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During Art Basel, spectacles are a dime a dozen. Think of pink snails, artist-designed carnivals, sex-themed roller coasters, and controversially sourced Banksy exhibits. More rare is art that's arresting purely for its artistic merit. That's just what Baselgoers discovered at Miami Project Art Fair, which quietly set up shop in the ever-expanding cluster of midtown art-fair tents for its Basel debut in 2012. The newbie fair filled its 65,000-square-foot space with works from 65 galleries. Among them, artist Alejandro Cartagena showed his Car Poolers series, poignant photographs captured from a highway overpass documenting Mexican day laborers transported to and from work in pickup truck flatbeds. Nina Katchadourian's Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, which are exactly what they sound like — pictures taken in airplane bathrooms showing the artist dressed in Dutch-period garments made of tissue paper — added a bit of tongue-in-cheek modernity to Renaissance-era portraiture. And Miami native Jen Stark returned from L.A. with her trademark colorful paper sculptures. Miami Project did get away with a few stunts: Karen Finley spent the fair's run painting canvases inspired by "sext" messages, and Joe Zane displayed a taxidermied Chihuahua dressed as a princess. Still, of all the fairs during Art Basel in 2012, this one most gracefully straddled the line between respectability and entertainment. Is classy restraint the next hot Art Basel trend? Doubtful. But at least you'll know where to find it in 2013 — Miami Project will return during Art Basel this year.

The first thing most visitors to CIFO notice is a sweeping exterior mural of tropical foliage composed of more than a million one-inch glass tiles. It's dazzling, but miss out on Johnny Robles' massive, block-size freestyle piece on an adjacent wall at your own risk. Created in partnership between CIFO and Primary Flights in 2011, Robles' wall-swallowing opus on NW Tenth Street depicts the tremulous balance between urban development and South Florida's vibrant environment. Robles employs a luminous tropical palette to create abstract imagery of children playing in mangroves amid flamingos, porpoises, and tortoises. The painting appears to defy gravity as the images melt beneath a baking sun and flow toward the earth below to "begin a new cycle of life," Robles says. The artist found inspiration for his painting from childhood memories of playing outdoors in the Sunshine State, unlike a new generation of urban kids hypnotized by technology. If you can't put down your iPhone and head for the Glades, at least check out Robles' work.

Few artists have scaled the summit of the Magic City's booming cultural scene as rapidly as Agustina Woodgate. Since arriving in Florida from her native Argentina in 2004, Woodgate has combined a conceptual rigor and an inherent knack for experimentation. Often blurring genres from installation to performance, video, and mixed-media, Woodgate has partnered with dealer Anthony Spinello to spin a fresh vision in Miami. Her projects range from a lofty watchtower crafted from 3,000 hand-fashioned bricks of human hair to psychedelic tapestries of multicolored plush teddy bear pelts. For her "poetry bombing" project, Woodgate stealthily visited local thrift stores, hid among the racks, and clandestinely stitched tags inscribed with verse into the clothes. Woodgate's works have been exhibited at venues as far-flung as the Montreal Biennial and Berlin's KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Last summer, she teamed up with a group of international collaborators to transform a derelict Cold War-era German amusement park into a multimedia wonderland. At the most recent Art Basel Miami Beach, Woodgate became one of the rare local names to represent the creative talent brewing in the 305. Her exhibit "New Landscapes" presented sanded-down maps and strikingly re-envisioned new representations of the world. And like the tens of thousands of people from all points of the compass who descended on Basel and experienced Woodgate's distinct vision, we were enthralled.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is a master of movement. After reinvigorating ballet in the Soviet Union, he defected to the West and went on to dance with major companies worldwide before becoming director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center in the Big Apple. During the past several decades, the Latvian-born hoofer also honed his eye as a lensman, capturing with the camera his passion for dance in all its forms. At Nader, Baryshnikov's solo photography show, "Dance This Way," featured pulsating pictures of ballet, hip-hop, and modern dance performers from across the globe. Baryshnikov delivered a backstage view of some of the dance realm's most iconic troupes. His solo boasted images of traditional hula dancers and Brazilian hip-hoppers. A fiery flamenco dancer shot in Madrid and a couple engaged in a scorching bachata in the Dominican Republic filled out the dance card as Baryshnikov showed once again that when it comes to conveying the fluid beauty of a body's rhythmic flow, few can match his sensitivity for the subject — whether onstage or behind a camera.

There's a reason the simple, unpretentious show "Willy Ronis: Paris" drew hordes of gawkers during Art Basel 2012. Ronis, who was a contemporary of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, created images of postwar France that were controversial to contemporaries but have since proven to be timeless. At the Dina Mitrani Gallery, Ronis' black-and-white pictures of common street life showed working-class people in a country humbled by poverty and wracked by social unrest while the war-ravaged nation was in the process of reconstruction. The tightly curated exhibit featured 25 classic gems, including the infectiously exuberant Le Petit Parisien (1952), depicting a young boy wearing shorts and a vest as he skipped giddily along a street while lugging a baguette almost his size. Mitrani collaborated with Santa Monica dealer Peter Fetterman to organize the exhibit last December, proving that for lovers of both contemporary and classic photography, her Wynwood space is a must-visit.

