The Ten People You Meet at Art Basel Miami Beach
Illustrations by Mark Poutenis
On a normal day, Miami is a mash-up of the world's most eccentric, flamboyant, noisy, and colorful people. We dress for attention, we party all night, and we drive like madmen.
Imagine, then, a Miami turned up to eleven, courtesy of an onslaught of cultural events followed by a slew of parties, all drawing tens of thousands of artsy onlookers from across the globe to rub elbows on one tiny island. During one week in December every year, we dress like attention-whoring art stars, we party all night, all day, and all night again, and we spend hours in causeway traffic.
Welcome to Art Basel, y'all.
It's an inspiring, frustrating, amusing, and most of all, overwhelming experience. There's no telling what crazy shit's about to go down this week. But one thing is certain: If you're planning on attending Art Basel's fairs, openings, and other assorted madness, you'll surely run into these ten people.
See also: Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 Fairs Guide
They say celebrities look different in person than they do on your TV screen or in the pages of US Weekly. But they say wrong; from Beyonce to Pharrell, you're going to know them when you see them. Maybe it's at the super-exclusive after-hours party you somehow conned your way into; maybe it's in some random Wynwood gallery where an image-conscious star has chosen to go slumming. But whether it's Jay-Z, Leonardo di Caprio, or Madonna herself, you better keep your distance. Celebrities this famous employ teams of people to keep them safe and separate from the art-dazzled masses -- and some of them turn out to be murderers.
9. Smug Artists
You know how self-satisfied everybody looks at the Oscars? How they're so proud of themselves for getting there? And how goddamned annoying that is to watch?
Well, Art Basel is basically the Oscars of the art world. And if you're an artist who's made it to the big show -- or even any of the satellite fairs -- you're probably feeling about as unabashedly smug as you've ever felt in your entire life.
It's hard to blame these creatives for stroking their egos. Art Basel is, after all, a major turning point in the careers of many artists. You can blame them, however, for looking down their nose at you through their bizarre and unflattering eyeglasses; for talking about their work solely in cryptic artspeak; and for ditching your conversation as soon as some rich collector or art honcho wanders by.
8. The Ungodly Rich
Or, as they prefer to be known, "collectors." These people -- flamboyantly dressed, usually middle-aged, almost always white -- are the one percent of the one percent, the small but stacked sliver of the upper crust that form the foundation of America's art economy. Some people spend billions on real estate, or luxury yachts, or professional sports teams. These folks do all of that, and then they hit up Art Basel to buy art with what's leftover. Jealous? Go ahead and give them the side-eye when you see them at the next Vernissage. But just remember: without the market they sustain, you'd have nowhere to drink your free champagne this week.
7. Flustered Interns
If the Ungodly Rich make up the economic foundation of Art Basel, Flustered Interns are its organizational backbone. While everybody else is busy guzzling champagne and waxing poetic about the political overtones of their latest masterpiece, the interns are getting shit done. Is the gallery running out of brochures? Intern's gonna fetch some more. Does a star artist need a ride to tonight's VIP event? Intern's ordering the car. Did some hungover Basel newbie vomit on the floor right in front of the booth's centerpiece sculpture? It's the intern's job to clean it up. And they've gotta do it all while dressing professionally and smiling like they love this shit, on the off chance they meet someone at Art Basel who can offer them a job that pays actual money. Be kind to the Art Basel interns, y'all -- not just because they deserve it, but because they might snap and tear your face off if you don't.
6. Amateur Photographers
We see you, amateur photographers. We see you in Wynwood, snapping shots of the same damn murals as everybody else. We see you at the art fairs, blocking foot traffic as you crouch in crowded walkways with your bulky camera to capture the perfect angle on that sculpture. We see you at parties, elbowing your way through the crowds to take long-exposure pictures of unexpecting subjects who are just trying to get drunk and dance. We see you, because you are always wearing that same twee porkpie hat, the one that begs us all to notice what a unique eye you have. Why, no one else can capture Art Basel the way you can! Oh, except the legions of other photogs crowding the scene this week.
What would Art Basel in Miami Beach be without Europeans? It'd be named after something other than a European city, for starters. (Art Clusterfuck in Miami Beach, perhaps.) It would also be a lot easier for the average American to understand; comprehending modern art is tough enough without translation fails and thick accents. And it's safe to say it'd be a lot more comfortable, too, both for the men sporting the too-tight white pants -- a dead European giveaway -- and for the rest of us trying not to look at the tightly constrained bulges therein. Seriously, guys, let it breathe.
4. Graffiti Bros
Art Basel? That shit's just a cog in the capitalist machine, bro. Real art is out on the streets, free to the public, speaking to our local populous. It's, like, evolutionary, yo. Like, cave paintings or some shit. Yeah. For real.
That's why graffiti bros lurk in the darker corners of Wynwood (assuming there are any left this year), sharing a thick joint, a six pack, and a healthy disdain for both the party that has taken over their 'hood and the cops hired to patrol it. There's just one silver lining: all the new walls going up. At least until the capitalist overlords have their way and Wynwood becomes just another glorified shopping mall for tools of the man. Fuckin' pigs, man.
Illustrations by Mark Poutenis
3. Champagne Whores
Who's the artist at this party? Who cares! To the champagne whores of Art Basel, there's one simple thing that makes an event worth attending: free booze. If it happens at a fancy VIP event packed with art world bigwigs, all the better. But you'll find these festive freeloaders just about anywhere willing to fill their cups: gallery openings, block parties, you name it.
Of course, everybody loves free booze. So Miami's champagne whores have evolved into Art Basel's alpha set, playing the part of a Very Important Party Person who simply must be admitted to that Perrier-Jouet-sponsored gala, no matter what it says on the list. From their short skirts to the sweet nothings they whisper into bouncers' ears, they know how to do what it takes to get loaded for free. You can't beat 'em, so you might as well join 'em (a.k.a pretend you're part of their posse to sneak past the velvet rope).
2. Art Moguls
These are the decision-makers. The career makers (or breakers). The ones who decide whose work is worth seeing, and why. Think of them as the Anna Wintours of the art world: museum directors, board chairmen, and other respected institutional royalty. They've spent a lifetime analyzing the merits of artists you've never heard of, they're responsible for millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in charitable donations, and they have a zero tolerance policy for your bullshit. Be awed. Be inspired. Be afraid.
1. Baffled Tourists
You've gotta pity the poor bastards. Here they are in Miami, just trying to enjoy a little sand and sun before heading back up north to Frigidville, Minnesota. Hotel rates seemed a little pricey this week, sure, but that's just the price of the big city, right?
Oh, these sad, sunburned, fanny-pack-sporting fools. How could they not know? Do they not have Google in Frigidville? Do they curse their own poor planning as they spend hours attempting to flag down a cab, elbowing their way through Collins Ave. foot traffic, marveling at all the oddly dressed, strangely accented people passing by?
No. They blame Miami. "I can't understand why anybody would come here," they grumble to each other. "Next year, we're going to Cabo."
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
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