We set out thinking anything was possible. It was a noble cause – a righteous one, even, as we tried to ingest as much art as possible in a day and a half. A trip to Art Basel Miami Beach (the annual art fair that has become surrounded by satellite fairs, glitzy parties and other hoopla) is a lazy man's opportunity to see massive amounts of art in one centralized location. As owner-operators of a branding agency and a contemporary art gallery, art fuels our inspiration and creativity, so we knew that the all-you-can-eat buffet of creative brain food that Basel has to offer is exactly what we needed.
It's clearly easier than ever to do something "visual" and call it art. However, one of the most apparent things at Art Basel Miami Beach this year was the importance of expert curators. We stumbled into a conversation comparing the art world to the music world: Some galleries act as the big record labels, selecting for financial gain and mass appeal, and others as the indie labels that gather the best talent for the love of music.
We decided to spend our first day concentrating on up-and-coming arts district Wynwood, where many galleries were taking advantage of all the art lovers (and buyers) in town for ABMB to show off their own rising young artists. Wynwood at times felt like Bandcamp or Soundcloud for the art world – we had to look at a lot of shit, but along with the shit was cutting-edge work, produced by people with true talent.
We make a wrong turn, landing us on the wrong side of Wynwood. The really wrong side, complete with all traffic lights blinking and people staring out of barred windows. This is usually not a good sign.
Begin our walk in the Wynwood Arts District. The other Basel. The better Basel?
Visit Brisky Gallery for a show called Bridges, featuring installations, paintings and sculptures. "Cool Migrations," an installation piece by Alex Yanes, is playing roots reggae. The music is awesome AND they have a restroom!
It's hard to miss people getting high on a scaffold … to create art.
We arrive at the Fountain, an area set up as a marketplace featuring smaller galleries and a hit-and-miss collection of self-promoted artists. The art is edgier than some might appreciate, but it's a good place to find hidden gems. The price of admission includes an open bar, so naturally we down as many rum-and-Cokes as we can and stuff our bags full of free Pop Chips and Kind Bars.
We continue our walk over to Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, where Enrique Gomez de Molina is showing a delightful collection of Dr. Moreau-inspired faux-taxidermy creatures from a series titled This Is Not Taxidermy.
Witness a guy from street-art collective La Pandilla working on a mural while a drag queen does someone's hair on a street corner. Doesn't this happen everywhere?
Wynwood Walls, a group of windowless warehouses in the neighborhood that are open targets for street art, has become a sort of Mecca for graffiti artists, collectors and enthusiasts. Tonight they are showing work from Retna, Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Ryan McGinness and Invader. The Walls show is a good intermission, complete with a cash bar, DJ and a couple of food carts. This year there's also a pop-up "gallery" shop, full of graffiti-inspired gifts, spray paint, accessories and a wide selection of graffiti books.
We make our way uptown from Wynwood to the Scope art fair. Getting lost in the vastness that is Scope is enjoyable – we're surrounded by some of the most forward-thinking and exciting contemporary art in the world. Scope is attached to Art Asia and Overture, all housed under the same roof. Personal favorites include creepy bronze sculptures by Chinese artist Qin Weihong and creepy bad-guy portraits by Orlando artist Scott Scheidly.
Walking back to Wynwood proved to be a horrible idea. Six of us squeeze into a car to hitch a ride back down to the 'hood.
Primary Projects' installation "Asif's Guns" is a pop-up show/gun store complete with a knowledgeable staff selling an assortment of firearms constructed of cardboard, including handguns, assault weapons and machine guns. The salespeople are helpful enough to disassemble each weapon for you and provide information on caliber rounds that could be loaded into each "weapon."
Up the street at Now gallery, we take in Federico Uribe's solo show, Art on a Shoestring, comprising sculptures and hung pieces made from recycled objects, including electrical wires, zip ties, bullets and old keyboards – a good example of art for the current economy.
It would be very hard to starve in Wynwood during Basel, considering they have their own food-truck "food court" on hand. If you don't mind getting your feet dirty and dusty while tripping on chunks of concrete, hitting the food trucks is a definite must. We quickly find that the trucks with the longest lines are the ones worth waiting for. Patience is key.
Unix Fine Art is a treat. This gallery offers pieces from ultra-realistic sculptor Eugenio Merino and the brushstroke master Alexi Torres, and pop culture-infused sculptures and paintings by Desire Obtain Cherish.
During the day, the Basel Biergarten was an awesome place to take a rest; after a full day of walking, their selection of craft beer and hand-rolled cigars is just what we need to end the night well. Come nightfall they've added a DJ and the AZ Canteen (Andrew Zimmern's food truck), serving a not-so-bizarre selection of tasty treats.
1 p.m. – closing:
Having survived last night, we arrive at the convention center for ABMB proper. As expected, there's as much plastic walking the floor as there is on display (and in wallets). The convention center is its own beast, an indoor mini-city with more than 250 galleries from around the world showing work that ranges from the of-the-moment contemporary to as far back as the modern period of the early 20th century. Compared to scruffy Wynwood and emerging satellite fairs like Scope, the Basel convention floor is the top of the food chain, where the Justin Biebers of the art world come to sell their work. This is art that has mass appeal and financial value. Cheap here is 30 grand, but if you like that Basquiat on the wall, it can be yours.
In the end, we decided we preferred Wynwood. It's a good representation of where art is headed and gave us a glimpse of good, hungry talent. Plus, the beer was righteous. In all, Art Basel Miami Beach is something every human, at least those who consider themselves cultured, should attend at least once in his or her life.
Benjamin Collins and Gilbert Gomez are directors of ad agency Laughing Samurai and Twelve21 Gallery, a showcase and online storefront for new contemporary art. They also design this awesome publication you're holding.