El Mac and Retna mural for Primary Flight, Art Basel Miami Beach primaryflight.com

When an artist friend returned from his first Art Basel Miami Beach experience a few years back he recounted a frenzy that made me think of Black Friday, only instead of flat-screens and digital cameras, the gate-crashing mob of insanity was hording multi-million-dollar works of art.

“There were people literally running from booth to booth,” he said. The best - and often most expensive - artwork was sold within 20 minutes.

That image of collectors sprinting from convention booth to convention booth has always stayed with me. And as I plan for the event – which officially kicks off on Thursday, though some periphery events have already begun – I can’t help but feel that I, too, will be in a constant dash from one supposedly cool thing to the next.

The actual Art Basel Miami Beach fair – an extension of 41-year-old Art Basel in Switzerland – runs from Dec. 2 - 5 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, but that’s only a small part of the action. Now in its eighth year, Art Basel Miami Beach has grown into Art Basel Week, an ad hoc moniker that describes its importance beyond simply high-profile art sales. 

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Smaller art fairs, concerts and promotional events have cropped up around the actual fair, and the week has evolved into a hive of marketing, fashion and music: Sanrio is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a pop-up shop called Small Gift Miami; Vogue magazine has converted the lobby of the Raleigh Hotel into a temporary shopping lounge; SPiN, the ping-pong club with outposts in New York and Los Angeles, is holding an art star tournament at the Delano Hotel. Even the Miami Heat is involved with Art of the Basketball, a mural project with more than 30 artists participating.

“Man, it’s crazy down there,” said Chris Mendoza, an artist and collaborator with the Brooklyn-based Barnstormers Collective, when I bumped into him in the East Village a couple of weeks ago. Mendoza told me he’d be painting in the Wynwood Arts District (also the location of the aforementioned Art of the Basketball). In recent years, Wynwood has become the hub of most of the street art action.

This year, hundreds of artists – including HOW and NOSM, Shepard Fairey, Sever, Ron English, Jeff Soto, Logan Hicks, The London Police, Haze and Saelee Oh – are painting in mural projects organized by Graffiti Gone Global and Primary Flight, both of which are in their fourth years at Art Basel Week (photo at top is a Prmary Flight mural from a previous Art Basel Miami Beach by artists El Mac and Retna).

Joanna Cisowska, marketing and public relations director for Graffiti Gone Global, said the artwork is very different from last year. “The painted walls are only one part of the show – the murals outside that the artists will be painting throughout the week,” she said. “We also have a sculpture installation designed by Haas & Hahn (a Dutch artist duo) as well as the Eames collection and many other art pieces.” 

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Another massive outdoor installation is Rainbow City (pictured above), built by the Miami art collective FriendsWithYou. Constructed of air-filled sculptures up to 40 feet high, Rainbow City will convert part of Miami’s Design District – which, by the way, is having its own fair/thing/party at the same time – into something from Alice in Wonderland.

N*E*R*D is scheduled to perform at Rainbow City on Thursday. One night earlier, the Canadian band Metric is playing at Collins Park. LCD Soundsystem is headlining a party thrown by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. But the show I’m most looking forward to not getting into is Perry Farrell’s Precision Guided Musicians Art Project at Bardot on Thursday night.

Those acts seem to sum up the offerings at Art Basel Week: It can be upscale, downtown, hipster, slumdog, art trash, new wave, exclusive and random. In other words, it can be whatever you want it to be.

As I look at the week ahead, one of the gallery exhibitions I’m excited to see is “It Ain’t Fair,” a sort of anti-art fair group show at O.H.W.O.W. Gallery with some of the hottest artistes du jour, such as Scott Campbell, Dan Colen, KAWS, Agathe Snow, José Parlá and Aurel Schmidt – all of whom work and play in New York City.

Which has brought me to a strange discovery: The more I plan for my trip – and the more messages I get from friends wanting to meet up – the more I’m thinking that Art Basel Week might be more New York City than anything else.

Catch you on the flip side.





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