The good feelings surrounding Art Basel Miami Beach were due in no small part to Florida's heralded mild winter weather. Who wouldn't leap at the chance for a week in Miami Beach in early December? There was indeed a "vacation vibe," as Luhring Augustine director Claudia Altman-Siegel put it.
But the economic success was thanks to the large number of collectors who came to the fair, a critical mass that hardly happened by accident. Special VIP treatment by savvy Art Basel fair management helped lure trustee groups from approximately 50 museums from Europe and North America. And UBS Paine Webber invited some 500 of its private banking clients to the fair, which was sponsored by UBS, and where the superbank took the opportunity to launch its "Art and Numismatics Services" advisory service in the U.S. (The unit is headed by Dr. Karl Schweizer and Randall Willett, and operates from the bank's European offices at present.)
Rarely do art collectors play such a visible role in a successful art-world event as they did at Art Basel Miami Beach. It's hard to say which collector played the larger part. Norman and Irma Braman headed the host committee of 150 local notables. The Bramans -- he is "South Florida's car czar"; their collection ranges from Calder to Kiefer -- were featured in Ocean Drive magazine, as were seven other high-profile collector couples.
Many of these celebrity collectors opened their homes to tours of Art Basel VIPs as part of the festivities. Real estate investors Debra and Dennis Scholl called on Serpentine Gallery curator Rochelle Steiner to oversee the selection of cutting-edge contemporary photography that filled their Miami Beach home. The Key Biscayne residence of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz -- he is the Coca-Cola distributor for Puerto Rico, and also bottles Budweiser as well -- is a museum-like gem, its 16 soaring white rooms filled with modern works by Jim Hodges, Gabriel Orozco and many others (and including a red-carpeted video theater displaying Isaac Julien's Vagabondia). Other stops on the home tour belonged to Monica & Javier G. Mora, Ruth & Richard Shack and Michelle & Jason Rubell.
And don't forget, of course, the supercollectors who have already set up their own museums: Marty Marguiles with his Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, and Don and Mera Rubell with their Rubell Family Collection, both located in Miami's warehouse district.
Special kudos go as well to Craig Robins, the collector and art patron who with his Cuban-born wife Ivelin was featured this month both in Ocean Drive and on the cover of the Spanish-language Miami Monthly magazine. A Miami native, Robins is a leading force behind the development of the Miami Design District, an 18-block neighborhood of showrooms and stores devoted to art and design, and is currently overseeing Aqua, a 151-unit residential development rising on Alison Island in one of Miami's waterways. His art collection, on view in his Dacra real estate offices, was one of the many stops on the Art Basel Miami Beach tour.
One big event concurrent with the fair was the Design District's "Art Loves Design" celebration, in which the streets of the neighborhood were closed to traffic for a giant block party. Centerpiece to the festivities -- sponsored by Robins, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and several other patrons, and held in Dacra spaces -- was "Interplay," Dec. 5, 2002-Feb. 28, 2003, a group exhibition organized by Patrick Charpenel and Silvia Karman Cubiñá and installed on the second floor of the Moore Building at 4040 NE Second Avenue, right upstairs from Luminere, the trendy design outpost where Zaha Hadid's new deconstructivist divan was on display.
Though its theme is maddeningly general -- ways that we are "connected" -- "Interplay" features works by more than 23 artists, ranging from better known talents (Francis Alÿs, Paul Pfeiffer, Daniela Rossell) to new faces, many from Latin America (Jose Dávila, Quisqueya Henriquez, C.I.G. Lang, Pedro Reyes, Sofia Táboas).
Among the artists are Miami's own Dara Friedman, who is represented with Wild Dog, a video of feral strays inhabiting the still-untamed sections of Miami's warehouse district. Cartoon artist Olav Westphalen gives us a strip-mall-style sign for Lacan's Grill & Lounge, an eerily appropriate pun for a shrink, while Florida artist Jason Hedges, who showed a piece called Water Coolers at Fredrick Snitzer Gallery in 2001, offers bowls of chocolate pieces in a work called Untitled Esthetic Experience #6 (Cocoa). And Luis Gispert, one of the success stories of the 2002 Whitney Biennial, contributes the video Block Watching, a one-minute loop of one of his gold-jewelry-laden chicas mouthing the annoying sound of a car alarm.
Robins also helped raise the funds necessary to erect a new "skymark" by celebrated Miami public-art stars Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt. Titled Kids!, the piece features ten-foot-tall figures of a boy and a girl on top of a pair of 35-foot-tall pillars, sited at the Design and Architecture Senior High at 4001 NE Second Avenue. A limited edition litho of Kids! can be had for $100 (or $158 framed) from the school; call (305) 573-7135.
Among the other shows mounted in Design District venues is an exhibition of paintings by the Italian artist Gigi Rigamonti at Via Solferino, a contemporary Italian furniture showroom at 3930 NE Second Avenue. The exhibition, which is on view till Dec. 20, features 28 brightly colored, lively abstract paintings, several of them mounted as freestanding monoliths.
Perhaps the senior collector in Miami Beach is Mickey Wolfson, who established his own museum, The Wolfsonian (now called the Wolfsonian-FIU, in recognition of its affiliation with Florida International University), in an exotically architected former storage building in South Beach (where his mother used to store her furs). Wolfson's focus on the "decorative and propaganda arts" has made the museum a treasure house of the unique and unusual. Visitors to Art Basel Miami Beach were feted at a special opening of the museum's current special exhibition, "From Emperors to Hoi Polloi: Portraits of an Era, 1851-1945," Nov. 23, 2002-May 11, 2003, a show of more than 150 portraits from the collection organized by Marianne Lamonaca. The works in the show are exotic and excellent, as are most of the things at the Wolfsonian, and range from a 1930 painting by Clarence Carter of his wife being x-rayed -- probably the first such picture in history -- to several period images of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, in a study of the propaganda use of the 20th-century heroic portrait.
The next Art Basel Miami Beach takes place Dec. 4-7, 2003. Art 34 Basel in Switzerland is scheduled for June 18-23, 2003, a week after the opening of the 50th Venice Biennale.