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For the past two years, I’ve traveled to Miami for Art Basel, a huge international fair that showcases modern and contemporary work by well-known and emerging artists. Although I’m not going to the event this year, I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on my experiences.
The best way to describe Art Basel is as a total scene where people from all different industries come together to see and be seen. The first Miami Beach show was in 2002, and the event has gotten more and more popular each year since. Art lovers, businessmen, billionaires, and celebrities flock to Florida every December, whether they’re in the market for new art or are just interesting in being a part of the cool crowd.
Art Basel is open to the public for three days, but the real event takes place in the day and a half before. This is when all the VIP events occur, and this is the portion of the fair I attended. It was so interesting because you would think that if you’re attending a VIP event, you’d have easy access to main attractions. Not here! For the Art Basel events, even the VIPs had to come and stand in an incredibly long line in order to attend. Everyone was dressed in comfortable shoes and the line extended all the way down an entire block of Miami Beach. Even though the weather in Miami is known to be quite tropical, everyone attending Art Basel knows to dress warm since the events take place inside a convention center, and the air conditioning can be freezing.
The real chaos began when the doors to the VIP events opened – everyone rushed inside and ran to all different areas. Everyone also knew exactly which pieces they wanted, and they didn’t hesitate to run after them – in fact, just about all the hard-to-get pieces were sold within 15 minutes! It was pretty crazy – I’ve never seen anything like it.
The people attending these VIP events and buying the artwork fast are usually serious art patrons, and they’re willing to invest in quality work. The pieces all range in price, but they can start around $5,000 and go all the way up to the multi-millions. Artwork is a wonderful investment if you can work with a knowledgeable advisor who can give you good direction on what to buy. In some cases, you can buy a piece of art and see it double or triple in worth within a few years. But you have to be very careful when selecting the pieces to buy – it’s a little like buying a Lottery ticket; in some cases, you can make back all your money, plus quite a bit extra, in other cases, you might lose it all.
If you’re interested in reading a very comical but somewhat accurate description of the energy at Art Basel, I highly recommend Tom Wolfe’s book, Back to Blood. Although it’s a fictional novel, it includes very realistic details about the Miami scene, and chapter 10 is all about Art Basel. I read the book after my first trip to the event, and I found it so interesting. Even though Wolfe is making fun of the scene, a lot of it rings true, especially since Wolfe calls it “The Super Bowl of the Art World.” He really emphasizes the idea that being there is all about showing how cool you are, and the book offers a somewhat true glimpse inside the scene.