Let it be the new cliché: Art Basel wasn’t seen in a day. That’s the first of many startling realizations that overcome you while cruising and perusing a pulsating Miami Beach, absorbing as much expressive, progressive, and impressively offensive art as you do solar rays and eye candy. That’s the second realization: maybe inviting your girlfriend along was a bad idea: much as you try to safely avert your gaze, everywhere you look a gorgeous hip-yet-pseudo-sophisticate in a skin-tight tube dress materializes before you. You lay eyes on your girlfriend and realize (realization 2.2) that she’s taking in sights of her own, purposefully or not.
The doors finally open, you’re officially ensconced in the largest, most eclectic art show on earth. Where to start? You start off in the Sixties: Miró, de Silva, and Picasso right there in front of you. Masters near their end. You could stare from six inches away at these works all day, but you have to move, move right along. There are 260 art galleries from five continents, and you’re hell-bent on seeing what they have to offer.
You’re here because you respect art, all art, you really do. But wonders you what a dozen glasses of variably-filled water are doing on a shelf on a wall at the largest art show in the world. You linger in the freshet of artsy-farts, waiting for any one of the estimated 2,000 featured artists to appear with damp fingers and ring them round the rims, the sonorous harmony of wet friction hushing ten thousand bodies in wonder-filled awe. Multi-media artistry? Sonic expressionism? Impressivism? But no one appears and the display is tossed aside in your mind as little more than college-style dorm décor.
The art is wild. So are the people. The isles seethe with these wild people: scholarly French speaking Catalan; mid-aged ex-wives in track pants with demonic designs of stoic house cats shooting lasers from their eyes; dishevelled youth in fashionably-unbranded organic cotton with shaggy side beards parted at the chin; gay dudes in Budweiser wife beaters and American flag boxers and suddenly you’re realizing the paintings and sculptures and carefully-positioned army duffle bags, penis fish in vagina tanks, and flashing neon signs of encouragement aren’t the only displays trying to make a statement; many of the visitors are shock-value works of art(?), too.
Apple™ is everywhere. “No Photos” signs are conspicuously not present; handheld camera-GPS-computer-phones have made such requests unenforceable mandates. iPhones snap Instagram photographs of iPads powering what you think to be a papier-mâché bird with a Bluetooth headcam “flying” circles around a rotating gear, taking 360° video—hey, cool, there’s you—on the iPad-generator-thingy. This could be art.
You descry a handicapped old guy cruising in his power wheel chair, trailing an iPad 2 attached to a bit of string attached to a lure of some kind. Does he expect a cat or small kid or anachronistic flip-phone-er to chase after it, like dogs at the track, in some cruel joke? Is it an interactive piece? Or just another big-city nutter. Either way, is it art? You wonder…
You wander. You wander the labyrinth: the isles and rows, and turn corners to find faux rolling hills casually enclaved amongst the overwhelm and the excitement. Some of it is abstract; some of it delusional. Some works truly move you; some are just damn cool. Your knees hurt from the slow, observant cant you can’t help but adopt. You’re taking in what you can. You avoid nothing, save the food court, where swarms of hyper-energetic middle-schoolers gather loudly, bumping into everything. You observe a potential buyer become dissuaded, annoyed by the rug rats, move on and maybe or maybe not return; you observe the rubicund-with-rage face of the potential seller.
There’s a lot involved with selling at Art Basel Miami Beach, the least of which are the price tags: the numbers you overhear: the casual “two-point-three for the set, Miss;” the unimpressed miss’ smirk, and the “He is an important artist.” Disparity? Too small a price tag? Too big? A bluff? With movie stars, ballpark heroes, over-played musicians, millionaires by trade or name all art collectors these days—if only for these four days—you realize that the procuring of pieces at Basel is an art itself. You become blasé to the numbers and names being traded. You plop a seat beneath a fake tree on the most distant paper-grass rolling hill. It’s a park in a building in a park. It was assembled and will be disassembled with the other pieces, booths and stalls. On it’s slopes you rest.
You’re beat, man. Your girlfriend’s feat hurt. Both your stomachs rumble. Time for lunch.
And with the gurgling tremble deep within you, your weakened muscles, comes your final realization: you need more time. But first you need a break.
Traipsing along Lincoln, Washington, Collins, 15th, 16th, 17th Street, Espanola Way… you finally settle at crowded French sandwich spot for the best sandwiches in South Beach.
You’re revitalized, but your plan needs reworking. Everything in the art world is happening in the South Florida fashion-cultural-fiscal-social epicentre this weekend, but the Miami Beach Convention Centre, at eleven years of hosting Art Basel, is only just that: the center. The purlieus expand to the corners of the city. Including Basel, there are twenty-two art fairs bustling right now, with tickets ranging from free to “only if we sneak in”. Bars are hopping as Happy Hour gets under way. Music comes at you from corner stores and concerts across the city. Passers-by chatter about plays, like Kurt (about Cobain), and you feel you need to see it. There are the art parties, where you plan to mingle amongst big-wig celebs and supermodels who have a heart-throbbing twist on the English language. A few of whatever A-Rod is drinking and you won’t care that you won’t be able to afford buying anyone anything for the holidays.
Transferring Venetian Causeway, on your way to Wynwood, the early evening shines a SoHo glow over Miami. Advertisements flash everywhere (most for Absolut Greyhound, which you plan to have much of later) and the city has officially illuminated. Basel banners bid you farewell, while a computer-generated silhouette winding her hips on the east façade of a downtown skyscraper welcomes you to the mainland.
After Wynwood, perhaps a foodtruck dinner. Hemmingway today would re-write his Parisian classic, set it here amongst the food trucks and night clubs and hip soirees. A Moveable Fiasco.
Wynwood is impressive. The works slightly more manageable than actual Art Basel, you finally stop asking yourself “is this art?” Nay, this is art. See and appreciate. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy. The art takes a toll, especially when it takes up your day, your weekend.
You’re idling in traffic, east-bound on MacArthur, back to beach-side, Facebooking old friends for a place to stay the night.
Basel banners welcome you back. To 4th street, for a free Verge Art Miami Beach fair. But what you’re really back for are the parties: the clubs whose previously stoic fronts are now open doors with lines of sparkling clubbers patiently waiting for their night to begin. You and your girlfriend way your party options. You’ve researched the highlights: Choice Meeting; Livio & Roby; Fuck Art, Let’s Dance… and those aren’t even the invite-onlys. This is nuts, but it’s nothing new. Art Basel hasn’t altered Miami one bit. Okay, next weekend won’t be Basel. Something else will steal the spotlight, but right now, you have to take it all in. And you need more time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you need more than a day to fully appreciate Art Basel.
Art Basel… you’re head spins and your body shakes from bass beats and you think: what a great excuse for Miami to be, well, Miami for another weekend.