Art Basel: guide for normal people

Art Positions, 2007

Every year I try to get non-art people to come to Art Basel. Obviously, this applies to my folks in Miami (if you’re flying in, you probably already know all this stuff). It’s perfectly fine to come for the spectacle, but if you’re willing to be open-minded and a little patient, it’s hard not to come away with your mind a little bit blown by the scope and occasional power of contemporary art.

Art Basel is fun! You don’t need to be an expert, or have a big checkbook, to enjoy it. In fact, most people there this weekend will just be there for fun, to look. If you’re thinking about it, you should probably go! The Herald, the New Times, and everybody else will have big “Art Basel Guides” this week, but if all you want is to go for a few hours and see what all the fuss is about, just read the next paragraph and go! It’s not rocket science, and you don’t need to do any major preparations.

Art Basel is here. Google will give you very nice driving directions if you need them. It costs $35 to get in, plus something to park. (See below for how to do it for free.) The earlier you’ll go, the less crowded it’ll be and the more time you’ll have to look, and maybe take a break for food at Lincoln Road; just tell the person at the door you’re coming back and they’ll stamp your ticket stub or whatever. Once you’re inside, you can find out about Art Video Lounge, Art Positions, Art Perform, and Art Sound Lounge, which are in the neighborhood and which you may want to check out, too. Unless you want more then a casual day trip, don’t worry about anything else; some of the other fairs are great, but they’re much smaller, and a bit of a hassle. The “special events” are a hassle too, especially for parking. I usually spend about a day and a half total at Basel every year, and I still don’t see everything.

What to expect
I have pictures from previous shows here and here. Expect to do some serious walking — wear comfortable shoes. The fair is laid out in rows, but when you’re walking around it feels like a complete maze. I’d wandering around at random and getting lost. They have a little map, but trying to follow it to “see everything” is an exercise in futility, and you can walk through the same area over and over and see new stuff anyway.

The people who work for the galleries are all very nice. Unlike at some of the other fairs, they generally won’t start conversations with people, but they’re happy to answer questions. If someone tries to talk to you and you’re not interested, nod and walk away — they’ll think you don’t speak their language.

(Oh, about “stupid question.” Yes, unfortunately there is such a thing as a stupid question. Don’t ask “what makes this art?” or “couldn’t anybody do that?’ Questions about how something was made, or details about the artist, are great. It’s considered polite to preface “How much does that cost?” with a question that suggests why you’re interested in a particular piece. Eavesdropping on conversations between gallery employees and visitors is a good way to learn interesting little tidbits.)

Officially, cameras are banned, although these days it’s easy to sneak a little camera anywhere. I walk around with a big camera over my shoulder and photograph everything, and though I have credentials that say I can do so, nobody really checks. Lots of people take photographs, so you should be able to sneak one here and there, so long as you turn off your flash.

Do save some time for Art Video Lounge, which is across the street from the convention center. Art positions is about a 10 minute walk from the convention center. It’s usually worth it, especially if you’re wanting to get some fresh air anyway, but mainly it’s more of the same. If you’re still hungry for more, head on over to NADA and Scope, the two best satellite fairs.

By the way, here’s a link to the Art Basel website, not that it’s particularly helpful.

Do it for free
Art Basel is worth the money, but it is expensive. If you don’t want to spend the money, NADA is free, and it’s great! It’s like a smaller, more relaxed Basel. There isn’t nearly as much to see, and not all the artwork is quite as impressive, but it’s very much worth a visit.

You can also get in free to Basel’s Art Positions and Art Video Lounge, as well as a couple of the hotel-based fairs on the beach. In fact, a perfectly great itinerary would be to spend an afternoon at NADA, grab dinner, then head to the beach for Art Positions, where there are performances (pdf) every evening at 8pm (the photo above is from Saturday night at last year’s Positions).

Whatever you do, don’t waste your time this weekend going to the Miami Art Museum, Miami Art Central, the Margulies Warehouse, or any other place with art that you can visit next weekend, or in a month. These places are all very much worth visiting, but this weekend they’re overrun with out-of-town art people.

I’m going to be posting more about events and whatnot. If you’re event-inclined, the thing to worry about is the free show Wednesday night.

[Originally posted here]

2 thoughts on “Art Basel: guide for normal people

  1. Thanks for creating a guide for normal people. It’s nice to know that there are a few things I can do this weekend that won’t totally drain my savings. If you visit the Pool fair, stop in and say hi!

  2. Oh, I thought it was Gang Gang Dance. Yelle is actually a little better.

    I’m not that excited about Basel, to be perfectly honest.

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