A Look Back at What Made Art Basel 2018 So Special

By Erica Corsano | February 4, 2019 | Culture

There were more than 20 art fairs, seemingly endless parties and thousands of out-of-towners, but what stood out most about the first week in December were the artists and the experiences that gave a glimpse into the future of our visual culture.

basel-0002.jpgDerrick Adams’ “America’s Playground” installation at the Faena Festival

The largest art fair in North America descends upon the Magic City like a flock of chicly dressed aliens from near and far. Their extraterrestrial activities are, of course, quite earthly but will certainly take your mind to new places. For one week, the outsize event transforms Miami Beach and Wynwood (and a couple of other surrounding areas) into a cultural mecca for worshipers of the visual and performing arts, fashion and celebration. Of course, one can't ignore those who are most concerned about uploading FOMO-inducing Instagram Stories and catching a glimpse of Kanye West. But luckily at this fine fair, there is plenty of eye candy for the Yeezy worshippers and Lichtenstein lovers alike.

Money Matters

Let’s get the gauche conversation out of the way first because it’s tacky to talk about how much you paid for something—no matter how rare or beautiful. While the world’s economy may have been on the rocks during Art Basel Miami 2018 (making buyers more hesitant than in years past), according to our insiders, there was still plenty of money to be made. In fact, more than $3 billion in art was available for sale at this year’s fair. Topping the largest purchases was Pablo Picasso’s “Tete de Femme” (1917), which sold for $17 million at Van de Weghe Fine Art. Philip Guston’s “Shoe Head” (1976) sold for $7.5 million, and Mark Bradford’s “Feather” (2018) sold for about $5 million—both at Hauser & Wirth. There were dozens of remarkable works sold in the six-figure range including mixed media, photography and sculptural pieces, among others. Insiders say, however, that many pricey works appear to have been left behind. Among them? A $50 million Rothko.

basel-2.jpgPrada Mode, a pop-up members-only club at the Freehand, featured a site-specific installation by artist Theaster Gates.

Hot Topics

Art is always meant to start a conversation. From pieces featuring President Trump at Scope that got mixed reviews to entire exhibits dedicated to the topic of climate change, this year’s Art Basel showed us more than ever how global issues and art collide. Luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet always hosts a much-anticipated exhibit and social event highlighting a smart collaboration with a museum or artist. This year, the brand drew well-known collectors, gallery owners, dealers, celebrities and press to view and celebrate the installation “Albedo,” by Tomás Saraceno with the Aerocene Foundation. Comprised of solar umbrellas, the installation contemplated our relationship with Mother Earth and how we treat her and had us pondering what the world would be like without fossil fuels.

Climate change is always a hot topic among artists around the world, and recently Miami has become a major part of that discussion. It’s no wonder why local artist Xavier Cortada’s compelling public art project “Elevation Drive” garnered much attention. His murals mark the elevation of four intersections in Pinecrest majorly nodding to Miami’s growing concern about rising seawater levels.

Race in our culture is another important topic in art and in general. The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA) drew hundreds to North thanks to its latest AfriCOBRA exhibit. As one of the longest-running organized artists collectives, the group used its collective artistic voices to contribute to its mission: the liberation and unification of the black community as a whole.

When Fashion & Art Collide

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While many of the Design District boutiques used Basel as an excuse for in-store celebrations and shopping events, Prada set up shop for three days at the Freehand Hotel in Miami Beach for a series of art activations, performances and cultural conversations—including a performance by musical artists Elena Ayodele in conjunction with the National YoungArts Foundation and a live performance by the Black Monks of Mississippi.

Christian Louboutin co-hosted a supper party to honor Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson at the Pérez Art Museum—the famous shoe designer also sponsored the artist’s exhibition. In other fashion news, Faena Bazaar officially opened to the public during Art Basel, welcoming a slew of designers (including Serena Williams, Pedro Garcia and Ximena Kavalekas) to kick off the rotating and highly curated retail shopping experience the space brings to Miami.

