IN RECENT YEARS, fashion and design have been Art Basel Miami Beach’s most conspicuous partners-in-crime—at least according to the PR blitzes that were bloating e-mail inboxes in the hours and minutes before the fair. But in the days leading up to the twelfth edition of ABMB, some observers had time to witness the way in which the megafair is imbricated with the longue durée forces of architecture and real estate. A few days before the fair’s VIP opening, there were two prescient events: a dinner celebrating architect Richard Meier’s debut Miami project—transforming the historic Surf Club into glass towers of luxury apartments—and the reopening of the former Miami Art Museum as the Jorge M. Pérez Museum of Art of Miami Dade County.
“He gave $40 million?” gasped an artist, staring up at the $131 million Herzog and de Meuron–designed building on Monday evening. “Why not name it the Miami Art Museum at the Pérez building, since taxpayers are funding the majority of it anyway?” asked another. In 2011, the board agreed to sell the museum’s name to the Buenos Aires–born real estate magnate Jorge Pérez. At the time, Pérez was in ill health and the museum was desperate for funds. Of the forty million, over half is valued in his collection of art, and the remainder is planned to be doled out over a number of years. On this evening, Bank of America was hosting the first of several openings slated for the week, to celebrate the Pérez and “Ai Weiwei: According to What?,” the inaugural exhibition. Pérez did not attend the opening, but his name seemed bigger than ever, printed in large letters across the masterfully designed fortress of glass, wood, and steel situated on the water, which in the sunlight acts like a mirror, reflecting the pseudopublic institution’s image across Biscayne Bay.
Not far away, much less conspicuously, another man was busy engraving his name into a different part of Miami, also in the name of art.
“I own 70 percent of the Design District,” said Craig Robins as he led a pre-Basel hard-hat tour of the district. “You can see how we have begun this legacy—and,” he continued, pointing his finger toward the construction, “how we plan to continue it: Dior will go there, Bvlgari over there. Van Cleef and Harry Winston on that side, Louis Vuitton and Cartier there.”
This legacy began in the 1990s, when Robins bought up many of the low-lying industrial buildings and invited artists to use some as studio spaces, free of charge, effectively infusing the desecrated area with creative lifeblood. As the Design District grew, helped also by Design Miami, which premiered in the neighborhood in 2005 before being sold to Art Basel in 2010, Robins sought out a partnership with LVMH. Once the deal was secured, construction began and the free studio spaces disappeared.
“We feel this area is better suited for exhibitions catered toward our new audience,” said Robin. “Nate Lowman and John Baldessari are both creating permanent installations.” WELCOME TO THE MIAMI DESIGN DISTRICT / WHERE CREATIVITY, ART, LUXURY, AND DESIGN HAPPEN read the massive mural over our heads.
There is no event on the art calendar more famous for its efficient hedonism than Art Basel Miami Beach. What is exceptional about the 2013 edition is an influx of speculative real estate—these values are being cemented in the soil of this rapidly expanding city. Evidence of the Brobdingnagian impact that an art fair can have over the economics of a developing urban center? Another real estate developer, who recently bought up land around the nearby Miami neighborhood Park West, has begun giving out free studio space to artists. What comes next is anyone’s guess.
Meier’s refurbishment of the historic Surf Club, where Winston Churchill famously smoked cigars and drank whiskey while he tried his hand at art—“beach painting,” he called it—also nods to this trend. “We used to live on Fisher Island,” said one Miamian, who had recently purchased a condo in the building, on Sunday night. “But a Russian billionaire saw our place and made us an offer we could not refuse. They love it here—incredibly exclusive.” Hosted by Harry Winston and Miami’s Cultured magazine, guests included, among others, collectors Mera and Don Rubell, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Design Miami director Marianne Goebl, architect Joseph Dirand, Craig Robins and Jackie Soffer, hedge fund manager Daniel Nir, and the Haas Brothers.
We took in images of the multimillion-dollar apartments, all bright white and floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
“It’s my first project in Miami,” confided Meier over dinner.
“Really?” someone balked. “But your work seems so Miami?”
“No one ever asked me before,” said the architect.
After, Isabelle Bscher of Galerie Gmurzynska—Meier had also designed their booth for the fair—offered a ride to the Soho Beach House, where advisers Eleanor Cayre and Mia Romanik were hosting a party for dealers in town: Gavin Brown, Mills Moran, and arriviste Tyler Dobson clinked glasses with and artists like Tony Lewis and Matias Faldbakken. It was rowdy, casual, and loose, with the crowd eventually dispersing to Club Deuce—an infamous Miami dive bar, which, despite the rush of development, evinces an era before door lists and VIP tiers.
On Monday, following the opening of the PAM, dealer Massimo De Carlo hosted a dinner at Ira and Rafe Statfeld’s apartment in Apogee, a luxury condominium tower that was also developed by Pérez. Guggenheim deputy director Ari Wiseman, SculptureCenter board president Sascha Bauer, MoCA North Miami interim director Alex Gartenfeld, the Rubells, and Patricia Marshall gathered around long tables on a wraparound deck. Flamenco music played in the background. The waiters wore neat black-and-white suits. The couple’s collection of Boetti, Auerbach, and Wool paired elegantly with tasteful midcentury design.
“We forget how young the art world is,” said Cayre leaning over the glass balcony. The air was balmy and the ocean looked black in the night’s light. “Fairs have really only been going on for a few decades, Miami for just twelve years—there is no precedent for this.”