How to see Art Basel Miami Beach in 36 brilliant hours
Art, eat, sleep, depart.
Attending any art fair can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you have to incorporate travel to and from a destination like Miami that is sprawled all over a heavily trafficked terrain that even in the best conditions I find dense with drivers and pedestrians. This trip, as with most of my travel, was booked last minute so a little extra planning goes a long way to make the most of it. We arrived on a Wednesday evening and were met at the front desk of the Mondrian South Beach with two glasses of champagne and an upgrade. I highly recommend requesting a lower level hotel room during this overly busy time as with traffic the elevators can be a nightmare to deal with and I don’t really have patience for waiting when I am short on time.
After leaving our things at the hotel and changing quickly we get in an Uber we request to pick us up across the street to save time as the valet and porte-cochere is quite congested. We arrive at our destination, only 3.5 miles away, 40 minutes later and basically miss the invitation only event we flew in for, but did make it in time to thank our hosts. Upon booking our flights, the hotel is then booked and then restaurant reservations. It sounds silly to be so forward thinking, but at this point, it’s 8:45pm and after a day of traveling and two glasses of champagne, it’s time to eat and it was delightful to have the place organized. Michael and I and our good friend Marie make it over to Via Emilia No 9 for one of the best Italian meals in America and it is white truffle season so we are delighted for our bowls of gnocchi and butter and truffles shaved before us at the table. The wine is amazing and we opt for a table outside, we are New Englanders experiencing 78 degree weather in December after all, but we typically prefer to sit at the bar and watch the owner and chef perfectly prepare steak Florentine for all of the Italian diners coming in for the dish.
We decide to make our way over to The Deuce for a nightcap. This is one of my favorite places in Miami and also maybe the grossest? It is one of the last remaining true dive bars famous in decades past. They play rock and roll, have a mean happy hour and ashtrays on the bar. This is one of the only establishments you will ever see me drink beer as I honestly don’t know what else to order. Michael, on this occasion, orders tequila shots. I guess when at The Deuce!
Early Friday morning we rise, grab water and coffee and juice at Whole Foods across the street and get to Art Basel, the main fair. There are several works I snap photos of and grab details for clients upon my return to Rhode Island and after about an hour of show walking of the largest fair exhibiting we grab an Uber and head to ArtMiami and Context, two shows located next to one another. I found these two to be more commercial than the main show and Context to be the less interesting of the two, but they are next door to one another making it easy to see both quickly.
Then we head to NADA, the crown jewel of Basel in my opinion. This is where all of the emerging artists I watch and listen for in galleries and online and where I meet and see the most inspiring gallery owners, curators, people and artists. Marie shows us the Artadia booth and we learn of the Artadia award winner that is announced annually during NADA. I run into several artists I know including Antonia Wright, a performance artist I met during my last visit in October that I am eager to see more of, but am whisked away to one of my favorite restaurants for lunch, KYU at Wynwood where we have several small plates and a deliciously cold glass of white wine before heading on to the next exhibitions. If you find yourself with more time at Wynwood check out the Le Labo store there and the Wynwood Walls where Rhode Island artist Shepard Fairey had work shown the last time I visited. I like walking around Wynwood, it reminds me of Williamsburg Brooklyn circa 2004, sort of raw and scratching at the surface of an identity abutted to the industrialism the area was known for years ago, like the grimy automotive repair garage directly next door to the gorgeously designed and well maintained building KYU resides.
We go to a show sort of off the beaten path that I found looking at hashtag #artbasel or #miami on Instagram earlier in the day. This was organized by Young Artists Initiative and housed on the second, third and fourth floors of the Historic Post Office Building downtown and a totally interactive exhibition. We were lucky to have a private preview (ie. We accidentally arrived several hours before it opened and took a quick tour around as we weren’t going to make it back in time during opening hours) and thoroughly enjoyed a piece where you could tweet about #god and have your name appear with an anecdote in response on a black and white digital screen beside an installation that flashed large lit up marquee letters P-A-R-T-Y then A-R-T and back and forth forever.
We returned to the Mondrian to freshen up for dinner at Pubbelly, Michael’s favorite asian fusion restaurant with amazing sake and small plates to share. And of course we ran into Read van der Wal, our friend and daughter of a neighboring gallery in Newport, Rhode Island, Onne van der Wal! It was meant to be. On to Machaelina for a delicious glass or two of Italian red wine before getting some much needed shut eye before our very early flight out in the morning.
