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November 20, 2017
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Andy Warhol is still king during Miami's art week (Photograph: Karina Abramova).

During the first week of December of each year, Miami is the international destination of choice for curators, artists, gallerists and, of course, buyers. This year, 20 art fairs took place in the sleek Design District, Wynwood Arts District and Miami Beach, and over 50,000 attendees visited the Miami Beach Convention Center where the crown jewel of the fairs, Art Basel, resided. Toss into the mix an array of famous people, from designers to professional athletes, and one begins to wonder how to survive the jam-packed week of art, parties and Florida sunshine. I ventured to Miami to find out for myself. From heavy-hitter Art Basel to Wynwood Arts District's street art, I present to you Miami: the one-stop art shop. 

Since 1970, Art Basel has taken place every June in Basel, Switzerland and is considered by many to be the most prestigious art fair in the world. It has hosted the world's top galleries, showcased the biggest talents and lured in the most affluent buying crowd. In 2000, the organizers of the fair decided to establish themselves in North America at the mid-way point of Art Basel's season to serve as a friendly retreat for European art collectors. With the help of Miami's billionaires and art collectors who collectively wanted to change the city's reputation as a drug and gun paradise, Art Basel came to America in 2001. Out with Miami Vice and in with Art Miami.

Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen debuts her
palm tree installation "As a Tree, I Can Feel
The Wind" at Art Miami, 2011.
Photograph by Karina Abramova

Celebrating its first decade this year, Art Basel Miami Beach featured contemporary works by more than 2,000 artists from 265 galleries representing five continents. This year's flavour was ... everything. With a record number of young galleries showing this year, there was no shortage of sculpture, mixed media, paintings and video art. And one thing was certain: Andy Warhol is still the king. Not only were there 20 galleries selling his works, he was the subject of three exhibits (including Before They Were Famous: Behind The Lens of William John Kennedy, a collection of photographs of young Warhol) and an influencer of another three. Clearly, pop art is hot right now.

Pop artists aside, for the first time, the Art Video section of the fair was presented on the large-scale outdoor projection wall of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center symphony hall, which opened earlier this year. The seemingly endless Miami Beach Convention Center played host to affluent American and European buyers and presented a particularly robust selection of Chinese and Brazilian artists. Brazil had a strong presence this year (thanks, in part, to a booming economy which grew by 7.5% last year) with 16 galleries showcasing the work of preeminent Brazilian and Latin American artists.

For galleries that didn't get a spot in the prestigious Art Basel fair, satellite fairs provided an opportunity to capitalize on the tremendous influx of art lovers. Located in the sunny splendour of the art deco hotels on Collins Avenue were Aqua Art, Art Now, Arts for a Better World, Burst Project Art Fair, Design Miami, Ink Miami, NADA Art Fair, Pool Art Fair and Verge. Given the competition, most fairs focused on a specific angle: unrepresented artists at Pool, new art at Verge, art on paper at Ink, and emerging art at NADA. Aqua was an especially interesting show, by content and location (the breezy Aqua Hotel with an intimate courtyard featuring a hot tub). With no major art market on the west coast, nor any global-scale art fairs, west coast artists and galleries such as Seattle-based Aqua venture east to New York, Miami and even London, to show their work to wider audiences. 

The seemingly endless Miami Beach Convention Center played host to affluent American and European buyers and presented a particularly robust selection of Chinese and Brazilian artists.

Away from Miami Beach, the area of Midtown Miami offered Art Asia, Art Miami, Fountain Miami, Pulse, Red Dot, Scope, Sculpt Miami and Zones Art Fair. Scope Art Fair, which prides itself on "curating cutting-edge contemporary art from around the world," was a stand out. Returning for its 11th year, Scope emphasized film, music, installation and performances, as well as a generally youthful vibe aimed at collectors seeking the freshest and newest artists on the block. Scope also offered museum-quality programming, collector tours, screenings and special events covering everything from artist talks to outdoor installations and arts community projects. More than anything, Scope offered a non-highbrow experience for young art connoisseurs and hungry buyers. Located across from Scope was Art Miami, which had the air of being a younger cousin of Art Basel (based on the art within it) despite being the longest running modern and contemporary art fair in Miami. In contrast to the youthful energy of Scope, Art Miami presented itself as the fair for "serious" collectors interested in the "most important work[s] at the forefront of the international contemporary art movement".

Further south from both Scope and Art Miami was the edgiest, most relaxed art display: the Wynwood Arts District, which literally acted as the canvas for street art with its warehouse walks covered in murals. The marginal art form that once wasn't deemed worthy for display in galleries now ruled the whole neighborhood. Everyone, from Shepard Fairey to Friends With You, was on the display in an endless tandem of art and street. And it was intoxicating. Walking with hundreds of people from gallery to mural to reception to warehouse show, addled by an endless reservoir of prosecco, rubbing shoulders with graffiti artists and millionaires, one realizes that for that one week in December, Miami is the place to be.

At the entrance to Wynwood Walls in
Wynwood Arts District.
Photography by Karina Abramova

The actual experience of Miami's art week was even more fascinating than it appeared on paper and full of surprises. One learns the art of jumping into cabs with strangers since traveling between Miami Beach and Wynwood is pricy (not to mention, congested with traffic). One appreciates guerrilla shuttle buses acting as pop-up galleries offering art and prosecco. And more than anything, one enjoys the sunny Miami not only for its beaches and cheesy club scene, but for the cultural potential that the city can throw against a fellow arty city, New York. Mark your calendars for 2012, dear readers!

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