An exceedingly calm, pleasant, and old-school thing to do during Art Basel Miami Beach is to go to Joe’s Stone Crab, put your name down with the maître d’, and quaff stiff cold drinks while you wait in the tropical weather for your table. When you get there, you order stone crabs, hash browns, creamed spinach, maybe the famous fried chicken, and then key lime pie for dessert. At last count, the spot was doing 1,500 covers over the course of a night, and each day was serving 5,000 pounds of the maritime delicacy meant to be dipped in mustard sauce—but that’s a normal week, not a week in which a cultural phenomenon brings an estimated $400 million to $500 million to the city annually. It’s deeply comforting to know that the menu, and the unfailingly snappy service, have remained unchanged from the day the place opened in 1913. 

Other things in Miami have changed quite rapidly, even in just the last few years. When Art Basel Miami Beach opens to VIPs on Tuesday, November 29, the fair will once again present a head-spinning clusterfuck of asset-holders and exchange-makers, of luxury corporations and sleaze factories, of high art and low tides. What began as a trade fair so long ago exploded into such an annual boondoggle for the bigwigs in fashion, music, film, cosmetics, legal weed, media, restaurants, and hospitality that to point out the mutation is by now a cliché itself. And that means, as usual, there will be an endless stream of events that have nothing to do with a Swiss art fair—and have only the most tenuous connection to art or Miami or possibly anything at all. Should one go to the PIN–UP magazine x Swiss Institute’s Club Glam New Americana, or the Bagatelle x SMT NFT wallet activation? Tough call. Should we check out the launch of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label x VANDYTHEPINK NFT? Maybe. Actually, you know what seems chill? The Rock the Bells x Cheetos event in an AR-powered art gallery aboard the SeaFair megayacht with a performance by Flo Milli. Let’s do that. An Everyrealm x Future Galerie x Mona Web3 metaverse architecture project designed by Daniel Arsham? You don’t have to tell me twice.

Once upon a time, it was the art that brought people to Art Basel Miami Beach the week after Thanksgiving. In the 1990s, after decades operating out of a pharma hub in the Swiss Rhineland, Art Basel wanted to expand to America and become the first multicity art fair network, bringing the world’s best galleries to the newly globalized patrons of the international contemporary art market. Basel director Lorenzo Rudolf and his communications director Sam Keller looked at Chicago and New York, but the OG Miami collectors—the Bramans, the Rubells, the Robinses—connected the duo with local Sunshine State authorities and talent, and pulled off a major upset. 

At that time, the November-December gray zone was well before the holiday rush, and it was crickets in Magic City, with most of the hotel rooms on the beach unoccupied. That changed immediately. When the fair opened in 2002, it was right off the bat a must-stop for every European, North American, South American, and Asia-based collector. And the fair itself has expanded too—for its 20th anniversary edition it is stacked with 283 galleries participating, approaching double the 160 that showed at the first edition. It’s also the first Basel since the fair announced that Noah Horowitz will be taking over as CEO—starting to clarify the vision of one James Murdoch, the media scion and Lupa Systems founder who took a controlling interest in the fair last year. 

The big guns will all be present. David Zwirner is bringing a suite of new works by Nate Lowman and a grand Joan Mitchell diptych, Trees (1990-1991), while Hauser & Wirth is bringing a large new painting by Mark Bradford and Henry Taylor’s epic portrait of Michelle Obama (her husband is a fan of the artist.) And Jeff Koons will offer for sale work from his new Apollo series, first seen earlier this year at Dakis Joannou’s project space on the Greek island of Hydra. The work is Nike Sneakers (N110 D/MS/X) (2020-22), and it is a polychrome bronze statue of a pair of kicks. Peak Koons. 

Those who spend more time downtown than in Chelsea will no doubt beeline to the themed sectors, such as Meridians, which features large-scale work, or the solo booths in Survey and Positions—some highlights will include Samara Golden at the Night Gallery booth, and displays of work by Julia Wachtel will be at New York’s Helena Anrather and Brussels’s Super Dakota.

But some galleries have even more up their sleeves. Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch both have booths at the fair, and they’ve got some pretty heavy-duty presentations. Gagosian will have big new paintings by Harold Ancart, Rick Lowe, Stanley Whitney, and other artists, while Deitch is staging a group show in the booth called “Goddesses” featuring work by more than a dozen female artists. But the two megadealers will also team up to take over the Buick Building in the Design District and stage a gigantic show called “100 Years”—it’s Deitch and Gagosian’s seventh Miami collaboration, and perhaps their biggest yet. 

It’s far from the only show in the Design District, the area that, with surge pricing, is easily an $150 Uber in traffic from the beach. At the ICA Miami will be the first US museum show of work by Michel Majerus, who was killed at the age of 35 in the deadly Luxair flight from Berlin to Luxembourg in 2002. The de la Cruz Collection will have a show of collection highlights, and Chicago cultural force Abby Pucker once again teams up with curator Zoe Lukov to put together a show of more than 40 artists. 

Nate Freeman

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