festival trends

How Art Basel Miami Beach is like Austin's SXSW, WTF-moments included

Those familiar with the crushing grind of a week of music, booze and mayhem that accompanies SXSW will see striking similarities in Art Basel Miami Beach, the country's biggest contemporary art event that promises (and delivers) gads of art, artists, rum, beach views, short skirts, cool parties, celebrities and warmer-than-it-should-be-in-December temperatures.

This was my first visit to Miami and the 11th annual Art Basel, accompanying my artist boyfriend (shameless plug and link: Jeremy Earhart) who showed in one of the many satellite fairs (Scope Miami) to Art Basel Miami Beach, and boy did every assumption and misconception I have about this event in Miami get blown to smithereens.

If you've ever wanted to get a handle on just what this Art Basel business is, I try to explain it in a way any Austinite can understand: by relating it to our own crazy cultural festival, SXSW. And if you've ever wanted to see a photograph of a grown woman wearing plush skunk slippers as shoes, this photo essay is for you:

NSFW outfits

Well, ridiculous is all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it? Plenty of photogs visit Austin during SXSW to snap shots of the fashionable outfits of the hipster crowds. In Miami, fashion is broken down into two very distinct categories: the not-safe-for-work skimpy variety seen at parties and in South Beach (you can't imagine how many mesh-covered breasts I spotted) and the amazing array of fashion choices sported by artists and art collectors.

The most memorable outfits at Basel: plush black and white skunk slippers worn by the kind of old woman you can tell doesn't give a flip, a woman wearing a live snake necklace every day, all day and some lady (art collector, we assume) that looked like Johnny Depp's character from Dark Shadows. And far too many shawls and capes to count. 

Prepare to pack on the pounds from good food.

While Austin has conditioned me to assume most tasty bites will be found from a trailer, the good stuff in Miami wasn't just tacos or pork belly; I sampled a tropical palette of Cuban sandwiches, Haitian stews (Tap Tap Haitian in South Beach is a must-try), Peruvian ceviche and Venezuelan tapas and arepas (La Latina near the Design District was charming). All deliriously delicious, and all just found by Yelping the tastiest place open to where I was standing.

You'll need a liver detox.

Instead of steeling yourself against a week of Tito's vodka and Sweet Leaf Tea concoctions or cans of Lone Star, you'll have to prep your vital organs against rum. Sweet, dangerous rum. Made more insidious by its insistence on being served in delicious tropical fruity drinks where its taste is made invisible. Be wary of this rum illusion.

You'll spot celebrities.

Some we saw: Pharrell (okay apparently he was right next to me but my eyeballs didn't actually make contact), Adrian Grenier, Jennifer Tilly and Jennifer Tilly's cleavage (though both Mrs. Tilly and her cleavage were spotted at a hotel in South Beach, not Basel).

There were rumors of others  P. Diddy caused a stir at the fair a mere day before we arrived in Miami, and we would have spotted more had my boyfriend and I summoned the courage to sneak over the wall we were peeking over at the The Raleigh Hotel. And much like SXSW, celebrities were there to both throw parties but also just enjoy art, too.

After parties, guest RSVPs, badges and more.

Anyone who's ever attended SXSW knows how vital/completely unnecessary badges, wristbands and the like can be. Emailing your RSVP to the hottest parties was a must-do before we ever even landed in Miami (special thanks to the VH1 Scope Miami opening night party with its terrible vodka drinks and the weird/hot chick electric violin and DJ music show combo).

Badges and entry to the various fair tents and the main show at the convention center had to be bought. (But in our case were eerily easy to come by, by just saying we were supposed to be in there. Pro tip?)

You'll spot trends and talent.

Though your eyes will begin to glaze over by day two of walking through the endless booths of galleries showing art from artists from all over the world, much like coming across a young band you've never heard of, there will be giddy moments of spotting talent.

Getting to view so much art at once will also give insight into trends in the art world. This year's hot art trends: optical illusions, technology (and art made cheaper/easier by technology), textiles, torn paper, layers, mirrors and more. 

It's impossible to see it all, how ever much you try.

Launched in 2002, the four-day Art Basel (an off shoot of Art Basel in Switzerland, started in 1970) is a huge affair  last year's event saw 50,000 fair goers  and though businesses were happy to see us and locals kind, you definitely got the impression that it's a bit of a logistical nightmare for those who have to work and live in Miami (our first clue this might be similar to SXSW).

A list of all the fairs this year not counting the main Art Basel Miami Beach at the convention center: Aqua 12, Design Miami, Ink Miami, NADA, Select, UNTITLED, Verge, Art Asia, Artexpo Miami, Art Miami, Context, Fountain Miami, Just Mad Miami, Miami Project, Miami River, International Contemporary Jewelry Fair, OVERTURE, Pool, Pulse Miami, Red Dot Miami, Scope Miami, Seven.

How many of those I managed to attend? A whopping four. I tried! Next year.

You'll stumble on cool/hip/surprising things.  

Just like you might come across a neat band no one's discovered yet, in Miami we stumbled on a geometric pop up bar constructed of wood by Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros sponsored by Absolut Vodka known as the Güiro Art Bar and located close enough to the beach to hear the waves.

In Midtown we came across Peter Anton's "Sugar and Gomorrah", a carnival ride with kissing, underwear, a surprise twist ending and no discernible purpose for existing.  

There will be WTF moments. 

You know how sometimes you'll be walking around the East Side during SXSW and you'll hear some weird synth noises coming over a fence, or some cringe-worthy guy trying to rap?

The WTF feelings you have at Art Basel stem more from spotting art of really bad quality or weird "Is this art?"-ness. Rhinestone-covered cheeseburger? Okay, sure. An embroidered bust of David Bowie attached to an x-ray of ribs? I'll take three.

Luckily, these moments were few and far between, and most art spotted was inspiring and cool.