The hurricane known as Art Basel week struck Miami with full force on Tuesday, sending crashing waves of collectors, design fiends, scenesters, curiosity-seekers, and the merely very moneyed into the city’s hippest neighborhoods to nearly drown in a deluge of tent fairs, installations, museum shows, and, naturellement, free cocktails.
Thus went VIP opening night for the sprawling collection of satellite art marketplaces, special exhibits, and sometimes little more than tangentially related goings-on that orbit around the annual arrival of the blue-chip Goliath, the Miami Beach edition of the Art Basel fair, now in its 12th year at the city’s convention center.
Only this year it all seemed more of a crush than ever before, which is saying a lot. Midtown Miami, home to several satellite tents, including the ever-expanding Art Miami/CONTEXT fair, at times more closely resembled Midtown Melee as thousands of people swamped streets and venues and strained to get a clear look at the art, not to mention find a place to park. Art Miami alone was expecting 12,000 invitees on Tuesday evening.
And this is all before the headliner, the Art Basel fair itself, opens its doors to its zealously guarded roster of A-listers on Wednesday (admission to the convention center for the masses is Thursday through Sunday).
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This Tuesday opener had something extra: the splashy inauguration in the old Bicentennial Park downtown of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which supporters say will extend Miami’s art cred to the 51 other weeks when Basel isn’t in town.
To be sure, many collectors and fair attendees on Tuesday were focused laser-like on the art — and what appeared from early samplings to be sky-high asking prices.
Some raved about the quality of the work for sale at both Art Miami and the second-year Miami Project — Cirrus Gallery got a recommendation from one art advisor — while others raved about price inflation. Art Miami director Nick Korniloff attributed it to recent record-breaking prices at the New York art auctions.
“The prices are very high,” said one Miami collector, who asked not to be named, at Art Miami. “I guess they’re thinking the uninitiated that want a trophy on their wall will pay them, and the initiated will negotiate.”
But there were also some good deals for those in the know: Cirrus, out of Los Angeles, was offering three trial proofs for prints by Ed Ruscha, and one could be had for $20,000, a comparatively modest sum for such a renowned artist. The original limited edition of 75 prints, which differ significantly from the proofs, sold out decades ago.
For those who were just looking, there was plenty: an installation by Cameron Gray featuring a couch potato in a recliner — “Is he real?’’ passersby asked, and, yes, he was — in front of a 27-screen display playing a looping seven-minute video that recalled a Summer of Love flashback.
A disk filled with colored sand by Manuel Merida at Meyer Zafra mesmerized several would-be buyers as it spun slowly, constantly de-constructing and reconstructing an interior sandscape. And there was supermodel Cindy Crawford in the flesh, on hand for an exhibition of photographs of her from the 1980s at the frosty CC Lounge.
“The quality of art here is very good,” said Miami collector Edward Shumsky. “Last year was a step up from before, and this is even better.”
New to Midtown this year: Brazil ArtFair, featuring artists from the surging South American giant.
A few miles north, a few thousand people swept through the opening of British artist Tracey Emin’s provocative, not to say naughty, exhibit of neon works at North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art. As has become tradition, Vanity Fair magazine co-hosted the MOCA reception as its Basel week launch party.
“Is anal sex legal?” asks one of Emin’s wall pieces, all of them in her handwriting. “Is legal sex anal?”
Other examples of Emin’s work on display at MOCA, in her first full U.S. museum show, featured decidedly more pungent, un-PG language.
In the lot across from the Beach convention center, early arrivals at the elaborate Design Miami/ tent swarmed past a big mound of sand with a metal shade canopy balanced at its tip — the traditional entry commission, this one by Formlessfinder. The design fair — the furnishings and decor arm of Art Basel — features 37 presenters hailing from Paris to Los Angeles and showing modern and contemporary design pieces — many of them with a Miami feel this year.
“The Miami theme came together organically,” Design Miami/ director Marianne Goebl said in an interview this week. “Some of the galleries married Miami with their collections.”
One such collection: the Swarovski Crystal Palace’s Mangue Groove is a striking, walk-through installation of illuminated crystal and reclaimed wood that artist Guilherme Torres sourced from Brazil and Miami. The structure is modeled after mangroves.
Miami’s famed private collections also shone. In Wynwood, the Rubell Collection’s “28 Chinese” show will remain up for months after Art Basel, but it immediately established itself as a must-see for those in town for a few days. Among the most intriguing pieces: Zhu Jinshi’s Boat, a tunnel of 8,000 sheets of rice paper; He Xiangyu’s sculptures of monumental Chinese figures; My Fantasy, a dead Mao in a glass case; and Death of Marat, a dead Ai Wei Wei sprawled on the floor.
It would not be Art Basel without celebrity attendees, of course, and some regulars were in early evidence. The VIP opening of Wynwood Walls’ new graffiti-style murals, featuring female muralists and street artists, drew music producer Pharrell Williams and curator Jeffrey Deitch.
On Monday, when the Untitled fair opened in South Beach to beat the Tuesday rush, actor Val Kilmer palled around with performance artist Marina Abramovic, who became an art-world celebrity after her marathon The Artist is Present sitting act at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010.
And there’s much more to come. Much more. To wit: NetJets, the fractional private jet ownership company, said it has 200 flights arranged, with a total of 800 passengers, during this Art Basel week — up from 180 flights last year.
After Tuesday, collectors and Baselites were girding themselves for the quake after the storm.
“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at the running of the bulls,” one fairgoer was overheard telling another.
Miami Herald staff writer Doug Hanks and correspondent Ricardo Mor contributed to this report.