Miami was founded on the fun-above-all principle of nightclubs, and the idea that the august Swiss fair Art Basel would pick the city as its sole satellite has a certain loopy logic. Despite the fair’s focus on edgy contemporary art, Basel itself was (and remains) the polite embodiment of old-line Europe; Miami, now in its fifth year of hosting Art Basel Miami Beach, is all about the shock of the New World, still raw and resolutely democratic, a tropical frontier, the ideal blank canvas. It didn’t hurt that Miami has warm winters, or that the international set had already zeroed in on such glamorama watering holes as the Delano and the Raleigh—or that local art collectors have long been happy to open up their houses to visiting connoisseurs. Once anointed, Miami would make Art Basel fresh again, looser, and simply more fun.
This year, the long Miami weekend that rocks the world of contemporary art will be December 7 to 10. Once again, more than 35,000 card-carrying members of the global kaffeeklatsch that gathers at the intersection of art, money, and society will descend on the Miami Beach Convention Center, and along with numerous regular Joes with $24 to spare for a day pass, take in works from some 200 galleries in 30 countries. Beyond the convention center—the fair is spreading ever wider each year—it will be clear that Basel has become as much about design as fine art. In the epoch of Target as tastemaker and Oprah Winfrey as editor of an interiors magazine, designers and architects are the newest rock stars for grown-ups, and design is once again an important litmus test of status.
If there were a poster child for the current melding of design and art in Miami, it would have to be Terence Riley, the new director of the Miami Art Museum (MAM) and former Philip Johnson chief curator of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where he oversaw the epic $858 million recasting of the building by Yoshio Taniguchi. To jump-start the buzz about the MAM of the future, Riley, a steadfastly modern architect himself, brought in two design celebrities: the Pritzker Prize–winning, Basel, Switzerland–based team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, to turn the 29 acres of downtown’s Bicentennial Park into the Museum Park complex, due in 2010, centering on MAM and the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium.
"In the last few years, the architectural ante has been raised here," observes Riley, gamely rising to the "Robert Moses for the new Miami millennium" billing that surrounds him in his adopted city. He counts off the star-architect projects going up on Lincoln Road alone: the grand promenade designed close to 50 years ago by Modernist master Morris Lapidus (of Fontainebleau Hotel fame) has become the equivalent of Barcelona’s Ramblas. At its western end, Herzog and de Meuron are designing a combination parking garage and retail center topped off by a private residence; to the east, Mexican architect Enrique Norten is working on a graceful condominium with retail space; and in between, Frank Gehry’s high-tech facility will allow Michael Tilson Thomas’s New World Symphony to broadcast around the world with Internet2 technology. To Riley, downtown Miami is the next architectural horizon, and Museum Park will be its first landmark. "We still don’t have a great public building to jolt us into the future in the way that Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall transformed Los Angeles overnight, but Herzog and de Meuron’s vision will create a true 21st-century urban center."
In the meantime, much of Art Basel and its attendant activities will take place in the urban center of South Beach, a district founded on the gentle charms of Art Deco architecture and, despite its too many profoundly pedestrian condo towers, still the nexus of design in Miami. In the more human-scale stretches of the area, Carlos Zapata’s futuristic supermarket, Publix on the Bay, and Arata Isozaki’s addition to the Bass Museum are required stops for Basel’s hordes. In between art-buying stints at alternative art fairs Ink, Scope, and photoMiami, they will also chew over the chic at the better-living-through-design stores Base, Mo851, and Tomas Maier. In the evenings, they will frequent the Shore Club’s Art Lounge and negotiate the Art Loves Film party at the Delano, featuring the rereleased Easy Rider and Dennis Hopper.
In the heart of South Beach, the Wolfsonian-FIU museum, a collection of decorative and propaganda art and design dating from 1885 to 1945, will be drawing its share of design-world celebrities. Kate Spade has orchestrated the opening festivities for Lawrence Weiner’s site-specific installation (cosponsored by the Whitney Museum of American Art), which will remain on display until March 2007. New York–based designer Karim Rashid, recently back from a meeting in Milan with a potential client interested in doing a Miami hotel, is a fan of the Wolfsonian and of South Beach itself: "The Miami version of Art Basel is much more fun than Switzerland’s," Rashid notes, "though Miami has a long way to go before it becomes the city of the future."
To international art collector and philanthropist Ella Fontanals Cisneros, who hails from Cuba and Venezuela, and summers in Madrid, Gstaad, and Naples, Miami is already a new-order city: "It’s a beautiful, cosmopolitan culture, beyond the Latin American influences we’ve always had. Design, good design, is changing Miami all over again." On the mainland, west of South Beach, Overtown, the oldest African-American neighborhood in Miami, is emerging as an arts and entertainment district, evidence of the widening influence of the South Beach gestalt. During Basel, the NADA Art Fair sets up camp next to the opulent restaurant/lounge Karu&Y. And the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), a converted Overtown boxing gym, hosts "Sites of Latin American Abstraction" through February. (Cisneros’s private museum, Miami Art Central, in South Miami, is also open to the public during the fair.) A few blocks north of Overtown is the art gallery section of Wynwood, where other private museums, including the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, will vie for attention with the alternative art fair Pulse and the new MoCA at Goldman Warehouse, an outpost of the Charles Gwathmey–designed Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.