In 2018 I will be sharing some of my tips on booking travel both domestically and internationally (see this and this). For this trip, I used Frontier Airlines as the nonstop flight from Providence (PVD) to Miami (MIA) is pretty magical - enjoy spacious seating on newer aircrafts and if you can pack light you get the added bonus of a less expensive airline ticket. $100 Roundtrip including one carry-on bag and reserved seats.
Uber from airport to hotel. Ordering an Uber at Miami International Airport is much like virtually jumping in line at the taxi stand. My advice is to save a little time, and let’s face it, we can use all the time we can get on this trip, pick up your phone and be very clear with your driver about where you will be so they can find you (1st or 2nd level and at pick up stop A, B, C, etc). When Michael and I travel together we alternate ordering Uber cars and call out the make, model and last two letters or numbers of the license plate so we both have the opportunity to spot it. It helps connecting with your driver and saves a few precious minutes while jumping from fair to fair or hotel to restaurant.
A note about traffic during Art Basel. Give in to it and be a part of the flow or grab your Stan Smiths and get walking.
Where To Stay
You are going to want to plan your points of interest, eating and other outings around leaving the area where your hotel is and coming back as ABMB is spread over Miami Beach, South Beach and Downtown Miami. We love the Standard Miami as our home base when coming to Miami, but for this trip we opted for the more centrally located Mondrian and booked on the Hotel Tonight app two nights prior to arrival. This hotel is very conveniently located across the street from a Whole Foods, perfect for grabbing water for the hotel room and a bottle of wine and snacks to tide us over in between delicious restaurant visits.
Years ago when I was the assistant to the co-Chairwoman of the Whitney Museum, I became an expert at calendar management (okay, maybe just pro and not expert) and she taught me that including everything in your calendar during a hectic art fair would allow you to pick and choose at a moments notice where to go and when with addresses noted right at your fingertips. So do yourself a favor and load up your calendar with everything you want to see and do along with times and full addresses ahead of time. Then, start selecting your itinerary by show start times and location.
Conveniences & Links
Art Basel Miami Beach
1900 Washington Ave
With nearly 300 galleries exhibiting this is the largest fair and the main event during Art Basel. We were not in town, but Uber hosted a section that was of art by its drivers and riders I wish I had seen!
One Miami Herald Place
By far my favorite of the fairs. Emerging artists and galleries convene with dozens of exhibitions filled with inspiring contemporary art.
Ocean Drive and 12th Street
This fair is lighter and brighter with plenty to see including performance art and a few art installations powered by tech theories.
Another favorite filled with contemporary art from emerging and established artists and galleries.
Young Artist Initiative
This fair is focused on heightening the senses with interactive exhibitions and incorporating visual art, movement and music.
New to Art Basel this year, Fair is the only all female art fair.
Via Emilia 9
1120 15th Street
Owner and chef Wendy Cacciatori dazzles with Italian dishes inspired by his grandmother who taught him to hand make pasta and stuff ravioli. Cacciatori was recently invited as guest chef to James Beard Foundation so perhaps a NYC location is on the horizon, but for now we will take our pasta in Miami.
Mac's Club Deuce
222 14th Street
Touted as Miami's oldest bar, this raw rock and roll dive is the perfect place to get out of the art scene mix. Crowds pack the room during Art Basel making it an eclectic mix of regulars and tourists. ID required.
215 NW 25th Street
Easily my favorite restaurant in Miami. I love sitting at the bar chatting about where to eat and drink next with wildly talented bartender, James MacInnes follow @croquetasgratis on Instagram, and ordering plate after plate of imaginative asian fusion cuisine. The Burrata, Cauliflower and Broccoli dishes are a must for any vegetarian and they have a lovely wine list accompanying a delicious cocktail menu.
1424 20th Street
This is a no frills sushi fusion restaurant with a street food vibe. Michael's favorite is the Butter Crab Roll and the chef was kind enough to make a couple of vegetarian rolls special for me. And of course we had quite a bit of delicious unfiltered Sake to wash it all down.
820 Alton Road
Macchialina gets extra points for having a NYC ambiance with a little extra space and the fresh handmade pasta makes this place an obvious stop for Italian food. The wine list also has an amazing Super Tuscan section we love to share a bottle while sitting at the bar.