Art-Basel-2010-Dec.jpg Richard S. Chang/Red Bull Photofiles

In its ninth year, the definitive art festival is still going strong, making it the go-to place for artists, collectors and even music lovers alike.

As the sun dropped low on Saturday afternoon, casting long shadows in the lot of a long-abandoned RC Cola plant, it bathed a painter – encased in a dark blue hoodie and elevated several feet off the ground by low scaffolding – in a natural spotlight.

Drawing a crowd of onlookers, the artist, Smash 137, made wide switchback sweeps with his right arm, filling the air with the scent of fresh aerosol. He stopped to step back and examine his work in progress, which, at that moment, was no more than a splash of colors.

“I’m Swiss, you know where the original Art Basel comes from,” Smash 137 said with a light accent. “But this is much better than that. There, you don’t have all of this.”

His was only one of dozens of large graffiti pieces covering the crumbling concrete walls of the vast plant – part of the Primary Flight mural project, held during Art Basel Week. Clusters of people in large groups and small filtered into the urban decay, seemingly pulled this way and that by their camera lenses. When a metal-grilled ice-cream truck finally rolled out, the lot’s soundtrack was given over to the hip-hop playing in a far corner, where a group was filming a low-end rap video against the backdrop of another artist hurriedly finishing a mural in the dying light. 

null Richard S. Chang/Red Bull Photofiles

During the four days of Art Basel Miami Beach, the city morphed into an art bazaar of the highest order, one that is as vast as it is varied, with events ranging from the art fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center to an exhibition of black light paintings by Ryan McGinness inside a strip club, to Primary Flight, which took place away from the beach in the Wynwood Arts District, a gentrifying part of downtown Miami. Openings overlapped with concerts and closing parties, and one always had the nagging feeling that there was something potentially better going on elsewhere in the city.

“You just kind of go with the flow,” said Tomokazu Matsuyama, an artist from New York. “And then everyone winds up hanging out at three in the morning.”

Art Basel Miami Beach, which closed on Sunday, still serves as the foundation for the week. Its organizers announced an attendance record of 46,000 visitors, and many galleries said business was good.

“This year in Miami was, without a doubt, for the overall quality of the art and the energy, one of the best art fairs I have been to and it certainly was for Pace,” said Marc Glimcher, president of the Pace Gallery, in a statement. “We practically sold out works in our booth within hours of the opening.”

Indeed, by Friday the wheeling and dealing was pretty much over. But the graffiti artists continued their takeover of Wynwood. The sidewalks were littered with spray cans, beer bottles and water jugs. Two blocks away from the RC Cola plant, Haze, the graffiti legend, was taking pictures of his recently finished piece. Logan Hicks, the stencil specialist, watched. Askew, a graffiti writer from New Zealand, was painting another wall nearby.

The hive of activity seemed to be in stark contrast with what the American artist, and director of the film “Basquiat,” Julian Schnabel said on Thursday. He said, “Art fairs are not for artists — if I didn’t have something to do here, I wouldn’t be here.” He was at Art Basel to promote a partnership with Maybach.

But for artists like Smash 137, who lives in Barcelona, and hundreds of other street artist looking for a blank wall to paint and some potential connections to take them further in their careers, Art Basel is, indeed, for artists.

Smash 137 said his days were full. “It is important to be here,” he said. “You go to the shows, you paint, you go to openings and the parties. And you meet people.”

And the week is all the better for them being there.

 Follow Richard S. Chang on Twitter: @RS_Chang

 

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