"In terms of the art, the fairs are very similar. Art Basel is the world's leading brand and draws the world's best galleries,'' says Miami art insider Marvin Ross Friedman, a frequent visitor at both the Miami and Basel fairs.
What differentiates the events is the overall atmosphere — Miami is more social — and an enormous number of side events scattered throughout the city.
Crowds of museum curators and gallerists start flooding into town just after Thanksgiving. The first of the so-called satellite fairs — unrelated shows featuring works typically less pricey than the modern masters offered at Art Basel Miami Beach — begin setting up around the city.
Private jets carrying top collectors from Europe, Latin America, Asia and across the U.S. arrive for nonstop openings at museums, galleries and private art spaces owned by local collectors but open to the public. Mobile projects — painted Mini Coopers, a horse-drawn Hummer adorned with art — pop up in the streets. Even the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden gets into the event, hosting an annual exhibition of outdoor-appropriate works that this year will include Will Ryman's flower sculptures.
And after it's over, the buzz remains.
"When you have an opportunity once a year for a week for the most important cultural patrons in the world to come here, it's impossible not to see that impact,'' says Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts for the Knight Foundation and in his own right a significant supporter of contemporary arts.
Tony Goldman, a collector and the neighborhood redeveloper partly credited with the renaissance of SoHo, South Beach and Philadelphia, has set his sights on Wynwood, opening restaurants, encouraging galleries and creating Wynwood Walls, an open-air "museum'' of murals created by world-class street artists in a collaboration with Jeffrey Deitch Projects.
In the fall, Goldman opened the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse as a home for a trio of cutting-edge arts organizations. "I'm the ignition device," he says. Three of the city's private museums are located here in a still-transitioning warehouse district.
A dozen blocks up the street, Craig Robbins, a local art collector and real estate developer, has spent years transforming the Miami Design District from a dying trade center into a hub of art, food — some of the city's top restaurants are here — and retail. Recently, several top luxury retailers (including Hermès and Cartier) announced they were taking space there.
Between the two lies Midtown, a retail-entertainment-residential district that for some young residents has replaced South Beach as the place to live.
Within a mile are the Arsht Center and the construction sites for the new Miami Art Museum and the new Miami Science Museum. Last spring, Malaysian casino giant the Genting Group spent $236 million for nearly 14 acres of waterfront land adjacent to the Arsht Center, with plans to build a futuristic World Resorts Miami that the company hopes will include a casino.
Though casino games currently aren't allowed outside tribal resorts, the move has set off something of a frenzy among developers and would-be gaming operators that are gobbling up land nearby. Arts leaders are working with Genting designers to ensure that the arts institutions don't get buried in traffic.
Several hotels have taken on art themes, featuring works by local and international artists and hosting arts events year-round. And in what may be the perfect confluence of the city's luxury car culture and its infatuation with design, Miami Beach has become a showcase for architectural auto garages. The 1111 Lincoln Road retail center and parking garage designed by Herzog & De Meuron has become as popular a venue for parties as for stashing vehicles. Garages by star architects Zaha Hadid and Enrique Norten are on the way.
On this breezy, fall evening, the drizzle breaks out in a full-scale storm. Those without umbrellas — the teens on skateboards, a 20-ish man on a bicycle — dash for the cover of Gehry's curvaceous eaves to wait out the rain. The rest of the crowd pops open umbrellas and stuffs the cheese and crackers back into baskets, and the overture plays on.