Art Basel Invasion!

Screw the recession. The nation's number one art fest is bigger than ever.

"More and more, fairs are moving toward a curatorial environment," observes Nina Johnson, director of Wynwood's edgy Gallery Diet. "You are going to see more galleries at fairs focusing on one- or two-person shows rather than putting out all the stock from their spaces. People will be able to appreciate a cohesive body of work rather than the way they did it years past, when everyone seemed to be rushing through in 30 seconds and thinking, What can I buy to take home?" Johnson adds.

The Wynwood Fairs

The art fairs located miles from Miami Beach, mostly in Wynwood, have become the beating heart of Basel. While tickets to Art Basel cost a whopping $35, other shows in Wynwood go for less: Entry to Design Miami is $20; Art Miami is $15. Scope and a new fair called Art Asia go for only $20 for a one-day pass to both. And you can sashay into the NADA Art Fair for absolutely, well, nada.

Meret Oppenheim's Frau mit Hut
Meret Oppenheim's Frau mit Hut
Marcel Duchamp's De ou par Marcel
Marcel Duchamp's De ou par Marcel


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"We are definitely trying to create more of a home-cooked-meal energy and work within the community to demystify Art Basel," says Alexis Hubshman, director of Scope, known for featuring wallet-friendly work. "We are not about the chilly, austere feeling people have come to associate with the white box façades at the Miami Beach Convention Center. We're striving to make this all about a warmer experience for spectators," he says.

"People are definitely hurting. We are having a free barbecue brunch for the community on Sunday afternoon. All the fairs in Wynwood have joined together to offer free shuttle service to and from the Beach as well."

Scope and its new sister fair, Art Asia, present some of the greatest change this year. Hubshman has moved the event from Roberto Clemente Park in Wynwood to a new 120,000-square-foot space in midtown Miami (2951 NE First Ave.). Art Asia will add a new dimension to Basel by featuring work from more than 60 of the world's leading galleries specializing in contemporary Asian art.

"Together, both fairs will include more than 135 galleries from 36 countries," Hubshman crows. "And Art Asia is a new initiative featuring the best of a hot market right now."

He says that although only three galleries slated to participate in Scope this year dropped out after the stock market crash, many are bracing for the worst. "I know that with many of the other fairs, that's been a concern. We were in London for the Frieze Fair last month, and there was a 15 to 20 percent drop in attendance overall. We were fortunate that we experienced our best sales at Frieze in two years and saw works up to the $100,000 range sell. So we are hopeful."

Hubshman believes the average price of art exhibited at Scope — $5,000 to $10,000 — will remain a draw for young collectors. But he is no optimist. "We are expecting up to a 20 percent drop in attendance because of the economy. Some galleries will no longer be bringing an entourage or paying for artists to come down here to party and do coke all week," he says.

He notes that dealers are becoming shrewder and packing drawings in their suitcases or teaming up with other galleries in their communities to consolidate shipping costs. "A few New York galleries I'm working with are joining together to share crates. I'll even be bringing some of those crates in the back of my truck when I drive down for the fair."

Hubshman has invited Miami's conceptual tag team Friends with You to spruce up Scope's VIP lounge. "We have been on the everlasting gob-hopper hustle," chuckles Sam Borkson, half of the daffy duo, which also includes Arturo Sandoval III. "We are creating this huge bounce house for adults and kids who love art. The economy is impacting Basel hugely, and I hear a lot of major galleries might stay away. We want to create this crazy fun-house environment that's fully immersive and will include a restaurant, a bar, and a place to chill. In the past, Basel here has been about overconsuming, but we don't plan to make any money out of this."

His project will include a funky bodega offering T-shirts and small watercolor drawings and sculptures for sale. "Our church is about feeling art and not consumer dogma," Borkson says. "We want people to have a jubilant art adventure." The big money that infects much of the rest of Art Basel will not dominate here.

For many culture vultures on a green-stamp budget, NADA (1400 N. Miami Ave.) is a perennial crowd favorite because it waives a cover charge. The fair, known for a heady mix of contemporary art talent and free daily performances, will house 88 emerging galleries from 19 countries. It's an inviting oasis in the midst of the unrelenting Basel hoopla. "I would say that NADA is a great option as we are free and open to the public during the fair hours," director Heather Hubbs says. "We have a beautiful outdoor garden area with hammocks to relax in and a great café restaurant that also offers seated table service. "

Basel will also have more eco-friendly work. The Design Miami Fair (NE 39th Street and First Court) includes an eco-friendly project exploring the theme of the natural world, titled "Beyond Organic: Design in the State of Nature." And a new arrival is the Green Art Fair (3100 NW Midtown Blvd.), introducing environmentally sensitive artists, curators, designers, and galleries to local audiences while presenting artworks and designs that bring new ideas for green living. "It's for artists who use recycled materials in their work," explains Miami artist Pablo Cano, known for his eye-popping conceptual puppets created from trash. "I will be performing a musical marionette piece and exhibiting three canvases created with debris from Hurricane Floyd. This year, it's definitely all about art as entertainment and hoping the market won't have too large an impact. I guess some artists will end up pounding the pavement and looking for jobs," Cano rues.

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