Art Basel Miami Beach

Art Basel Guide for Newbies

Art Basel is here! We're guessing there's likely thousands of Miamians out there that don't know what the freak that means. You're probably thinking that unless you're dropping serious coin on a piece of contemporary art or rubbing elbows with Steve Martin at the W Hotel, Art Basel is just another disturbing display of Miami elitism. You're right, it is. But like a remora latched onto a bloated fish, there's plenty of street-level culture trailing behind all that highbrow shit.

The Miami arts scene has enjoyed steady growth over the past several years. And to be recognized for hosting "the most important art show in the United States" is pretty dope. When you think of all the other dumb shit we're known for -- shitty drivers, unemployment, and the Miami Heat -- a pretentious, world-renowned week of contemporary art is a welcomed change. But we know Art Basel can be overwhelming, especially for newbies. So here's our guide to all the fundamental Basel stuff you're too embarrassed to ask out loud.

What is Art Basel? Can we sprinkle it on pasta?
Officially, Art Basel (pronounced Basle) is a gigante fair in the Miami Beach Convention Center, where over 250 galleries from across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas exhibit contemporary artworks by over 2,000 artists. The first was held in Basel, Switzerland (hence the name) back in 1970. In 2002, it launched its sister fair Art Basel Miami Beach, held in the 305 every December. The truth is, though, it's expensive ($36), and it's kind of stuffy as there are no impromptu performances by say, LCD Soundsystem.

As the original fair spawned more and more satellite events, the phrase Art Basel has come to refer to the week of art-themed events taking place in Miami in December. It's Miami's most ostentatious social event of the year, attracting thousands of art snobs, socialites, and A-list celebrities for five days of champagne receptions, private hotel parities and surprise musical performances.

Huh? Art fair? Doesn't sound fair.

An art fair is like a high-end flea market for art shoppers. Art Basel, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, is the main one. But Red Dot Miami, Aqua Art Fair, and Design Miami are also happening this week, along with dozens more. Cultist makes navigating the fairs a breeze with our three-part guide. For newbies, these satellite fairs are cheaper and sometimes free, so go ahead and fair hop your way around Miami. Think of Art Basel as a five-day Second Saturday Art Walk.

I despise art. Should I just crawl into a hole until December 6?

Nein. This week is about more than just art. A lot of Miamians have little patience for gallery hopping and art dealing, but they're always up for party. Whether it's a private soiree at an oceanfront Miami mansion, or a sweaty dance party at a Wynwood-area bar, there's plenty of non-art related stuff going on throughout the 305 (and even 954).

But getting passed the doorman at Bardot for Questlove's and Dead Prez's M1 set, for example, is highly unlikely if you're not on the guest list. So try dropping a fake name and title such as "Logan Cummerbund, curator of Dolce Leche Gallery in Barcelona." Then follow-up with a rhetorical question that'll make the bouncer a little uneasy. "There's nothing better than artsy shortees, right?" If that doesn't work, sneak him a $50. Churchill's bouncer Chris Hubbard once said, "Money talks in the city."

Find about all the cool shit to do by browsing our Art Basel event guide.

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Victor Gonzalez
Contact: Victor Gonzalez