Time flies…a blink of the eyes and OMG, two decades of Baselmania have passed in the Magic City of Miami. The inaugural year was supposed to be 2000, but 9/11 happened and the Basel Miami Beach inaugural year was postponed til 2001. Then another world crisis called Covid shut down the Miami fair in 2020 due to the pandemic. So alas, 2022 marked the twentieth year of Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Courtesy of Art Basel
IN THE BEGINNING
I remember the very first year at the Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) press conference in 2002, when the Miami Beach Mayor said to the Mayor of Basel, Switzerland, this is a match made in heaven. Miami is a Latin dominated city which is never on time and a bit disorganized but knows how to throw one helluva party. While Basel and the Swiss on the other hand, are always on time, totally organized, but a bit boring! Well, 20 years into this shindig, and the two cities are still happily ‘married’. Miami has transformed from a city best known for bikini clad beach babes and nightclub galivanting, to a major contemporary art capital of the world.
For 20 years running, both art aficionados of all kinds and global party scenesters have made the trek to the sunny shores of South Beach for what has become one of the world’s most popular art and party weeks on the planet. I have been present for all 20 episodes and have seen and experienced the incredible evolution. I even produced, curated and hosted some of the original and most memorable private Art Basel Week parties at waterfront mansions on Star Island, Palm Island and Hibiscus Island. They included themes like “Burning Man” and titles like “Eco-Artland”.
Art Basel was the catalyst from Basel, Switzerland that made Miami its sister city. This balanced out Basel’s annual art calendar with the original Basel art fair in Switzerland in June and the Miami edition in December. The Basel fair was founded in 1970 and Miami launched in 2002. Along the way, a Hong Kong edition in March was added in 2013 and this year a Paris version in October rounding out the entire year’s calendar of Basel fairs. Additionally, Design Miami founded by Miami Design District guru, Craig Robins joined forces with Art Basel and moved to a site adjacent to Art Basel Miami Beach by the the Convention Center. This year was the 18th year for Design Miami with a theme of “The Golden Age: Looking to the Future.”
ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH 2022
Art Basel Miami Beach 2022 was its biggest ever with 282 premier galleries from 38 countries with 76,000 attendees. This year was the third year for the Meridians section of Art Basel Miami Beach which showcases large-scale artworks and live performance pieces. It is one of my favorites of the fair. The most buzzworthy art piece this year was the ATM Machine Leaderboard created by MSCHF in collaboration with Gallerie Perrotin. Perrotin is renowned for the infamous banana taped to the wall with duct tape artwork in 2019 that was priced at $120,000. This year’s attention-getting ATM puts the cash balance of those that use it on display with their photo. It sold for $75,000. “ATM Leaderboard is an extremely literal distillation of wealth-flaunting impulses,” shared MSCHF co-founder, Daniel Greenberg.
DJ Diplo tried it out and was #1 on the leaderboard at $3 million on Friday of the fair but was later toppled from the top. Design Miami memorable pieces included “Como Stai?,” a new chair by Gaetano Pesce and a Harvey Nuriev Curio couch created with stuffed garbage bags. Ukrainian artists had a voice at this year’s Art Week as well as African American-centric artworks. Noteworthy celebs passing through the aisles this year included Venus Williams, Pharrell Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sylvester Stallone and renowned homemaker, Martha Stewart.
THE MIAMI ART EXPLOSION
What happened in Miami with the arrival of Art Basel was much bigger than anyone expected. As the Mayor had predicted, Miami took Basel by storm and embraced it with its all its ‘joie de vivra’ or more appropriately ‘la vida loca’. An explosion of art, parties, and brand activations across almost all industries took place. And the art movement took over both the city of Miami Beach which is where the actual Art Basel art fair is held at the Miami Beach Convention Center and the city of Miami across the causeway where the Wynwood Art District was birthed thanks to Baselmania. Every nook and cranny in both cities from public to private spaces became backdrops for art. In South Beach art installations blossomed from the sand and sea while satellite fairs mounted big tents on the beach to house their art wares. One-year art flowers were growing out of the sand, another year a mega-sand sculpture of an oversized bikini clad babe surfaced, and floating art appeared in the nearby ocean several times. And even an art parade or two took place along the beach over the years.
