through the core exhibition alone, a third of them visitors — but that doesn’t even take into account those who arrive and attend only satellite and “unofficial” events.
The week-long conglomeration of booze, art, money, sex, and power is one of the most unique events of the year. On one end of the spectrum, mega wealthy collectors from across the globe are shuttled around in private luxury cars to drop millions of dollars on avant-garde art. On the other end of the spectrum, the artists themselves and their friends can often be found in grubby warehouses and alternative art spaces. Often, though, these groups, and everyone else in between, come together at exclusive late-night after parties, such as those held yearly at a temporary pop-up club put on by the chic Parisian nightspot Le Baron.
At the core of Art Basel Miami Beach is the official fair itself, which takes up the Miami Beach Convention Center in South Beach and features hundreds of the world’s most prestigious galleries. This part of the fair usually opens with a private vernissage, or opening, on a Tuesday, before opening to the public the next day. Most of the major wheeling and dealing is done on Tuesday and Wednesday, before the less serious collectors and general public come to look.
Connected to the core art fair are a number of repeating yearly events, including a panel of talks and, usually, experimental spaces set up in shipping containers on the actual sand at the nearby beach. It’s here, too, where one of the best parties of the week takes place, a free, public concert on the sand by an avant-garde, art crowd-friendly performer. Sometimes that means a legendary act like Iggy Pop or the New York Dolls, and sometimes that means a newer artist like Peaches or Ebony Bones.
While that “official” part of the fair is going on, though, the conglomeration of unofficial, concurrent events spreads across the rest of Miami Beach and onto the mainland in the Design District, Wynwood, and Midtown. Nearly every hotel, gallery, and exhibition space around usually plans special shows, performances, and parties. But most important are the many other satellite fairs that run during the same week. Among the largest are Design Miami, which focuses, as its name indicates, on furniture and industrial design, as well as other cutting-edge fairs like Scope, Pulse, NADA, and the scrappy, totally d.i.y. Fountain Art Fair.
Unlike other large events which storm into a city, locust-like, then leave behind damage, much of the art world agrees that the trickle-down from Art Basel Miami Beach has benefited the city at large. In the early ’00s, Miami — especially around the then-nascent Design District — seemed already on the verge of a contemporary art Renaissance. The influx of collectors every year has raised interest in homegrown artists, and has created fruitful museum and gallery relationships, and encouraged out-of-town powers in the art world to pay more attention and visit more frequently beyond December.
As for getting around during Art Basel Miami Beach, most of the South Beach events can be covered on foot or by taxi, and galleries and satellite fairs have even been known to run their own shuttle services between South Beach and the mainland. Events in Wynwood and the Design District can also be reached by taxi, or, within the core of Wynwood itself, even by rickshaw or pedicab.
The official Art Basel Miami Beach fair is definitely worth a visit for museum-quality displays of the latest avant-garde art, but to stay in South Beach all week would be to miss out on a large part of the Art Basel experience. The satellite fairs — particularly the smaller ones — tend to have more spunk and exhibitor camaraderie, and for these reasons they can be more memorable than Art Basel Miami Beach itself.
Major Neighborhoods and Venues for Art Basel Miami Beach
— Miami Beach Convention Center (site of ABMB itself)
— Art Basel Miami Beach Art Positions space, usually on the beach near the convention center
— The Design District
— The Wynwood arts district, concentrated around NW 2nd Avenue
— Midtown, whose property hosts several major satellite fairs
Major Satellite Art Fairs during Art Basel Miami Beach
— Art Asia
— Art Miami
— Design Miami
— Fountain Miami
— Ink Miami
— NADA Art Fair
— Photo Miami
— Pool Art Fair
— Pulse Miami
— Red Dot Miami
— Verge Art Fair
— Zones Art Fair
View Art Basel Miami Beach in a larger map