Art Basel Miami Beach Just Keeps Getting Bigger and Better

Elmgreen & Dragset Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, 2014
Elmgreen & Dragset Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, 2014
Courtesy of the Artists and Victoria Miro, London

How surreal has Art Basel Miami Beach become? This year, fairgoers at the main event inside the Miami Beach Convention Center will encounter both Lady Gaga and Barbie amid the billions of dollars in high-end fine art.

No, really. Both the iconic divas are on the calendar this year. The Mother Monster makes her appearance posing as the bloated corpse of a French revolutionary in a Robert Wilson video, while Mattel's identity-shifting Barbie will troll the convention center all weekend ostensibly in various guises, from a wealthy Prada-clad collector to a baldheaded conceptual artist, all while posting her getups on Instagram.

Such lunacy can only be a sign that the art world glitterati and a mixed bag of celebrity luminaries have blown into town for the 13th edition of ABMB.

See also: Free Events This Week in Miami: Basel Edition

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The main event of Miami's Art Week is bigger than ever this year. The star-studded affair will boast 267 of the planet's top international galleries selected from 31 countries representing North and Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. A whopping 90 galleries from New York alone will set up shop in South Beach. They'll feature a staggering array of works by more than 2,000 artists.

Experts expect upward of 60,000 visitors -- and 1,500 journalists -- to wander the seemingly unending rows of booths, generating upward of half a billion dollars in sales by the end of the fair's four-day run. The fine-art market is still heating up, as evidenced by both Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses setting records last month with more than $2 billion in sales on works including pieces by Picasso and Warhol.

"The figures change year to year, so the numbers are hard to quantify," says ABMB Florida representative Bob Goodman. "But last year we had 60,000 visitors, with about 15,000 of those coming from major metropolitan centers including New York and European cities. Two hundred sixty galleries come from across the globe, and when you add the galleries from the parallel fairs, the impact on the local economy becomes significant.

"More private jets fly in than they do at the Super Bowl, the hotels are booked, you can't get reservations at local restaurants, and the taxi cabs and limo services are doing great business. People buy art and pay taxes. The galleries that come to Miami fly into the airport with their staffs and spend money during their stay here.

"You also have these wealthy collectors and others who visit the city and buy a condo here. The ripple effect on the local economy is tremendous."

Don't sweat it if you don't have a mil or two to drop at the fair, though. Amid all the blue-chip selling and buying, casual visitors will find plenty of talent worth ogling.

At the new Survey sector, 13 galleries feature art historical projects. One highlight comes via New York's Andrew Edlin Gallery, which will present works by outsider artists Henry Darger and Marcel Storr. Darger worked as a custodian at a Chicago hospital and was an unknown recluse until after his death. Storr, a self-taught artist, believed that Paris would one day be destroyed in a nuclear attack and that the president of the United States would need his drawings to help rebuild the French capital. Most of the Frenchman's work is thought to have been lost or destroyed, with only 63 surviving today.

"The inclusion of works by self-taught artists in major exhibitions like the Venice Biennale... has made a strong case for their presence in major fairs," gallery owner Andrew Edlin says.

The Positions sector, meanwhile, is geared toward providing curators, collectors, and critics a way to discover new global talent. It features 16 curated solo booths, including a meditation on "architectural destruction" by Hrair Sarkissian. The Syrian artist employs traditional documentary photographic techniques to show the paradoxical beauty and constancy of natural and urban landscapes.

Among ABMB's most popular debut features last year was Public, an outdoor sculpture showcase organized by Public Art Fund director and chief curator Nicholas Baume.

This year, Baume returns with a free outdoor program at Miami Beach's Collins Park organized under the theme "Fieldwork," with 26 large-scale and site-specific installations by leading and emerging artists from 13 countries.

Highlights include Elmgreen & Dragset's golden-bronze statue of a young boy riding a rocking horse. The Scandinavian duo's opus is a scaled-down version of their monumental piece commissioned by London's mayor for Trafalgar Square.

Also featured is Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto's nós sonhando [spacebodyship] (2014), a sculpture that functions as a comfy double hammock for two, inviting the public a spot to rest those weary bones.

Branching out from Collins Park is Sweden's Gunilla Klingberg, who imprints intricate geometric patterns on the sand of the nearby beach each morning that slowly fade as the waves lap over the ethereal work.

Another returning favorite is ABMB's Film sector, where curators David Gryn, director of London's Artprojx, and Zurich collector This Brunner embrace the theme of playfulness.

Gryn will present more than 70 films and videos by an international roster of artists shown in SoundScape Park on the 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center in the popular free-to-the-public program.

This year's Film lineup is topped by Tim Burton's Big Eyes, screening Friday night at the Colony Theater ahead of its national release this Christmas. Although the event is also free, seating is limited and one of the week's hot-ticket affairs. The movie, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, is based on Walter and Margaret Keane, who rocketed to fame in the 1950s and 1960s, then crashed and burned after the husband claimed credit for his wife's work.

Art Basel Miami Beach, December 4 to 7 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach. Visit Tickets cost $45 to $100.

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