The Miami hospitality industry embraced the December art migration with all its glory. The Faena Hotel with its original Faena Art District in Buenos Aires made a duplicate copy in Miami Beach. The Faena Miami Beach became art central station with monumental art installations curated annually on the sand for Basel Week. This beach gig became a perfect compliment to Faena’s already, bragging rights owned, Damien Hirst multi-million-dollar, 25-carat gold dinosaur skeleton. This signature ‘sculpture’ sits on permanent display enclosed in a hurricane-proof glass case in Faena’s courtyard serving as an ongoing Instagram spot. Alan Faena himself hosts a multitude of art parties all week for the beautiful people, talented artists and hipsters who descend upon our sands to see and be seen.
Additionally, the art-infused W Hotel South Beach, owner Aby Rosen hosts an annual hot invite only dinner party for a well curated list of the rich and famous who can all enjoy his personally curated art collection on the hotel walls. A bit further north, Soho Beach House is always a buzz of Basel madness with parties galore and the White Cube hospitality tent on their beach. And in between, just about every hotel has a happening including the annual Sunday art brunch at the Sagamore. This year it was on Saturday as Basel changed the calendar beginning and ending one day earlier.
Photo Credit: Untitled Art
The beachfront art fairs on the sands of South Beach include Untitled, a more refined fair and Scope a more outrageous and experimental rendition. Both fairs have outside chill areas facing the Atlantic Ocean. Scope also added some outdoor oversized colorful art installations this year and offered morning healing and meditation sessions. Both fairs included live musical performances and art talks.
Photo Credit: Scope
Luxury brands have gotten in on the act building their own VIP outposts on the beach including Le Prairie and Yves Saint Laurent to American Express and more. Madonna even made an appearance for YSL. This year the ever-popular Turkish hotspot hotel brand, Macakizi from Bodrum made their first successful appearance with a mega tent. They kicked off their debut with an intimate dinner for their 1000 closest friends, many of Turkish descent. I received a coveted invitation and was assigned to table number 1. The host with the most, owner Sahir who I met last summer in Bodrum, held court day and night at his Macakizi tent named ‘Med Miami’. It served as a beach club for Basel Week, with pasta priced at about $100 a plate – I guess even outpricing popular Carbone and their past pop up. Now that’s a bit much even with built-in inflation and Basel week surge pricing! But heck, that’s the price of ambiance and being at the right place at the right time during Art Week.
Tequila took the top spot over bubbles this year for the libation of choice. Many sponsors offered up freebies of their tequila varietal including Art Basel sponsor Casa Dragones. They hosted a daily Happy Hour in the Art Basel VIP Lounge. While Penfolds premium wines threw a spectacular party at The Temple House with DJ Mark Ronson rocking the joint with wow digital wall graphics all around.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Penfolds
So even though the official Art Basel art fair (ABMB) takes center stage, what people refer to as “Art Basel” has really morphed into “Miami Art Week”. Many making the pilgrimage to Miami this first week of December each year, never even step foot into the actual art fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center. With so many fairs, art installations and brand activations spread out between the two cities of Miami Beach and Miami, visitors must pick their battles. Email inboxes fill up with hordes of evites leading up to Art Week. Many just like to parade around for the paparazzi in artsy fartsy fashions turning heads wherever they go.
Photo credit: Art Miami
Traffic becomes a nightmare during Art Week. Ubers have surge pricing and are not easy to find when you and several thousand leave an art party at the same time. Crossing any of the causeways to go from Miami Beach to Miami or vice versa can be an all-day or all-night affair. Fifteen-minute destinations often turn into hour long rides in wall-to-wall traffic. This year the overload of visitors even crashed the Miami power grid. Wi-Fi collapsed from over usage. This led to Ubers having no GPS to navigate, just adding to the transportation and communication mess. This happens in Monaco during the Formula 1 race with so many packed into a tiny destination on the city of Monte-Carlo built on a rock. But who knew it could happen in a metropolis like Miami!
