Rocker Iggy Pop once said, “Second only to the sea, the Miami sky has been the greatest comfort in my life past 50.” From its neon-saturated evenings to the bright hues of the lifeguard huts sprouting from the sand, Miami’s visual splendor has countless fans. No event, however, captures the eyes—and spirit— of the city like Art Basel Miami, taking place at the Miami Beach Convention Center Dec. 6–9.
Since 2002, the annual fair, which features more than 250 international galleries, has transformed the city. “We’ve always had the beaches and the weather, but Basel drew wealthy art collectors,” says Mayi de la Vega, founder and CEO of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, the leading luxury brokerage firm in South Florida. “Now we're also getting lots of people who enjoy the scene here, and it’s become social, with trendsetters and jet-setters coming, too.”
Art Basel is only the starting point for an arts-based itinerary in the city, though. The fair’s monumental popularity has spawned more than 20 satellite fairs, each with its own character, that host works by hundreds of up-and-coming and established artists, seizing on the influx of curators and collectors flying to the city. Among them are Design Miami, held only a few steps away from the Convention Center; the exclusively Latin American-focused Pinta; and the nonprofit New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) fair at Ice Palace Studios. More permanent art on display includes the Wynwood Walls street art, in a neighborhood that experienced a boom with graffiti artists and restaurateurs soon after Basel began, as well as the upscale Design District, which last year hosted the opening of the Institute for Contemporary Art.
Here are some tips on how to navigate Art Basel.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Snagging a ticket to the VIP private viewing on Dec. 5 and Vernissage on Dec. 6 will give you a bit more breathing room. Perhaps unsurprisingly, weekends get the busiest.
If you have a VIP invitation, which you inquire about through Art Basel directly, you don’t need to buy tickets to view the art.
For the satellite fairs, book a chauffeur or take public transportation to avoid dealing with parking, and create a plan with your must-sees so as to maximize your time. And if you get tired, pause at a lecture at the Convention Center before zipping off to another studio, gallery, or museum show.
GETTING INTO THE BEST EVENTS
Hotel concierges may be able to get tickets to premium events, many of which are after-parties thrown by luxury brands.
“If you’re a collector, make sure you let the galleries know you’re going to be in Miami, and try to get on the guest list for their private dinners,” de la Vega advises.
EATING IN MIAMI
“The city has really turned into a dining destination,” de la Vega says. Her new love is Novikov, the recently opened American outpost of Russian restaurateur Arkadiy Novikov’s empire that features an Asian-inspired menu, with fish flown in daily from Japan, Canada, and the Faroe Islands. “The service was impeccable, as was the food,” she says. Older favorites include the elegant Northern Italian–focused Casa Tua, popular with the European set, and Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant Chotto Matte.
STAYING IN MIAMI
“The hotels are usually sold out way in advance, and a lot of people like to stay on the beach because of its proximity to the fair,” notes de la Vega.
The W South Beach stands out for Art Basel attendees and art lovers all year long. Dubbed “the Collector” within the franchise, the hotel is co-owned by real estate mogul Aby Rosen, who hosts the fair’s most exclusive dinner and after-party. A rotating selection of works from Rosen’s private art collection, which includes small- and large-scale works by Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, and Jean- Michel Basquiat, doesn’t require a ticket.
Those attending the fair may relish stepping away from the area immediately next to the Convention Center and instead establish a home base at another top spot: the recently opened Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club. Just a short drive north on the island, the Surf Club rejuvenates the spirit of Miami during the Jazz Age, and calls back to a time when members of the Rat Pack and Tennessee Williams and Winston Churchill were regulars. Designed by architect Richard Meier and featuring a restaurant and Champagne bar in collaboration with Le Sirenuse Hotel on Italy's Amalfi Coast as well as a new Thomas Keller restaurant, it epitomizes Miami luxury and offers respite from the parties and pop-ups in the City Center and South Beach.
And what about your suitcase? “Bring comfortable walking shoes,” de la Vega advises with a laugh. “Leave the stilettos at home.”