Miami transforms into the art capital of the world during Art Basel, with overwhelming, exciting and brilliant curations that set it ahead of any of the finest museums on the planet for one full week. It also makes my personal top five events to attend of all time.
Now in its 15th year and always scheduled for the last few days in November and the first weekend in December, it has become the destination for hundreds of thousands of art aficionados, celebrities, partygoers and investors who flavor the event — uniquely set in the American Riviera — with a particular panache.
With over 289 galleries from all over the world bringing their A-game — over 4,000 on display at the Convention Center alone — there is now way to see everything. Surrounding the epicenter are other private and public exhibits of collections at Art Miami, Scope, Design Miami, Satellite, NADA, Wynwood, Pulse, Untitled and more.
This year at the Convention Center, masterpieces were not that evident. Of course, that depends on who you ask. While many of the galleries brought mesmerizing and expensive, classically recognizable pieces, many brought pieces I found less than exciting, with accompanying prices that seemed laughable.
It often seemed the exact opposite while at the satellite fairs, like Scope, for example, where you walk into galleries with younger, experimental, less expensive and fresher pieces by up-and-comers (with galleries and artists paying much less in rent space.)
But art is subjective so I really will not attempt to say anything other than there is something for everyone. And yes, maybe I just DON’T GET IT. This was reiterated as I walked past Jose Arellano, who asked if I would take a picture of him and his friend in front of a smaller 2-D black-and-white piece of what appeared to be a Q-bert inspired exploding pyramid.
“Full length, three quarter or bust?” I asked. “Horizontal or vertical?” I am pretty conscientious when it comes to snapping a stranger’s shot, and I peppered off a dozen while saying, “One. Two. Three.”
“Do you like the piece?” the gentleman asked. “Oh, is this yours?” “Yes.” I had an easy time being honest about not reeeaallly liking the piece. Still I found nice things about it.
“Well, it is simple and understated, which I generally like. It reminds be a bit of Q-Bert, the old arcade game, except with a more limited palette, which I also generally enjoy. I would say, though, surrounded by such colorful and provocative pieces I’m afraid I would not have paid this much attention as it seems somewhat, well, dull and less than visually inviting.”
Yes, I was honest, rude even. But I really believe honesty in art perspective yields satisfaction and growth at unmeasured levels.
He looked at me, without any sense of offense, and simply asked me to step back a few steps, which I did.
“Now stare at the center and walk slowly to your right.” I did this. As I did, the exploding pyramid in boring blacks, whites and grays started to move and writhe before my eyes.
I was fascinated.
“Whoaaa,” I said, with great excitement. I’ve never tripped on acid but I’m sure this is what it is like. Lines on the painting started changing, moving, swirling and coming to life. The artist smiled. He created a virtual reality experience I almost missed entirely.
After an apology for not really “getting” it at first, I explained what I’ve learned about myself for years. I am often wrong about things and quicker than ever to accept when I am.
The artist, like many others at the exhibits, I’m sure, has deeper meanings, stories and points of view if you just take an extra minute to explore and discuss them. Which reminded me of what makes this one of the best events of all time.
And so as it is with many of the coolest events, you really have to plan. Tips to make it a better event for you mostly just involve time management, in my opinion. Traffic in and around Miami Beach is ridiculous so don’t think you will be able to pack a schedule too tight. This year, once on the island, I managed to navigate down Alton into a parking space in under an hour, but not by much. Walking to the convention center was only ten minutes. Afterwards the walk back to my parking space was also ten minutes but the drive to head just a few blocks to Ocean Drive to get to Scope was another hour. Literally bumper to bumper barely moving at all. I am certain I could have walked it faster. Planning a really cool lunch experience in and around and in between viewings isn’t too challenging during the day but plan a wait for finer dining establishments at night. Of course quick—and often delicious—fare is available at numerous locations. Most all of the exhibits offer cafes with a variety of sushi, sandwiches. pasta and always Cuban coffee so if you are in a rush you can really save some time by just eating on site.
—Eric Raddatz is the Presentation Editor for Florida Weekly, the director of the Fort Myers Film Festival and curator at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. Follow him at twitter.com/ericraddatz.