Miami Basel: A Quick Guide

Though it only launched in 2002, Miami Basel is today widely considered the most important art event in the United States each year. The five-day fair draws over 70,000 people to Miami in the first weekend of each December (December 5-8, 2019 this year) with its promises of fabulous parties, people-watching and infectious, buzzy energy. Oh, and there’s art to see too! Here’s what to know before heading south.

  • The History

    Art Basel as an entity is comprised of three annual art fairs that take much of their inspiration from the famed Venice Biennale. The original, held in Basel, Switzerland, launched in 1970 and is still going strong, occurring each June. Miami Basel cropped up in 2002, when the organizers were drawn to the city for its placement at the nexus of North and South America. (Indeed, there is a strong representation of Latin American artists, galleries, and collectors in attendance at Miami Basel.) Most recently, in 2013, the third Basel outpost emerged in Hong Kong.

  • The Art

    All of the art at Miami Basel falls into the categories of Modern (generally considered from the late 19th through mid-20th century), contemporary (post-WWII through more recently) and emerging art (works by young artists, not typically yet established, who are actively working today). Mediums include the traditional: paintings, sculpture, and photography, as well as the boundary pushing, like videos and experiential. Chances are, of the 4,000 artists represented at Basel, you’ll have only heard of a small percentage, and that’s ok… your time there should be as much about viewing works by the masters as discovering new favorites (which might come with the added bonus of having much more palatable price tags.) And on the topic of prices, most works on display at Basel are for sale, though you’ll be hard-pressed to see amounts posted publicly. Instead, ask the booth attendant for a price sheet.

  • The Venues

    The Miami Beach Convention Center, host to the fair, is the home of 250-plus booths, each held by an individual gallery. In addition to these, there are special sections of the fair for gallerists to participate in, like Nova, which allows dealers to submit between one and three recent, never-shown-before pieces by a single artist, and Meridians, new this year, which allows space for larger-than-life installations that wouldn’t fit in traditional booths. Beyond the Convention Center, there are a number of satellite fairs, the best including Design Miami/ (1850 Convention Center Drive), directly next to the Convention Center, which features design from this century and last; experiential SCOPE (801 Ocean Drive), which includes live music throughout the day and into the night; PULSE (Indian Beach Park, 4601 Collins Avenue), which this year is focusing on creating calming experiences for fair goers, helped in great part to its location on the beach; UNTITLED (Ocean Drive and 12th Street), which this year will celebrate the written word, specifically by art critics; PINTA (Mana Wynwood, 2217 NW Fifth Avenue), which highlights works by Latin American artists; and NADA (Ice Palace Studios; 1400 North Miami Avenue) showcasing art by young and emerging artists.

  • The “Access” & Parties

    Much is made of special, early access to the fair. The Wednesday before it opens to the public is by invitation only, as is Thursday morning until 3pm. Wild parties, concerts and other types of performances are hosted throughout the city with a heavy concentration in Wynwood. (Read more about them here.) And many galleries, dealers and institutions like museums and auction houses host VIP dinner parties at restaurants around the city.

  • The Rest

    Art Basel’s Conversations are talks between artists, collectors, gallerists and other specialists about specific topics and the general state of contemporary art. For food and drinks purposes, there are a couple of cafés inside the Convention Center but you’ll want to have the majority of your meals elsewhere in Miami. Unsurprisingly, restaurants get packed during Miami Basel, so making reservations ahead of time is strongly encouraged. Having said that, room service might be just the ticket after long days of walking and looking.

  • The Details

    Do your research and determine your priorities ahead of time as there is no way to see all of the art in all of the venues. Note that traffic and parking during Basel is famously bad, so leave plenty of time to get around, walk when you can, and Uber or Lyft when you can’t. Tickets are available online in advance and for a more in-depth experience, you can consider booking space on a guided tour.

If you can’t get to Miami Basel this year, fret not, as they have already listed the dates for the next two iterations (December 3-6, 2020; December 2-5, 2021) and it’s probably not too early to start making plans to visit either. But any time of year you head to Miami you’ll have the chance to see incredible contemporary art, whether in Wynwood, Miami Design District, museums like Pérez Art Museum Miami and Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA) or private collections open to the public like the Margulies Collection, De La Cruz Collection and Rubell Family Collection. Have you been to Miami Basel in years past? Are you heading there this winter? (Don’t forget to book your luggage shipment ahead of time.) What have been some highlights for you?

(Photo credit: Courtesy Art Basel, © Art Basel)

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