Art Basel

At Art Basel week in Miami, art takes on a starring role

It’s easy to lose perspective during the madness of Art Basel in Miami Beach, to get mired in the paparazzi feedings, the wild outfits, the glitterati throwing tantrums at velvet ropes as they demand entry to glam events hosted by Dom Perignon, Maserati and Ferrari.

But if you managed to cut through the flash of this 12th annual art week, you were rewarded with a breathtaking amount of world-class art at the main Art Basel fair in the Miami Beach Convention Center, along with a dizzying number of thoughtful exhibitions at public museums and private museums, under tents, in permanent galleries and pop-up galleries, at parks. Even on random street corners and floating out in the bay.

And while most of that winds up Sunday night, an increasing amount of extraordinary work — including at the just-opened Perez Art Museum Miami — is here to stay. All week, folks teared up as they strolled through the long-awaited museum, taking in the works of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Cuban modernist painter Amelia Pelaez and many more, and absorbing the notion that their city finally has an impressive collecting museum to call its own.

“This is not one more step toward Miami becoming a real art city. This is a major leap,” said local artist Carlos Betancourt. One of his works, a photo of a pregnant woman whose naked body is covered in script, is part of the museum’s inaugural show. “There was definitely a void because we didn’t have our major museum yet. Now here it is, like magic, and it’s a very emotional moment.”

Although the general consensus is that the party scene was a tad more subdued than usual, by all accounts the buying and selling of art remained robust all week.

At the convention center, sales have been strong both for works by major international artists and emerging artists, said Basel director Marc Spiegler. “This year’s show has been amazing," he said. "Many observers say it’s the best edition ever.”

By Saturday morning Wynwood’s Zadok Gallery, which has a booth at Art Miami in Midtown, had sold several pieces, including three major works by Miami taxidermy artist Enrique de Molina, who not long ago completed a 20-month prison sentence for smuggling parts of endangered and protected wildlife. At Context, the sister fair next door, New York’s Julian Navarro Projects sold several works by the Lebanese-Venezuelan artist Teresa Diehl, now living in Miami, and by Wendy Wischer, a longtime Miami artist living in Salt Lake City.

“It’s never about the actual weekend of the fair,” said Navarro, exhibiting during Basel week for the first time. “It’s about the year-round relationships you have with artists and collectors. That’s why I was confident we’d do well.”

New York art advisor Kimberly Marrero purchased four major pieces at the Art Basel fair in the beach Convention Center for clients and initiated talks with gallerists about commissioning two more pieces. Saturday morning she headed back to the convention center, her eye on three other works.

“This year, the art was the real star,” Marrero said. “It was less about excess and more about access. Walking around the convention center and the other fairs, you saw artists, curators and dealers all engaged in serious conversations. After 12 years of Basel coming to Miami, you could see that the veil has been lifted. I’ve been very proud of my own collectors saying, ‘What I wanted sold out. But can we commission something from the artist? Can we look at the artist’s proof for such and such work?’”

Weekends have traditionally been the time when locals who have been at work all week finally get to dive into the sea of art all over town. Through Sunday night, they’ll mix with international fairgoers at many of the long-term satellite fairs, including NADA, Scope and Pulse, and at a couple of newbies, such as Brazil ArtFair in Midtown Miami and Fusion MIA in Wynwood.

They’ll stroll through the Rubell Collection in Wynwood for a show of contemporary Chinese art; through the Wolfsonian-FIU on South Beach for Rebirth of Rome, a show of design objects, art and artifacts from Italy; through the Museum of Modern Art in North Miami for a exhibition of neon works by acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin.

They’ll check out Basel’s Art Public program on the green outside Miami Beach’s Bass Museum, jam-packed with large-scale outdoor sculptures and installations. And they’ll drive over the Rickenbacker Causeway to see a work called Curiosity, an inflatable, floating Swiss chalet behind the dormant Miami Marine Stadium, which supporters hope will soon be resurrected.

“We are so fortunate to have this in Miami, to have it all come to us,” said Jorge Rosso, a Miami architect and art collector who took the week off from work to see as many of the fairs and exhibits as he could fit in. “I take my vitamins and eat a big breakfast. The amount of art can be overwhelming, but where else can you see a Picasso next a Hirst, and not only see the work, but ask questions about it, learn a little more about the artists, even take the works home if you have the budget for it?”

Aside from the art, Basel week remains a sort of One-Percent-a-Palooza that brings the jet set’s wildest spenders, celebs of all stripes and gangs of hangers-on who descend just to say they were in the fray.

But Marina Abramovic, the famed performance artist, remained a sea of calm as packs of fans, i-Phones aloft, pressed into her from all sides at an UNTITLED fair booth selling editions of The Current, Abramovic’s self-portrait, whose proceeds benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Marina Abramovic Institute in New York.

Isn’t Basel itself a sort of weeklong performance piece?

“That’s completely wrong,” Abramovic said. She’s been to the Basel circus many times, witnessed all of the glittery excess in Miami during the first week of December. “A baker baking bread in his bakery is not art,” she says. “If Warhol baked bread in his studio, that would have been art.

“It’s about the intention, about context. The people who come to Art Basel act out, but none of that can be called performance. Performance art, when it’s good, can change your life.”