Miami-Dade County

Miami Art Week is here. The art is serious, frivolous and infuriating.

It’s happening again. The fleets of Lexuses and Beemers laden with VIPs sitting in impossible traffic on the causeways. The mobs of hyper-groomed swells in designer sneakers. The lines of private jets parked at Opa-locka. The lavish parties. The star-studded dinners you’re not invited to.

Oh, yes, and the art — an overwhelming deluge of some of the best, and some of the flakiest, works of visual arts the world has on offer, all brought to our little subtropical backyard for the biggest, baddest cultural bazaar in America.

Time to strap on the running shoes. Miami Art Week is here.

Tuesday meant museum show openings: Feminist icon Judy Chicago at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Miami, and the Haas Brothers’ “Ferngullly” at The Bass. It meant invitation-only previews at the Design Miami and Untitled art fairs.

And it meant VIP Preview night at the second-largest show in town this week. The Art Miami fair returned for the second year to the site of the former Miami Herald building on Biscayne Bay along with its sister CONTEXT fair, where by 8 p.m. the congestion of bodies in the aisles rivaled the clogged traffic outside. Street artist Mr. Brainwash was trailed by a video cameraman, and “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary scoped out art with his wife, Linda.

Mathew Ehrilich (center) gets a look at Mr. Brainwash’s ‘Freddie Mercury” at the Contessa Gallery during the VIP opening of Art Miami and CONTEXT on Tuesday December 4, 2018. PATRICK FARRELL

On Wednesday, the main event, the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, opens its doors to select VIPs.

“It’s a great time of the year when the world comes to us,” said art collector and film producer Dennis Scholl as he swept into the Art Miami tent with his wife, Debra, looking for “good blue-chip” drawings on paper that he knew he could find at the fair.

Kevin Berlin of Florence, Italy looks at “Hippocampus” by Redlands artist Enrique Gomez de Molina at the VIP opening of Art Miami and CONTEXT on Tuesday December 4, 2018. PATRICK FARRELL

The serious quality hit visitors square in the face, in fact, as soon as they entered: A massive, unmissable Henry Moore bronze entitled “Mother and Child” was front and center at the Landau Contemporary booth, yours for around $8 million. Around it were paintings by some of the greats, including Picasso, De Chirico and Leger, only a sampling of the $80 million in inventory that fair director Nick Korniloff said the Montreal gallery brought to Miami.

But the blue-chippers aren’t the only reason the locally grown fair has now made it to every Art Week visitor’s must-see list, Korniloff said. Galleries also brought works by contemporary masters David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat. And along the edges of the fair, he noted, are high-quality works from lesser-known artists with pricing attractive and affordable to beginning collectors, so that Art Miami offers something to a wide range of potential buyers.

And those buyers, he said, have not been scared off by stock market volatility, Tuesday’s Wall Street sell-off or slowing economies in Europe and Asia.

“People are very bullish still on the art market in America,” he said.

There was plenty of space devoted to expensive frivolity. A red F430 Ferrari tattooed by graffiti artist Retna, whose art uses letters in an invented language, was for sale at Maddox Gallery’s booth, along with several canvases by him. But the Ferrari is a race car and not street legal, so the buyer will have to park it in a garage, joked gallery director Christian Fannenboeck Campini.

But several booths also struck some serious notes, with art pointed to the moment of Me Too, climate change, mass shootings and discrimination against immigrants and indigenous people.

At the Heller Gallery’s booth, Norwood Viviano is showing 16 blown-glass cylinders that represent the land mass of cities around the world and, at the center, a glass core showing how much land would be left dry by sea-level rise. Among the most dramatic examples are Miami and Miami Beach, where only a slender glass tendril remains at the center of their cylinders.

“I tried to make it beautiful, but it’s also pessimistic,” Viviano said.

At the Nancy Hoffman Gallery booth, a wall was hung with seven of artist Michele Pred’s vintage handbags, each emblazoned with electroluminescent wires spelling out messages with a feminist cast: “Me Too.” “Believe Women.” “Time’s Up.” The bags have become celebrity darlings, with Amy Schumer posting Instagram pics of hers and three being carried on the red carpet at the Oscars, Pred said.

Purses by Michele Pred at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery during the VIP opening of Art Miami and CONTEXT on Tuesday December 4, 2018. PATRICK FARRELL

For those looking for media with messages, UNTITLED’s mammoth beach tent at 12th Street and Collins Avenue delivered. From a massive gun cut from the side of a yellow school bus, to collages crafted from paint peeled from decaying Havana buildings, artists proclaimed frustration with the status quo.

VIP patrons stood in line to plop down $30 for a custom-printed T-shirt created on site at an activation presented by Columbia University’s LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. Each buyer had the choice of a background (Angela Davis, Mahatma Ghandi) and a slogan (Burn it all Down, The Revolution will Come.) The project was the brainchild of artists Rirkrit Tiravanija & Tomas Vu.