MIAMI SATTELITE FAIRS, MUSEUMS & PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
For those brave enough to travel across the causeway, other great satellite fairs awaited. Art Miami, the longest running fair (22 years) along with Context, sit in big tents adjacent to Biscayne Bay. Breaks from art gazing are taken outside overlooking the bay with Miami breezes gently cooling off the art goers sipping gourmet coffees or drinking bottles of bubbles. A few celeb and VIP sightings this year at Art Miami included Jon Bon Jovi, Donna Karan and Carl Icahn among many more. NADA Art fair has been held in the Miami Ice Palace Studios for the past several years while Red Dot and Spectrum set up shop in Wynwood. There are private art collections to see like Marguiles Warehouse in Wynwood and Rubell Museum and Perez’ El Espacio 23 which opened further west in Allapattah while de la Cruz’s are in their Key Biscayne home. ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) is a top spot to tackle in the Design District. Across the street from ICA is the Museum Garage, an artsy parking garage with colored cars plastered on its exterior walls.
MAKING MIAMI AN ART CAPITAL
Making Miami an art capital of the world did not happen overnight and without a team of local and global supporters and believers. It started with the Swiss husband of a friend of mine, Lorenzo Rudolf who was the Director of Art Basel and the visionary who had the idea to expand the fair to Miami. His Latina wife, Maria Elena introduced him to the Miami lifestyle and the rest as they say is history. Norman Braman, billionaire owner of Braman Motors in Miami was a big advocate for the Basel fair coming to Miami and later served as its chairman for many years. Gallerist, Jeffrey Deitch was on board as well as top collectors like the Rubells and Tony Goldman who started the Wynwood Walls movement. Major Miami Art collectors opened their homes to VIP visitors and some even opened their own museums open to the public. Art Museums got in on the act and some new ones got built like PAMM (Perez Art Museum Miami). UBS has held the top sponsor spot since Art Basel Miami Beach’s inception as well as being a supporter for the original Basel fair. Miami Mayors and city council members have done their part in helping the Basel bonanza happen. Celebrities have also contributed to making Art Basel the talk of the town. The list of helpers is endless. The Art Basel story seems to be flourishing and will continue with many more chapters, characters and countries to come.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The future looks bright for the art world and Miami. This year marked the changing of the Art Basel guard with a new American leader, Noah Horowitz and a new parent ownership partner, James Murdoch. Let’s hope the newcomers continue to fuel the fair that ignites the city/cities of Miami Beach and Miami into the hottest destination in the world for the first week of December for Art Week. The fair brings in an estimated $500 million to the region each year.
We have come a long way baby. Twenty years ago, people incorrectly called it “Art Basil’ not Basel (pronounced Bosel). Then it morphed into ‘The Miami thing in early December’ that got shortened to “Basel” and finally became the Art Week explosion that it is today in the two cities of both Miami Beach and Miami.
MIAMI, THE BRAND
Miami Beach’s rendition of Art Basel turned an art fair into a global extravaganza. Like what the Monaco Grand Prix is to Monte-Carlo, Art Basel Miami Beach became Miami’s cultural calling card to the world. It transformed the Miami brand making it the best of all lifestyle choices for sun, fun, food, fashion, nightlife, architecture, design and art!
Meanwhile, Miami has helped teach the Swiss ‘Baselites’ how to throw more than just an art fair, but how to be the toast of the town. “The art of the party” has moved from Miami to Art Basel Hong Kong and Paris as well as back home to its original city of Basel.
Along the way, Miami has become one the most desired city brands in the world. And other cities want to emulate the Magic City. Let the Miamization of civilization continue to rock the art and party world for decades to come.