Just west of Biscayne Boulevard—where another historic building seems to come down every day, to Miami Herald headlines like going, going, gone!—is the revitalized Design District, home to furniture showrooms; such smart concerns as the children’s shop Genius Jones and forward-looking NiBa for home furnishings; art galleries; and the Basel-sponsored Art Loves Design. The district might as well be called Craig’s World, as most of it is owned by developer Craig Robins, a pivotal figure in the revival of South Beach in the early nineties. In the past few years he has lured numerous high-end design concerns, including Casa Fendi and Knoll, to relocate here. This year, he also takes on the role of cohost and producer of Design Miami/, a concurrent event with Art Basel that was founded in part last year by design curator Ambra Medda, who is Robins’s companion. During Basel, assorted exhibition spaces scattered around the district will have shows mounted by Vitra Design Museum, Yoko Ono, Paper magazine, and the Pompidou Design Collection. The inaugural fair was launched with a celebrated Zaha Hadid installation; this year, it’s Marc Newson’s turn to be fêted, and his installation will be permanent. [Editor’s note: Robins, a judge for Travel + Leisure’s Design Awards 2007, will cohost Design Miami/’s Designer of the Year dinner with T+L’s editor-in-chief, Nancy Novogrod.]
A prominent art collector himself, Robins has long used design and art as promotional tools to sell real estate, and he considers Miami an arena for "all kinds of creativity, a new sophistication." But, as in cities everywhere, developers here show varying levels of design intelligence. Two months ago, Cesar Pelli’s $461 million, 570,000-square-foot Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, 20 years in the making, finally had its grand opening. (Gary Moore and other artists have done permanent installations, and the facility is offering VIP tours during Basel.) For natives who remember that the Carnival Center commission very nearly went to Rem Koolhaas, Pelli’s cold, enormous, bunker-like building, which has been likened to an upside-down Jacuzzi, is a misfire that will, unfortunately, reverberate for a long, long time.
The vast and impenetrable Everglades made South Florida one of the last great wildernesses in America, and Miami is still a frontier, the promised land cast in concrete. But at certain moments the new skyline of downtown is also an eerily beautiful arcadia. Every inch is crammed with tenuous new obelisks, propped up by light and hope. The monoliths don’t seem quite real, as if they were nothing but a shiny cardboard skyline in one of those elaborate fold-out greeting cards tourists buy, skylines that snap to attention and then, just as quickly, collapse again. But the city that has always been driven and sold by celebrities—from the early days of bathing beauties and Walter Winchell to the era of Madonna and Gianni Versace to the reign of Art Basel—will continue to reinvent the landscape, selling Miami to the world all over again.
WHERE TO STAY
Miami’s best art hotel, with diverse contemporary work.
1671 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 877/242-6673; www.sagamorehotel.com; doubles from $385.
Reimagined Art Deco.
2001 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 888/625-7500; www.setai.com; doubles from $900.
The Standard, Miami
With André Balazs’s chic spa.
40 Island Ave., Miami Beach; 305/673-1717; www.standardhotel.com; doubles from $175.
Design-conscious hotel projects in the works: Stephen B. Jacobs and Andi Pepper’s remake of Roney Plaza into Gansevoort South; Stephane Dupoux’s interiors for Sole on the Ocean Resort & Spa; Nicky Hilton and Roberto Cavalli’s launch of Nicky O South Beach; a Miami version of L.A.’s Mondrian; Kelly Wearstler’s redo of the Tides South Beach; the Sovereign Hotel remake as SoHo House South.
WHERE TO EAT
Collectors gossip here over down-home Cuban fare.
186 N.E. 29th St., Wynwood; 305/573-4681; lunch for two $20.
David Bouley’s global menu at the Ritz-Carlton.
1 Lincoln Rd., South Beach; 305/604-6090; dinner for two $150.
71 N.W. 14th St.; 305/403-7850; dinner for two $190.
Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant
For curried vegetable stew and South African haddock.
4029 N. Miami Ave., Design District; 305/573-1819; dinner for two $50.
ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH
Where to Stay
1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 800/697-1791 or 305/672-2000; www.delano-hotel.com; doubles from $485
The National Hotel South Beach
1677 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305/532-2311; www.nationalhotel.com; doubles from $339
1775 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305/534-6300; www.raleighhotel.com; doubles from $375
1901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305/695-3100; www.shoreclub.com; doubles from $375
What to See
Bass Museum of Art
2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach; 305/673.7530; www.bassmuseum.org
Carnival Center for the Performing Arts
1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786/468-2000; www.carnivalcenter.org
Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation
1018 North Miami Ave., Miami; 305/455-3380; www.cifo.org
Margulies Collection at the Warehouse
591 N.W. 27th St., Miami; 305/576-1051; www.margulieswarehouse.com
Miami Art Museum
101 West Flagler St., Miami; 305/375-3000; www.miamiartmuseum.org
MoCA at Goldmans Warehouse
404 N.W. 26th St.; 305/573-5411; www.mocanomi.org
Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MoCA)
770 N.E. 125th St., North Miami; 305/893-6211; www.mocanomi.org
Publix on the Bay
12100 S.W. 127th Ave., South MiamiDade; 305/238-1019
Rubell Family Collection
95 N.W. 29th St., Miami; 305/573-6090; www.rubellfamilycollection.com
1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305/531-1001; www.wolfsonian.org
Ink Miami 2006 Art Fair
December 7th-December 10th
NADA Art Fair
December 6th December 10th
photoMiami Art Fair
December 5th December 10th
Pulse Contemporary Art Fair
December 7th December 10th
Scope Art Fair
December 6th December 10th
Where to Shop
939 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305/531-4982
90 NE 39th St, Miami; 305/438-1660
49 NE 39th St., Miami; 866/436-4875
3930 NE 2nd Ave. Suite 101, Miami; 305/571-0900
39 NE 39th St., Miami; 305/573-1939