Miami, land of personal image and humidity, has again hosted the arts and cultural fair Art Basel for the 16th time. Shutting down the city for the better part of the week, Art Basel attracts 70,000 artists (and partiers) from all over the world to come relish in paintings, photography, expensive clothes and statues. There’s even some performance art – and sometimes there isn’t. Specifically, that time this year when a woman was stabbed in an art gallery with an X-Acto knife, but no one helped assuming it was artistic expression. That’s Art Basel!
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If it sounds crazy, it totally is. And that’s what makes Art Basel such a talked-about event. Art Basel started in 1970 in the town of Basel, Switzerland (hence the name) and entered the States in 2002. Basel, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a bit of a big deal in Switzerland and is considered a cultural hub. It’s one of the places you’d go if you wanted to feel less cool than everyone around you.
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Art Basel has an energy to it. Walking abound Wynwood, I was hard pressed to find a wall that wasn’t being painted or a gallery that didn’t have its doors open. There was creativity everywhere – and it was palpable. The people walking down the sidewalks were diverse and expressive. It was almost like a costume party, with everyone coming dressed in the finest representation of their favorite style.
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The art of Art Basel beckoned you in with eye-catching, original works located in 267 galleries. From block to block you’d see any number of styles. In one moment, you might see neon sign reading, “Who run this mother?” as a giant neon sign (by Karl Holmqvist) and in the next you might be walking a giant boulder with a face that’s crushed a car (by Jimmie Durham). While there were a bunch of ticketed events and fancy parties, the best part of Art Basel was walking down the street, entering any gallery that might look interesting. With both “art” and “best” being so subjective, you’ll get the most out of Art Basel by following your eye.
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Art Basel felt to be just as much about the art as it was sponsored parties – which was both a blessing and curse. For every free exhibit (including one featuring art from this year’s Burning Man), there was a party dripping in opulence and overflowing with desperate people trying to talk their way into free booze. One particular example was the Barcadi party featuring Pusha T directly across from a slew of galleries. It felt at odds with the myriad of artistic statements all around me. Taking a look at Art Basel’s Instagram, it’s clear that they want the art being shown to shine through. Thankfully, even for the amount of partying present (which is great in moderation), it did.
For those who look and who aren’t too hungover, Art Basel has more than enough to see and works to be inspired by. If you end up going next year, I recommend spending your time gallery hopping (don’t worry, there’s usually booze there too). Try connecting with some local Miami artists before you go on Instagram and ask them what to see. Chances are they’re exhibiting too.