MIAMI (AP) — “Art Basel” is shorthand here for the celebrity sightings, luxury branding, exclusive parties and traffic that ramp up in early December.
As the week-long series of art fairs, museum exhibits, performances and business deals have expanded throughout Miami and South Beach over the last decade, locals have developed strategies for making the most of the exposure to the international arts scene.
A top Basel priority: a scooter or bicycle tuneup for zipping around traffic jams and valet stands. Here are some other tips from a few Miami arts insiders for surviving the art week chaos.
Art Basel Miami Beach, the prestigious extension of the annual contemporary art fair in Basel, Switzerland, remains the biggest attraction, with a base at the Miami Beach Convention Center. It officially opens Dec. 3, but many independent fairs and events will open days earlier. Some have had to relocate, consolidating many events in South Beach and Miami’s arts district, as surging development reclaimed the empty lots where they once pitched their tents.
All the paintings, photographs and sculptural installations can start to blur together, and the glitterati crowding the gallery booths can be intimidating. Remember that the art is accessible to everyone, for at least a week, even to those without the budget to take anything home, says gallery owner Bernice Steinbaum, who is showing work at Art Miami.
Take the time to talk to gallery owners, she says. After all, art is a conversation.
A highlight of her booth this year is a wall-mounted walrus by Enrique Gomez de Molina, its shimmering skin created from iridescent beetle wings, with porcupine quills for whiskers. It captures the fantasy of a trophy animal without needing to capture the animal itself. It’s likely to prompt conversations well beyond the art world, touching on the killing of an iconic lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist.
“I don’t sell wallpaper. I want you to have emotions,” Steinbaum said. “I’m so happy to talk about the work, I’m happy to teach.”
GO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE
Take a note from major brands that held lavish events during the fairs last year in downtown Miami. Many of those events were poorly attended, so they’re moving back to South Beach.
“The best play is, just go to South Beach. Go to the hotel events, go to those fairs. Uber it and catch the shuttle,” said Kerry McLaney, founder of Miami’s Independent Thinkers, which is promoting Miami artists at the SCOPE Miami Beach fair. “I got my scooter up and running. There’s no other way to do it.”
While there always will be exclusive parties where everyone wants to be inside the velvet ropes, spontaneity — allowing for bad weather, random run-ins and last-minute invitations — is the key to making the most of the festivities, she said. She cuts through the blast of emails and promotions by checking events posted on Facebook by Miami galleries and collectors.
DROP THE SELFIE STICK
Finally, resist the urge to see all the art as backdrops for selfies, especially in Wynwood, the warehouse district now known for the street art and murals.
“I would recommend against a selfie stick,” says Andrew Kaufman, a photographer who has documented the explosion of interest in Wynwood’s street art community over the last few years.
He’s written several books on Wynwood’s popularity, subversive culture and party scene during Miami’s art fairs, with titles that are self-explanatory: “BASELGEDDON” and “Arty Gras.”
“Wynwood is the unofficial home of Basel. It’s impossible to ignore, but it might not be the epicenter that it has been in the past,” Kaufman says.
An expanding Wynwood Walls remains a hub, but a less curated survey of street art can still be found with a short exploration of surrounding streets.
Kaufman’s images document the gentrification encroaching on Wynwood, as well as the tension underlying the admiration for an impermanent art form. Some of the neighborhood’s frontier feeling has dissipated as parking meters and trash cans were installed, he says, but “artists will come whether they’re invited or not.”
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