Pop Culture

Art Basel Miami Beach Is Roaring Back—With a Vengeance, and Without an Apology

After two years, the annual orgy of art and commerce will return to South Florida next week and it’s packing pop-ups on pop-ups, activations galore, and enough collabos to sink a tanker to the depths of Biscayne Bay. Are we ready for the return of the Magic City mega-fair?

In February of this year, a grand outpost of the New York Italian restaurant Carbone opened in Miami’s South Beach and was anointed as the hottest joint in Magic City. On a visit during its first weeks, I spotted the music executive Clive Davis at one table, the art-collecting real estate developer Aby Rosen at another, and Mario Carbone glad-handing the big spenders who occupied the plush corner booths. In July, the hand of God intervened, and the restaurant was damaged by a fire. But Carbone could not be stopped, and by September, Drake made a stop at the Sinatra-washed rigatoni fantasia to hang out with Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street himself.

That is all to say that next week, during the madness that is Art Basel Miami Beach, for all but the close friends of the owners and, say, Clive Davis, a table at Carbone is a pipe dream. Which is how we ended up with…another Carbone, just a few blocks up Collins Avenue. It’s called “American Express Platinum x Carbone,” a pop-up erected on the grounds of the Edition hotel.

“You’ve been to the restaurant in Miami, and you’ve seen that there’s no shortage of people who want to go to Carbone,” Alex Lee, vice president and general manager of the American Express Global Dining Network, which includes the reservations app Resy, told me over the phone this week. “We thought, what better opportunity to do something in addition to the restaurant—they’ll have a chance to interact with Mario Carbone himself, in a very special setting.”

A special setting indeed. After two years of a fair-less Florida due to the pandemic, the art world (and celebrity and marketing worlds) will finally get the all-out, full-blown Art Basel Miami Beach it deserves. A bonus Carbone is hardly the exception during this cultural bonanza, when such overflows have become the norm. Should New Yorkers miss Marea’s fusilli with octopus and bone marrow while they’re out of town for a few days, fear not, there’s a temporary one erected at the Kimpton hotel. Downtown Gotham cocktail joint the Dead Rabbit is at the Ritz-Carlton, and Mexico City’s Insta-famous art boite Contramar is in town too—expect to see that red-and-green grilled fish dish all up in your timeline. José Andrés is cooking alongside artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, while food-world Bieber Flynn McGarry is at the pots and pans for a Ruinart x David Shrigley event. Is that Lizzo performing on the beach? Yes, that is Lizzo performing on the beach.

It’s all gearing up to be an edition of Art Basel Miami Beach that’s set to be the most event-packed one ever, as art-buying, Birkin-clutching, Champagne-swilling NetJets clients finally have a pan-cultural event that’s not just cool to attend, pandemic ethics-wise, but practically mandatory to attend. And it comes after a miserable two years of being forced to buy six-figure paintings and five-figure watches only online.

“There’s a lot of pent-up energy,” said Craig Robins, the real estate mogul and mega-collector whose firm developed the Miami Design District, where a new Chanel flagship opens next week, joining Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, and others. “We’ve all been restricted in our lives, and so coming down to Miami when it’s freezing up north and getting to see incredible art is what people want to do.”

I asked Robins whether there’s ever been this full of a dance card before the opening bell of the art fair.

“From the design district, we’ve not seen anything on this level,” Robins said. “If you look at the level of interactions, where it’s a full-blown Louis Vuitton men’s show or Chanel doing an incredible art installation, all these things combined make it an elevated experience. The fashion brands, they’re starting to see Miami as one of their number one markets in the world.”

And Robins is the guy to ask, as he helped bring the thing to Florida in 2002 alongside car-dealership billionaire Norman Braman and then director Sam Keller, calculating that they could “take the sex appeal of Miami, and combine it with something substatial, like the most important art show in the world,” as Robins recalled this week.

Speaking of which, that’s right, there’s an art fair called Art Basel happening during Art Basel—the one that is by far the most important art expo in North or South America. And while the Miami Beach Convention Center is where the collectors and dealers will be Tuesday morning when the fair opens to the most important VIPs, it’s hardly the most important part of the week for so many hangers-on.

