The first week of December is one of Miami’s busiest. That’s because several major art fairs pitch their massive tents all over the city to celebrate Miami Art Week. Though it’s commonly known as Art Basel, Art Basel is just one of the numerous art fairs that are open to the public the first weekend of December. This doesn’t even account for local museums and galleries that feature special exhibits and events to draw collectors from all over the world who are in town for the bigger art fairs. Together all of these make up the shitshow that is Miami Art Week. Here is all you need to know about Miami Art Week and how can you can best enjoy it.
What is Art Basel?
Miami’s had an established art scene for quite some time. In fact, some of the fairs like Art Miami which are considered Art Basel satellite fairs actually predate Art Basel by over a decade. But it wasn’t until the Swiss art fair came to town that anyone started thinking of it as a must-see annual event. When Art Basel (named after the city in Switzerland) established a Miami Beach edition in 2002, suddenly the world started seeing Miami as an important destination for art. No longer were the art fairs open to the four people in Miami who give a shit about art. Now it was attracting visual artists, art collectors, and celebrities from all over the world.
Since 2002, Art Basel mania has become an epidemic. The art fairs are all packed and special events and parties surrounding the fairs fill up everyone’s social calendar, whether they live here or they’re visiting. Collectively, the event can be more accurately described as Miami Art Week. All sorts of businesses try to capitalize on the popularity, which is why you’ll see small exhibits in hotel lobbies, restaurants, breweries, etc. But if you’re serious about your art, you’ll want to go to one of the temporary art fairs where hundreds of international galleries show off and sell their best collections.
The Miami Art Week art fairs
Art Basel, arguably the main event of the week, is housed inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. The first couple of days of the fair, it’s open by invitation only to people who probably have $75,000 to burn on art over the weekend. They get first dibs and first viewing of over 200 galleries of painting, sculpture, and photography. If you’re a regular person who just wants to see some art, you can go to Art Basel over the weekend for the low low price of $65 a day, not including parking. Art Basel will basically be the most expensive museum you’ll ever visit. Art Basel’s sister fair, Design Miami, specializes in furniture and décor and sits across the street from the convention center. This is the kind of art fair that might interest you if you really love unique-looking lamps and coffee tables. Note that you need a separate ticket to attend Design Miami.
The rest of the art fairs move around the city from year to year, because they only need a large empty lot to pitch their giant white tents. Aside from Art Basel, one of the largest fairs to spend four hours looking at art is Art Miami and CONTEXT. A one-day ticket gives you access to both pavilions so it’s a slightly better value than Art Basel but still $55 a pop. Art Miami is fun and flashy featuring the best and brightest contemporary artworks. If you enjoy saucy neon signs and Mickey Mouse sculptures made out of dollar bills, you’ll probably have a great time. A third sister fair, Aqua, can be found at the Aqua Hotel in Miami Beach, but visiting requires a separate ticket.
SCOPE is another Miami Beach art fair that’s older than Art Basel. It pitches its pavilion every year right on the sands of South Beach on Ocean Drive. Aside from over 100 contemporary exhibitors, SCOPE sometimes throws some great parties and concerts outside their tent. These are usually by invitation only. A day pass for SCOPE is slightly more reasonable at $40. More reasonable for Miami Art Week prices, totally unreasonable by any normal comparison.
If you’re still not sick of Art Week, you can visit some of the smaller fairs around town. These are also generally more affordable. You’ll find PULSE at Indian Beach Park among the palm trees. Red Dot, a Wynwood staple, has moved into Mana Wynwood along with its sister fair, Spectrum. A one-day pass to both is $25. Nearby, you’ll find the small non-profit NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) fair at Ice Palace Studios. With the aim of making art more accessible to the general public, this fair might actually have something you can afford to buy (but probably not). Untitled is another tent on the sand in Miami Beach a few blocks north of SCOPE.
Going outside the art fairs during Miami Art Week
Miami Art Week is a great time to visit museums and galleries because they have special Miami Art Week exhibitions. You can check what’s on view at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which is in a great location that overlooks Biscayne Bay a few minutes from the Art Miami pavilion. The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA) in the Design District has free daily admission, so it’s a good alternative to the pricey fairs. The local university museums also put on special events and exhibitions during Miami Art Week. The FIU-affiliated Wolfsonian and Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum are also affordable alternatives with the latter being free to visit. UM’s Lowe Art Museum is another site to check out contemporary and local art.
Wynwood is great neighborhood to go to check out great art, because it’ll be plastered all over the buildings and walls. Miami Art Week sees a new crop of murals and public artworks every year, even by well-known street artists like Shepard Fairey. Start at Wynwood Walls and walk anywhere within a four-block radius and you’ll see plenty of art for free. The area is also full of galleries which come to life to celebrate Art Week and will be free to visit.
Get a preview of Miami’s street art here.
Getting around during Miami Art Week
If you’re trying to get anywhere in midtown, downtown, or the beaches during Art Basel, you are guaranteed to have a miserable time. So if you don’t care about art at all, I recommend you stay the hell out of that area altogether unless you live walking distance to everything around you. If you want to go to one of the art fairs or museums, brace yourself. Traffic will be awful and parking will be worse. Expect to pay no less than $20 for parking anywhere you go, and sometimes as much as $40 or $50.
To save yourself a bit of hassle and perhaps even some money, I recommend you go early in the day. Most of the fairs don’t get busy until later, so you’ll have a better chance of finding a city or municipal lot that’s not full if you go early. To avoid the parking nightmare, you can also avoid driving altogether and use Uber. Surge pricing is likely but it’s a good option if you don’t want the Miami Art Week traffic to ruin your art week. It’s also convenient if you enjoy your art with a side of $12 glasses of champagne.
Another alternative is to take the measly public transportation that Miami has to offer. From South Miami, you can take the metro to downtown and the free Metro Mover to fairs like Art Miami and the PAMM. If you’ve already gotten to Miami Beach, you can take a free shuttle from Art Basel to PULSE to SCOPE and Untitled. The free Miami Beach trolley can also help you get around. Either the South Beach Loop, the Middle Beach Loop, or the Collins Express can get you to some of the art fairs on the beach. Both the Art Week Shuttle and the trolley can be tracked using the Miami Beach E-Gov app.
If you prefer to avoid the transportation headache altogether, you can enjoy Miami Art Week from the comfort of your own home on Instagram.
Want to enjoy Art Basel like a local? Find out how here!