Some locals flee during Miami Art Week. Can you blame them? The normally just-bearable highway traffic becomes impossible gridlock. A neurotic mass of migratory New Yorkers, here just for Basel, baby, just for Basel, takes up every available restaurant reservation. Favorite bars are suddenly full of good-looking tourists seeking local "flavor." And when it comes to contemporary art, for one week in December, everyone you know is an expert.
So why tough it out? Because even as Miami's other cultural offerings expand and evolve, Art Basel and its satellite fairs still represent some of the best art experiences of the year.
This year marks Art Basel Miami Beach's 15th in the city, but don't worry — the art fair won't sport a quinceañera theme. Instead, this edition is being billed as an opportunity to reflect on the show's impact on the city and on Miami's evolution as an art destination. More than 85 galleries that exhibited at the original 2002 fair will participate this year. The 2016 fair, which runs December 1 to 4, is also slightly larger, with 269 galleries drawn from 29 countries around the world. As always, the show is heavily focused on this hemisphere, with more than 50 percent of galleries owning exhibition space in the Americas.
Basel has added 21 additional galleries, a noticeable increase from previous years, and Noah Horowitz, the new director of the show, says he's excited to see "new artists presented in Nova and Positions," Basel's sectors for emerging artists. "Artists like Rita Ponce de León and Ishmael Randall Weeks at [Argentine gallery] Ignacio Liprandi and Max Hooper Schneider with [Paris gallery] High Art come to mind in particular in this regard," he says.
Some 75,000 attendees visited the Miami Beach Convention Center (1901 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach) last year, and organizers expect similar numbers this go-round. Tickets cost $45 for a day pass and $100 for weeklong access.
If you don't feel like shelling out that kind of cash, forgo the Renoirs, Picassos, and de Koonings in favor of the innumerable contemporary artists on display at Pulse Miami Beach (4601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach), an art fair offering free admission to Miami residents the mornings of December 3 and 4. Conceived in opposition to the crowded hallways of Basel, Pulse annually takes over Indian Beach State Park, about 25 blocks north of the Basel epicenter. It's a refreshing antidote to the main fair's well-dressed commercialism. Now in its 12th year, Pulse will feature 75 galleries offering a friendly atmosphere, along with the chance to experience a show curated toward both new and experienced collectors.
"Pulse is all about capturing the Zeitgeist of the contemporary art market, but our number one aim is to be the fair that welcomes people," director Helen Toomer says. "We want people to be able to have meaningful exchanges."
At the center of Pulse 2016 will be an augmented-reality piece by pioneering digital artist Ann Spalter that promises to both amaze and welcome. Spalter's otherworldly computer-generated patterns, arrayed around a series of giant orbs, will respond to input from visitors. General-admission tickets cost $25.
Fans of avant-garde art will delight in this year's offerings at Scope Miami Beach (801 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach). Showcasing more than 130 national and international galleries, Scope will have an entrance at Eighth Street and Collins Avenue that features an impressive 10,000-square-foot atrium with an ocean view meant to relax art spectators' tired eyes. The center of the atrium boasts a glowing augmented-reality ball that plugs into Scope's proprietary augmented-reality app, Palimpsest, and communicates everything from the weather to the latest art sale for fair visitors.
Scope director Alexis Hubshman says this year's program is staying the course laid out in past successful years. "[It] contains our mandate since we started, which is our breeder group, new galleries that often go big," he says. Hubshman was a part of the first Miami Art Week, and he's also pumped to see how many of the gallerists who started at Scope are faring. "At first it was sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll," he says, "but everybody is grown up now and doing amazing things." Tickets to Scope cost $35.
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Like the crustier locals, artists who show during Miami Art Week are not immune to anti-Basel sentiment. Some even channel it. Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw, a performance-art duo famous for blurring the line between audience member and participant at the pair's zany happenings, hope to poke fun at the vanity, nihilism, and greed of Basel with their latest piece for Satellite Art Show (1510 Collins Ave., Miami Beach). Their large-scale performance will be ongoing throughout the week at Satellite, one of many alternatives to the more traditional Art Basel.
Satellite stands just blocks from the convention center, but in terms of influence, it's still very much on the periphery. Only in its second year, Satellite is the scrappy, crazy newcomer, and bills itself as the anti-Basel. The show features 45 spaces, emphasizing concept-driven rooms rather than the salon style of the typical art show. It's also planning a rogues' gallery of wild happenings, such as a gigantic installation at the entrance with people dressed as steampunk Greek statues playing Ping-Pong, and a party in the Pérez Art Museum Miami penthouse featuring a gay strip club and a tattoo parlor.
Brian Whitely, the creator and director of Satellite, says it's a space where "one can find art that's accessible to creative types and people who will talk with you and hang with you." The art fair features an eclectic mix of photography, performance art, plastic arts, and sculpture, while at the same time showcasing Miami's artistic and musical talent.
"The idea," Whitely says, "is for people to leave three or four hours later and ask, 'What the hell happened?'?"