Inside Art Basel Miami Beach: 5 Things to Know

Inside Art Basel Miami Beach: 5 Things to Know

By Drew Limsky


When people talk about Art Basel, they’re often referring to Art Week, the annual visual arts festival that takes place in South Florida every December. Art Basel Miami Beach, however, is where it all began, and remains the epicenter of the annual event.

A bit of history: after its origins in 2002, the global draw of Art Basel paved the way for additional art exhibitions, tents, and events across the sands of Miami Beach and in numerous venues in the City of Miami, just across the bay. It also sparked lively parties and happenings throughout the city’s various museums and hotels, both on and off the beach, as well as in the artsy, walkable Wynwood and the Design District neighborhoods. These days, it’s hard to tell where Miami begins and Art Week ends.

“Nothing in the art world can compare to Art Basel Miami Beach,” says art dealer and interior designer Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque. “The multicultural vibe of the city is everywhere, mixing with the art collectors, conservators, and enthusiasts all wearing black, walking around Miami Beach.”

The 2019 dates are December 5th through 8th, but even two or three weekends wouldn’t be enough to experience all that Art Basel Miami Beach has to offer. Here are five things to know to plan accordingly.

The Lay of the Land

There’s a reason the show is called Art Basel Miami Beach and not Art Basel Miami. Even frequent visitors don’t realize that Miami Beach is not a sandy neighborhood of the city of Miami—rather, it’s an independent city founded in 1915, with its own identity, culture, and history.

The Art Deco Historic District, set within the South Beach neighborhood, contains the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, and is one of the world’s best-preserved and most famous historical districts. The Miami Beach Convention Center, located just inside the northern boundary of the Art Deco District, is the setting of Art Basel Miami Beach.

The Main Show

A year ago, the Miami Beach Convention Center unveiled a stunningly modern new look—to the tune of $620 million. Now, the venue matches the world-class art that’s mounted inside every year. With more than 200 galleries arriving to show off over 4,000 artists, it’s not unusual to see canvases by modernist icons like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Alex Katz, and Keith Haring, as well as glittering sculptures by Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor.

New York’s Pace Gallery is one of the most prestigious art houses to make the journey south: This year, the theme of its booth is Echoes, featuring artists that have work “in conversation.” The show includes a pairing by superstar Robert Rauschenberg and fresh-faced Adam Pendleton. And it’s all for sale: One oft-heard piece of Basel advice is to arrive early and leave early, because so many of the high-profile, best-publicized sales occur early in the week during VIP hours.

Even if you’re not in the market, Art Basel is a vast, museum-quality exhibition located just two blocks from arguably the best urban beach on the planet. It’s impossible not to be impressed.

Satellite Shows

Usually it’s quick and easy to cross from Miami to Miami Beach, but during Art Week, traffic is an inescapable hurdle. Be clear be about which venues are clustered together on the beach and which are on the mainland—it’s best not to plan a day that requires going over the causeway multiple times.

A few key event locations to note: South Beach is home to SCOPE, with its slate of contemporary artists—134 of them this year—and the seven-year-old UNTITLED, Art. Also on the beach is Aqua Art Miami, set in the intimate Aqua Hotel. Meanwhile, in Miami proper, you’ll find serious collectors at Art Miami and its sister fair, CONTEXT, as well as Spectrum and Red Dot in Wynwood.

Where to Stay

For reasons thematic and geographic, the Sagamore Hotel is a great pick. The artsiest hotel on South Beach is just an 11-minute walk to the convention center and even has a resident art advisor, Sébastien Laboureau. Needless to say, it pulls out all the stops for Art Week. A lavish Sunday brunch in its galleries and by the pool typically closes out the yearly festival. Just next door is the beloved National Hotel, an Art Deco tower with a famously long swimming pool. Both hotels enjoy beach access.

Where to Dine & Drink

“One of the great things about Art Basel is that many of the nearby hotels have bars right on the beach,” says Claudia Altman-Siegel, the principal of San Francisco’s Altman-Siegel Gallery. She has participated in the fair every year since its inception  and recommends cocktails at the W South Beach or Soho Beach House, where Cecconi’s is the best see-and-be-seen Italian eatery in town. South Beach resident Yury Bettoni, the former professional tennis player and business partner at Italkraft, raves about the branzino and grilled octopus at Santorini by Georgios.

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