Art Basel Miami Beach For Beginners
Thinking about heading down to Art Basel Miami for the first time? There’s still time to make it happen! Here’s a detailed guide for beginners—from booking your flight, to choosing satellite fairs and finding the best parties—written using the royal we, because we’re fancy. Just like Miami.
FLIGHT PLAN: Getting to Basel is easier than taking Amtrak to New York! Late November tickets on Kayak.com for DC to MIA are hovering around $200-$280 roundtrip. We also found flights for $140 roundtrip going into Fort Lauderdale, and even $114 roundtrip from Baltimore. One big advantage of flying into MIA is the Airport Flyer express bus, which for $2.35 takes you directly to South Beach. Both airports also offer cheap rental cars ($17-$25/day) but a car isn’t a necessity in South Beach (more on that later).
WHERE TO STAY: We predict next year more and more people will plan to stay in Wynwood and commute to South Beach, but for now SoBe is still the place to be—in particular Collins and Ocean Avenues. Most official parties still take place at hotels along this ocean-side strip from 15th to 25th streets. If you haven’t booked a hotel room and aren’t made of money, there are still budget hotels available. Rooms are often small, but let’s be real—you’re only there to shower, change clothes and sleep. AirBnB usually has good options even this late in the game. Try to book an interior room, not facing the street, and on a higher floor if possible. Consider posting roommate requests on the Art Basel Miami 2012 Facebook started last year by DC resident Benjamin Loewy and updated by Andrew Foote and Andres Alejandro Fernandez. Lots of people are sharing and looking for ways to split costs.
GET AROUND: Getting around South Beach is easy, both in terms of walking and public transport. There are 25 cent buses and Swoop, which is like Uber if Uber used golf carts and was FREE. Just call 305-409-6636 for pick up. DecoBikes (similar to BikeShare) are another good option. Visitors pay $4 for a half hour or $5 for an hour. It may also be possible to sign up for a 30-day membership in advance online for $35, which gives you free 60-minute rentals. The downsides are no locks and that certain popular docking stations are always empty (hello Dupont Circle!).
The main fair offers free shuttles to other major satellite fairs. Often the lines are fairly long, so it’s worthwhile to share a cab if venturing across the bay with friends. Use caution though, a $15 cab in one direction can easily become a $40 return cab with traffic backing up across the causeway in the evenings. As stated, you don’t need a car in South Beach. But if your lodging includes free overnight parking, a rental could be handy in getting across the bay to Wynwood and downtown Miami where a number of Art Basel satellite fairs are located. There are also city-operated lots that charge $1/hour. You DO NOT want to park on the street in South Beach (Most Ridiculous Parking Ticket Story Ever). This year, Car2go, the rent-and-ride Smart Car company launched service in Miami. Those with DC accounts can access the tiny vehicles in Miami as well.
BEST DATES: It’s possible to do Basel as a weekend warrior, but if you can swing an extra day or two it’s best to hit the main fair on Thursday before it’s overrun with crowds—then devote your remaining time to exploring the many satellite fairs. If you have industry connections, media passes or buttloads of money, we highly recommend arriving on Wednesday for the VIP preview. Which brings us to the next section…
ACCESS: Find a friend who works in the industry and be their plus 1. And by industry we mean a gallerist, museum staffer, major collector or member of the press. The deadline for advanced press registration has passed, but if you’re a blogger, photographer or other media personage, you can gather proof (assignment letter, clips), digital headshot and apply for a press credential on-site. Press passes or VIP status grant you, plus a friend, free access to all art fairs and major museums. There are also a number of boozy opening night parties for media and VIP types on Wednesday night.
WHAT TO WEAR: Pink is always the new black in Miami, though Basel Week does attract a very visible contingent of color-phobic post-postmodern types. We say embrace the local aesthetic and pull out your best summer resort wear, darling. Days are generally warm in Miami, but despite what weather.com says, there will be at least one or two nights where the temps drop down into the 50s. Fellas, this is a good time to rock a nice sports coat or leather jacket. For women, we recommend bringing one or two long sleeved items, like a fitted lightweight knit dress. And pack a wrap. It may be 70 outside, but the Convention Center and hotel lobbies are heavily air-conditioned.
