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Art Basel

Roy Zipstein Inside Cesar Pelli's long-awaited and controversial Carnival Center for the Performing Arts

Photo: Roy Zipstein

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.

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