“Some people argued about how there were all these people who came to Miami and never even went to the art fair—but now that’s acceptable,” said Jeffrey Deitch, who’s participated in the fair each year since its arrival, apart from the years when he served as director of MOCA in L.A. “Art has become the platform for all these other creative fields, certainly for the fashion industry, every major fashion brand has art collaborations in Miami. This is what Miami has become—if you want to get a more pure art experience, go to Art Basel in Switzerland. This is a different kind of city.”

Deitch has long been a fan of extending the gallery’s Miami programming beyond a booth in the convention center. He staged annual concerts, with the last one, in 2014, featuring Miley Cyrus in disco ball pasties belting out “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” as naked women in body paint and the Flaming Lips writhed around her. “We couldn’t top that,” Deitch said with a laugh.

For years, Deitch tag-teamed with the Gagosian gallery to stage an ambitious Basel-adjacent group show at the Moore Building in the Design District. The shows took on some heady themes: “Desire” looked at the history of art as seduction, “Unrealism” looked at the changing takes on figuration. Next week, Deitch is staging a show on his own sans Larry —he’s bringing “Shattered Glass,” the massive smash featuring 40 artists of color that attracted 1,000 visitors a day when it was up in Deitch’s Los Angeles gallery earlier this year.

As for his booth in the main fair, he’ll be featuring in-demand works by Keith Haring and graffiti artist Rammellzee, one of the more than 250 galleries to show. But as always the fair will have to compete with an endless spree of art x fashion team-ups, new-car reveals, and the black hole that is the celebrity DJ sets.

Here’s a sampling of the artist-luxury collabos one can expect next week: Gucci x Mickalene Thomas, Vacheron x Chris Burden Estate, Chanel x Es Devlin, American Express x Julie Mehretu and Kehinde Wiley—they both designed new plastic, baby!—Loewe x Florian Krewer (with a party at legendary South Beach gay bar Twist—now that will be real fun), Balmain x Saype, WePresent (“the digital arts platform by WeTransfer”) x Moses Sumney, Dior x a dozen artists redesigning its medallion chair (don’t forget about Design Miami!), and Virgil Abloh—per a press release, “the polymath artist, architect, creative director, and fashion designer”—x Mercedes.

Typing “metaverse” into the search bar in my Gmail is a terrifying exercise, but I am duty-bound to report there’s also some NFT shenanigans going on. We’ll note here that, next week, every billionaire who lands their P.J. at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport will see for-sale NFTs on every screen of the private hangar. Pace is doubling down on the format by launching the NFT platform Pace Verso, while longtime collector and Venus Over Manhattan gallerist Adam Lindemann will bring the the impossible-to-categorize Peter Saul together with NFT poster boy Beeple for a talk at the Bass museum that should be, at the very least, memorable. Marco Brambilla, Rachel Rossin, and Simon Denny are collaborating on an Exquisite Corpse–style NFT, to be offered on the platform Voice. And just when we thought you could escape unscathed, the Winklevoss twins will be on hand alongside their NFT outfit, Nifty Gateway—the rowboating, crypto-loving, Facebook-invention-adjacent twins are hosting an event at an undisclosed private home alongside the Cultivist.

For those who grow weary of the influencers and brand-ambassador hordes, there is indeed some heavy-duty capital-A art. Institutional highlights include a show of ambitious large-scale new works by Hugh Hayden at the ICA Miami in a blockbuster show curated by Alex Gartenfeld, which will feature a gigantic new stainless steel sculpture featuring a police car enveloped in a white drape. Another work, Roots (2021), was made using huge cypress trees sourced from Louisiana.The Rubell Museum will showcase their recent artists in residence Kennedy Yanko and Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, and Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz have a new hang of their world-class collection. Alison Gingeras curated a show of never-before-seen works by Maryan that opens at MOCA North Miami, and there’s a fun Alex Israel show at the Bass museum on Miami Beach

And if you really want to get away from it all, there’s “Stiltsville,” a one-day exhibition staged by New York’s Half Gallery that not even a private driver can help you get to. It’s installed in a sea cabin a mile out into Biscayne Bay and only accessible by sea vessel.

“I think it’s the only BYOB event in Miami, and by that I mean bring your own boat,” said Half Gallery founder Bill Powers.

He noted that the three time slots are all booked up, and that several high-profile musicians and collectors have all signed on to make the nautical journey to what Powers calls “the American Malaparte,” referring to the seaside architectural marvel in Capri where Larry Gagosian stages an annual show. After all the brand activations and NFTs and open bar parties, you could forgive the Basel reveler who might be tempted to take a swim on out.

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