Art Basel: What I’ve learned from five years of attending the annual art fair

Long before Frieze, there was Art Basel and while Miami Beach might not have the cool factor of London or New York, Art Basel is still a premier destination, firmly marked in December on any art lover’s calendar. I’ve been going for five years, and it has definitely changed in that time.

On my first visit to Basel I was working with MoMA PS1 at the time, and the other people in the office had prepped me, trying to describe what it would be like, but nothing can really prepare you. There was so much going on back then, and it has only increased. Now I head to Miami early, ahead of schedule and already there will be large-scale artworks, films and live performances happening. So many more events kick off before the set schedule, as people want to squeeze in more art.

Once I’m in town, the mood is a bit like Fashion Week. There’s an energy and a buzz, different fairs have different opening nights, and now there are even more chances to network with the international art community- from brunches, to nighttime events. Plus everything is spread more widely across the city now.

It never used to be like that. In the beginning it was concentrated in Miami Beach, but last year I was at a fair in North Beach (which, in response to economic changes, is gradually emerging as the next art frontier). I spent the week heading back and forth across the city. The main fair Basel is still in Miami Beach, and then there’s NADA, the New Art Dealers Alliance- everyone makes a point of hitting those two fairs without fail. In my early years I made the mistake of renting a car to get between all the different shows, it was a huge mistake, the traffic is out of control and you have to worry about parking everywhere-so I learnt my lesson, now I depend on taxis.

The funny thing about Basel is that everyone in the art world loves to say that they are not going each year, they have Basel fatigue, but in reality everyone always attends. And actually arriving last minute and staging an event at the final hour, is the new cool thing. We love to complain, like fashion girls – but we acknowledge that it is such a privilege to be able to see so many beautiful paintings, displays and events.

This season I’m excited about an artist I work with called Rashaad Newsome, he crosses the line between fashion and art.


He’s worked with Alexander Wang, Opening Ceremony and Solange Knowles. This December he’s staging an elaborate parade as part of opening night. It’s called ‘King of Arms Krew (Miami Chapter) Mass Processional Performance’ and will see a biker crew performing stunts, Vogue dancers and a Florida Memorial marching band playing an original score created by Newsome.


I’m also looking forward to a new art and tech initiative called PORTALS, where people are encouraged to enter into a gold shipping container for an immersive audio-visual experience where they will come face to face with someone in an identical gold shipping container elsewhere in the world.

The tech influence is definitely big at the moment and the rise of social media too. Art shows have changed to incorporate this and it affects how art is presented,  you only need to look at the controversial artist Richard Prince who created “Instagram art”. Artists have started to consider their layout and presentation, definitely planning everything with a ‘will this blow up on Instagram?’ strategy.

During the week I’m likely to see so much art that my brain will feel like it’s melting but the magic lies in how the art fairs execute their vision so well. And it doesn’t have to be big, celebrity-filled, or have acrobats flying from the ceiling. Jack Shainman’s Gallery has an Annual Fête- which is packed with great artists, and cool people, it just always attracts a fab crowd, it’s like an extended family vibe. I’m always there for that.

With all the high and lows I still love Art Basel and in 2015, I think Art Basel is still a must-visit, maybe I’ll see you there?

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