Over the past decade, Art Basel Miami Beach has helped establish the city as a global Mecca for a marauding mob of artists, curators and art collectors, dealers, and rabid enthusiasts. A de facto sister event of the decades old art fair in Switzerland, Miami’s version is centered around the The Art Basel collection at the Miami Beach Convention Center, which features pieces from the most prestigious galleries from around the world. But the just as crucial are the dozens of indie international artists that set up shop in massive tents in both the Wynwood Art District and posh hotels lining South Beach.
Art Basel Miami Beach has an undeniable appeal for Northeast Florida art lovers, due not only to its grandeur but its proximity. A few hours by car, and one is face to face with contemporary art collections from Beijing to Berlin and Brooklyn to Brazil. It’s more than an opportunity t view great art, it’s an annual gathering of the tribes.
Nick Wagner, owner-artist of Black Hive Tattoo and husband of artist-writer Madeline Peck, instantly connected to the universal language of creativity at Art Basel Miami. "This was my wife's third year going and my first time,” he says. “It was overwhelming.” Wagner found the effect similar to when he and his wife visited Louvre five years ago. “There is a point of visual overload. You can look at as much art as you want but you can't absorb it all. I ran into a lot of things I'd been exposed to but not seen in person. That personal experience can change your perspective."
Feedback from the Northeast Florida artists who attended this year’s event are as diverse as their respective media. Yet all shared a common goal to not merely network but also investigate and celebrate what their international peers are up to. Artist Christina Foard has made the trip downstate the last couple of years and her motivations are those of both a fan and practitioner.
"I'm definitely here to check out the current wave of global ideas and to see if anything I'm doing leads into the same language that someone else may be doing,” says Foard. “It's a great way to see what the top galleries around the globe are presenting as contemporary art and stimulate ideas in my head." Repeat customer Steve Williams of Florida Mining Gallery was keeping an eye out for artwork for his personal collection while also promoting his own endeavors. "I'm networking for my gallery,” Williams tells Folio Weekly, “while also trying to meet people that would want to represent my work." The husband and wife arts team of Tony Rodrigues and Wendy Lovejoy opted for a more guerilla approach, promoting their Tact Apparel clothing line by leaving stickers and totes at the Rubell Family Collection in Wynwood and at various art hot spots at the beach. "We did some scouting around and put our work in the hands of gallery owners and art fair organizers" Rodrigues explains. Sculptor Dolf James was once again enthralled by what is offered each year, and the diversity of a global arts gathering that attracts 40,000 people each year. “I think you get a snapshot of what's going on all over the world. It's a very valuable experience and I don't how else you'd be able to do it in a four-day period of time.”
Northeast Florida artists Mark George and Shaun Thurston were formally invited and found the time to show their work in the Wynwood district this year. In 2010, post-Pop Artist Mark George was part of the Aqua Art Miami contemporary art fair at South Beach. This year, the Harold Golen Gallery on 2nd Ave featured a seascape by George. Fantasist illustrator and Krylon-craftsman Shaun Thurston had four paintings on display at the Art Basel Collective, a satellite exhibit showcased at The Kohn Compound that featured a total of eleven artists whose works ranged in style from photography to graffiti. Street artists from all over the world were also represented, tagging their own colorfully cryptic signatures and images on the city’s walls. And thankfully, some of the best in Northeast Florida were in the mix, gleaning from Art Basel even as they give back to it. For Dolf James, the annual event offers a memorable glimpse of the artistic times.
"It's what the art world thinks art is right now,” he says.