Comfortable shoes for the main fair are a must. It’s deceptive, but a thorough visitor can literally end up walking miles inside the Convention Center. Save the strappy heels for late-night events, and even then only wear shoes that can go the distance. Traffic on South Beach at night is worse than 14th & U on a Friday, so often you’ll end up party-hopping by foot.
Don’t forget the swimsuit. Yes, you will spend most of the time in tents and warehouses, but plan to dig your toes in the sand at least once. Don’t do as the beach bums do and wear your swimwear/coverup as clothing however—tres déclassé.
ALL’S FAIR: We’re all for spontaneity on vacation, but Art Basel is about the art. And seeing as much as possible in an unimaginably short time period. You can easily expect to go to 4-7 fairs and art spaces each day, not including parties. For emerging artists, it’s an invaluable experience to learn about the art market and see different galleries that may represent artists similar to you. For any creative types, it’s inspiring to see so much art —whether officially sanctioned or a random street project or pop-up. Definitely plan which days you will see which fairs and make geographic groupings. This would be a good time to nerd out on Microsoft Excel or GoogleDrive to craft a detailed itinerary.
Last year, we relied on Boyd Level’s awesome pocket guide as our Basel Bible. Also, check out the December issue of DC Magazine (pages 74-75) for the scoop on where to find DC galleries at the many fairs. Our faves from last year? The De La Cruz Collection, the Rubell Family Collection, Wynwood Walls, and adorable and clever wheatpastes and billboards, like the ones we saw last year advertising “Cash For Your Warhol.” And try as we might, we didn’t even make it to NADA or any of the excellent fairs to the North of 35th Street.
Our itinerary from last year looked a little like this (recreated from art-addled memory):
- Wednesday: main Art Basel Fair, Bass Art Museum, Art Public, Art Video Nights.
- Thursday: Art Basel (2nd time), Design Miami, Pulse, Miami Art Museum.
- Friday: Art Asia, Art Miami, Red Dot, Scope, Sculpt Miami.
- Saturday: Aqua, Art Now, Fountain, Wynwood Walls, Rubell Family Collection.
- Sunday: Pool, Verge, Ink Miami, Seven, De La Cruz, Margulies.
PARTY LIKE AN ART STAR: Last but not least, there are the parties. If you only read one thing in this post, read this: Do not overdo it on Day One! Wednesday night in Basel is like Dorothy in the Oz poppy fields. There will be booze flowing everywhere. There will be fabulous, sexy people everywhere, including art world stars and bona fide celebrities. There will be no food anywhere. And water will be in short supply. The whole thing is literally very intoxicating. You don’t want to be in hangover recovery mode every morning. Have fun, but remember you are here to see as much art as possible. And maybe hook up with someone cute. Our advice: One drink per party, treated primarily as a stylish prop and as a defensive device to prevent more drinks from being handed to you.
The list of parties is ridiculous and we will not attempt to make a compendium here. We will say this: we didn’t find any of the fancy parties more exciting than the others or better for networking. So our advice is to follow your bliss, not your professional instincts. We recommend parties that include live music or DJs. Because coming to Miami and not shaking your bonbon is just a travesty.
We will, however, make one exception and invite you to the inaugural Capital City Creatives party, aka C3, taking place Friday December 7th at Miami Project in Wynwood from 6-10pm. Sponsored by Pink Line Project and Washington CityPaper, it will feature tunes spun by DJ Adrian Loving and a live presentation by DC’s Best Performance Artist.
Lastly, Walgreen’s is your friend. In addition to having normal drugstore necessities, like Advil, sunscreen and VitaCoco, they also sell delicious hot empanadas and Cuban pastries for $2. And they’re open 24 hours. 524 Jefferson Avenue.
Bienvenidos a Miami, art bitches!!!
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