Manny Prieres' gothic-inspired solo show, "Lock Them Out and Bar the Door. Lock Them Out Forevermore," borrowed its quixotic title from William S. Burroughs and a phrase he uttered while narrating the 1968 re-release of Häxan, a 1922 movie by Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen. The Dane's celluloid scream was originally outlawed because it portrayed sacrilegious rituals and demonic possessions, not to mention imagery of self-flagellation, forbidden sexual gestures, and Inquisition-sponsored torture. Tearing a chapter from the banned and profane, Prieres re-created the covers of more than 30 once-outlawed books by employing elements of drawing, graphic design, silk-screening, and printmaking to craft his elegant opuses. The Miami-based talent's illicit covers ranged from Animal Farm to Slaughterhouse-Five, Tropic of Cancer, Brave New World, and Lolita, reminding us of an age before Twitter and Facebook vanquished the evils of censorship in the West.

Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art

"Liber Insularum," Bill Viola's first major U.S. museum survey since 2003, demonstrated the power of art to uplift the spirit. His sprawling video installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art also marked the first time since his 1997 Whitney Museum retrospective that his most important works had been corralled under one roof. At MOCA, Viola's sensory-engulfing installations were inspired by a 15th-century Florentine cleric's tome called The Book of the Islands of Archipelago, which records six lonely years he spent wandering the Aegean. Viola, who typically explores concepts of death and regeneration while embracing both Eastern and Western mystical and spiritual traditions, departed from the cleric's peripatetic wandering to convey his own notion of a conceptual journey across a constantly transforming global landscape. The exhibit transported viewers to a space where universal notions of suffering, joy, and peace combined in a meditative experience of the unconquerable strength of the human soul.

Operated by Adler Guerrier, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, and Frances Trombly, Dimensions Variable has been filling a void in an ever-more commercial local scene since 2009. The gallery is also a pioneer of the exodus from the Design District and increasingly unaffordable Wynwood to downtown Miami. Since relocating to the downtown Arthouse building last year, Dimensions Variable has continued expanding its brand of conceptually provocative and experimental offerings, drawing not only art lovers but also other local talent to join them in the neighborhood. This season, DV has hosted "Cut Outs," an exhibit of new works by Jenny Brillhart and Carolyn Salas that tinkered with notions of form and balance while questioning the source of the objects the duo created. Another show that commanded attention at DV was "A Rake's Progress" by London-based artist Julie Hill. She presented a contemporary adaptation of William Hogarth's 18th-century satirical work of the same name, skewering the global financial implosion by featuring a roomful of ambiguous open letters, shattered credit cards, and financial ephemera suggesting the onset of panic. Dimensions Variable has also been involved with international and national artist residencies, workshops, and a slew of community outreach initiatives as part of its ongoing mission to advance cultural discourse in South Florida.

Next time you're ready to hold a Viking funeral for cinema — probably after seeing Transformers 5 on the schedule right after Baby Geniuses 7 at your local multiplex — take a deep breath and a leisurely walk along Washington Avenue. There, surrounded by the worst excesses of SoBe club culture, is the Miami Beach Cinematheque (MBC). The venue, which started in a tiny niche on Española Way, has transformed into a cultural anchor in its new home, the towering former Miami Beach City Hall. What sets MBC apart from other art houses is the amount of civic outreach. Consider some of MBC's recent speakers: Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream fame), speaking about Ingredients, a documentary about the food industry; Emmy winning documentary filmmaker Marian Marzynski, presenting Never Forget to Lie, which explores his childhood wartime experiences; and Brontis Jodorowsky, son of legendary cult horror filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, headlining a Q&A about El Topo, his dad's bizarre Western. Just to top it off, MBC offers a sophisticated yet relaxed environment with a bookstore, library, outdoor seating area, and café. Just laugh off that multiplex schedule. Cinema is alive and well on Washington Avenue.

Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas photo

For far too long, Miami's moviegoers have had to endure a series of horrifying obstacles to see the latest incarnation of Iron Man. Terrifying teenage punks eyeing you from the snack bar. Being forced to watch the antics of Adam Sandler while totally sober. Pushing pregnant women and the elderly aside to avoid a front-row, eyeball-assaulting seat. But no more. Here, at the Paragon Grove, you can choose your seats online in advance, saunter into the theater on Cuban time, and get a buzz with a Heineken or a glass of vino. And if popcorn and nachos don't cut it, you can nosh on Bavarian pretzel sticks or a barbecued Texas burger, delivered to your lap by eager minions. At $11.50 a pop (or $13.50 for premier VIP), it's not the cheapest ticket in town, but for booze, comfy seats, and an absence of screaming kids, it's worth every penny. So take a seat in a back row, don those 3-D glasses, and get your grub on. This is how movies are meant to be seen.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®