When the Swiss first parachuted into the 305 ten years ago, Miami didn't know the difference between Helen Keller and Samuel Keller. But like that other Helen's mug that launched a thousand ships, the bald-pated Baselite from the tiny Canton on the Rhine, unleashed an invasion that changed our cultural landscape and opened the world's eyes.
Considering that the first edition of Art Basel Miami was torpedoed by 9/11 and some felt that our city was too culturally green to host the event, Samuel Keller, ABMB's director during its first seven editions, remained undaunted leading the now famous December event to outpace its progenitor in size.
With his keen curatorial eye, showman's flair, snazzy fashion sense, quirky programming and inimitable charm, Keller spawned many imitators while luring top contemporary artists, moneybag collectors and legions of culture-addled celebs to our shores. Suddenly Keller doppelgangers seemed to be everywhere. Here are our top five ringers for the arts impressario.
Mr. Magoo might not have been able to distinguish between his nephew, wearing a raccoon coat, and a wild bear, but some would argue that those are the precise qualities that would make for a great curator. Also his stubborn refusal to consider his vision was suspect made the curmudgeon a hit with audiences and reminds us of some of the eyesores on display at the Convention Center leaving many observers scratching their heads each year.
. Unlike Samuel Keller, Uncle Fester is a particularly shy oaf. But he does have one quality he shares with his Swiss lookalike and that is his high-wattage ability to light up a room. He also is fond of dressing all in black even though his fashion sense is suspect.
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We're not sure what this silky simian is famous for only that Sam Keller was smooth as butter on a bald monkey and inspired incalculable cases of monkey-see monkey-do. Not three years into his tenure, art fairs were sprouting here like mushrooms after a flash rain and many fell under a rash of Baselphrenia or were suffering from status anxiety to ape the Swiss. That's what happens when 500 million smackers cross palms during a boozy four-day orgy of artsy excess.
Although snooty Euro-trash Keller clones can be spotted everywhere from South Beach to Wynwood during ABMB each year, we can't think of anyone else who captures the big Baselite's sartorial panache or cuts an equally dashing presence under the spotlight as does Mini-Me.
The host of Deal or No Deal and judge of America's Got Talent is the celeb who comes closest to channeling the spirit of Keller. Although unlike the Swiss impresario, Mandel shaves his noggin because he suffers from a bad case of mysophobia or an irrational fear of germs. Keller in contrast was always ready with a friendly handshake. But Mandel to his credit has grown accustomed like the luckier gallerists at ABMB, to dealing with suitcases weighed down with cash and discovering the next cultural phenom.