A less expected retail experience came in the form of the Soundtuary x RAW Popup: Birds of Mind, featuring multisensory music and art in an abandoned Macy’s store in downtown Miami. Fashion legend Patricia Field hosted her third consecutive ARTFASHION runway show and event in Wynwood, while vintage retailer What Goes Around Comes Around celebrated 25 years of business at the Versace Mansion. Is your head spinning yet? Click those red heels together and repeat, “There’s no place like Basel, there’s no place like Basel.”

Taking It To the Streets

After the launch of his Hublot watch collaboration, Latin mega superstar Nicki Jam was honored with his very own mural, thanks to the watch company that commissioned artist Domingo Zapata to paint the exterior of a building on 17th Street and Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. Think of it as the coolest luxury billboard you will ever see—the street art homage not only displays the artist’s handsome mug but also features Hublot watches, naturally.

Street artist Shepard Fairey also celebrated his Hublot watch partnership at a Basel soiree on Palm Island, which welcomed the artist himself, Hublot President Jean-François Sberro, global CEO Ricardo Guadalupe and Fairey’s pals Tristan Eaton and Martha Cooper, who were included in a panel discussion that evening. The event’s afterparty had Fairey himself DJ-ing from a third-floor DJ booth.

There were no watches being sold at The Art of Banksy opened at Magic City Studios, but the exclusive exhibition did feature over 80 original works from the street artist in the largest Banksy exhibit ever assembled. While the event itself left much to be desired, the unauthorized private collection (organized by Steve Lazarides, the street artist’s former dealer) on view was spectacular.

Moments Made for the Gram

basel-3.jpgA made-for-Instagram collaboration between the artist KAWS and designers Humberto and Fernando Campana drew crowds at Design Miami/.

We wouldn’t be modern humans if we didn’t indulge in flooding our Instagram with photos telling the world how amazingly cool we are for being at Basel. And some installations just begged for such behavior. Case in point: the inaugural Faena Festival, named after an Alfredo Jaar LED-light sign floating in the water just off shore that read, “This is not America,” offered up artist Derrick Adams’ “America’s Playground” and Tavares Strachan’s neon “We Belong Here” sign (among others) for Insta-indulgence.

More Instagram catnip came in the form of Paula Crown’s enormous, 10- foot crushed SOLO cup (in partnership with the Rise Above Plastic campaign) and Red Bull’s giant climbable Rainbow Bridge at Hive in Wynwood. Perhaps one of our most interesting photographic moments came from Paola Pivi’s multimedia exhibition Lies at The Bass museum. Ninety-two television screens displayed 40,000 photographic images while 200 sound recordings of various lies played through the exhibit’s sound system.

All the Ladies in the House

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Notable artists throughout the fair and surrounding museums and galleries reminded us that while always an important discussion, now more than ever should our brains be rattled with thoughts on modern feminism.

Judy Chicago: A Reckoning at the Institute of Contemporary Art offered a major survey of works by the pioneering feminist artist. The Rubell Family Collection is always pushing limits when it comes to… well, just about anything, and its New Acquisitions exhibit was no exception, including new paintings by Detroit native Jamae Richmond Edwards. Her colorful works explore issues of identity, perception and aspiration.

Other fierce females who got our minds (and hearts) moving were Judith Bernstein and her aggressively phallic drawings on view at the Miami Beach Convention Center and Brooklyn-based furniture designer Katie Stout’s goddess lamps at Design Miami/. Dedicated to women asserting ownership over their bodies, the odd-looking figures were utterly empowering.



Photography by: "AMERICA'S PLAYGROUND" PHOTO BY KRIS TAMBURELLO/COURTESY OF FAENA; PRADA MODE PHOTOS BY BRYAN BEDDER/GETTY IMAGES FOR PRADA; KAWS X CAMPANA EXHIBITION PHOTO BY JAMES HARRIS; JUDY CHICAGO PHOTO COURTESY OF JUDY CHICAGO PRIVATE COLLECTION