Art Basel Miami Beach 2023 Preview: An Unprecedented Spree of Brand Activations and Picture Buying…Just Like Every Year.

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Art Basel Miami Beach 2023 Preview: An Unprecedented Spree of Brand Activations and Picture Buying…Just Like Every Year.

And so on, forever.

There is, of course, a lot of very good art on view in Miami next week. On Monday night the Bass Museum will open a sprawling survey of work by local hero Hernan Bas, followed by a fête for the artist by his gallery, Lehmann Maupin, at Casa Tua, the beloved Miami members club that’s set to open in New York in 2024. Nina Johnson, who’s held down a year-round gallery for over a decade, will open shows of work by Katie Stout and Yasue Maetake at her Little Haiti space, and then have friends over for barbecue at her Architectural Digest–approved, Charlap Hyman & Herrero–designed Craftsman in nearby Shorecrest.

Let’s take the start of the calendar a day at time.

Tuesday. A full day before the main fair opens and things are already hitting peak art insanity. Tuesday will see openings at the De la Cruz family’s home on Key Biscayne and the De la Cruz family’s private museum in the Design District. NADA, the longtime satellite expo for more emerging galleries, opens two days earlier than usual, leapfrogging the main fair. There’s all the museum openings at the ICA Miami, which still looks spiffy after launching its new building six years ago. And Larry Gagosian will team up with Jeffrey Deitch for another big-tent group show bound together by a big-picture theme—this year it’s “Forms,” as in artists who do cool stuff with shapes. Think Tauba Auerbach, Carol Bove, John Chamberlain, Albert Oehlen. Scoff all you want, but the Larry x Jeffrey shows always rule.

And then, a neighborhood over, in Allapattah, the Rubell Museum opens the shows of its most recent artists in residence, Basil Kincaid and Alejandro Piñeiro Bello, plus a show of LA artists in the collection. And then, after that, there’s—checks calendar—approximately one thousand dinners to attend, many of them on the beach, most featuring stone crabs and/or a surprise performer, all somehow absolutely essential to attend.

Wednesday. The mob scene at the convention center. Billionaires in sunglasses waiting in line next to their frantic art advisers. Where to first? Perhaps to David Zwirner’s booth to see a pair of Robert Ryman works, as well as The Schoolboys, a canon-level painting by Marlene Dumas—it was in the collection of the Museum Gouda in the Netherlands until it sold at Christie’s for about $1.6 million in 2011. Or to Hauser & Wirth, which has on offer new paintings by Uman, whom the mega-gallery now represents equally with Nicola Vassell, which started showing Uman in 2020. Van de Weghe will bring the expected mélange of 20th-century masters, including Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign (1981), which last sold at Christie’s in 2017 for $7.2 million. It is “one of the best large-size dollar-sign paintings,” the gallery said. David Kordansky Gallery will inaugurate its representation of Sam McKinniss, a remarkable painter of modern life, with a few works at the booth ahead of a solo booth at Frieze LA in February 2024 and a solo show at the flagship gallery in 2025. I’m quite excited to see the presentation of work by Sedrick Chisom at Matthew Brown’s booth, ahead of his New York solo debut in May 2024 at Clearing.

But there are hundreds of booths across the various sectors of the fair, making it impossible to size up the entire fair in one go. And bear in mind, this is just the VIP opening—the fair doesn’t open to the public until Thursday. Which is why most of the hangers-on and brand activators show up not for the opening of the fair, but for the weekend, when most of the collectors are already back in Palm Beach or on Park Avenue. When one major airline announced it would be chartering its first-ever invite-only private flight, they set it to arrive not in time for the VIP opening, but for general admission on Thursday.

Spending millions on art and design can work up an appetite. Thankfully, Miami has a way of sustaining an ever-churning hype machine that makes its hot restaurants impenetrably packed. A few years back, the Major Food Group guys had the bright idea to do a pop-up version of their New York hit Carbone at the Edition Hotel…despite the fact that they already have a Carbone in Miami, on South Beach. Mario Carbone, Jeff Zalaznick, and Rich Torrisi’s next big Magic City move is their first foray into Mexican food with Chateau ZZ’s, which I’m told will open its Brickell doors soon. If you must eat at an enormous clubstaurant to really get the full Miami Basel experience, maybe go to David Grutman’s new coastal Italian emporium, Casadonna, where Drake had his birthday party earlier this year.

There’s a chance the art set sticks to what it knows—and what it knows is, quelle surprise, Estiatorio Milos, the seafood-heavy spot that flies in the fancy fish from exotic ports of call. Ordering from the cooler means we’re talking sea creatures that cost around $160 a pound—the stone crabs you ordered for the table could set you back two stacks, Chief. And it’s the same food, at the same prices, as the Milos in Dubai and the Milos in Hudson Yards and the Milos in London. Collectors spend all week asking for the Batphone to get a reservation like it’s the last place to break bread on earth.

But there’s a new arrival on the scene, conveniently located in the Loews, where nearly every art dealer with their name on the door of a gallery books a room each year. (As I said last year, the place is a reality show waiting to happen.) Owned and operated by collector and hotelier-about-town Alex Tisch, the posh Collins crash pad has a new in-house boîte: an edition of the hallowed Harlem red-sauce temple Rao’s, the place that has appealed to power brokers of all stripes with its extremely clubby policy of only seating those who “own” a table.

This Collins Avenue Rao’s facsimile—it’s referred to by regulars as “The Joint”— first seems like a relatively easy res to snag. For one, it’s way bigger. It’s got 160 seats, whereas the original has just four tables and six booths. And the “own a table” thing in Manhattan doesn’t apply here. The description on Resy notes that “the room is bigger than the Harlem original (and tables aren’t just for regulars and friends of the family).” So I plugged in my dates, desperate for anything, even just something at 10:30 p.m. in Siberia. But no tables appeared. I set a Notify.

And then I reached Frank Pellegrino Jr., co-owner of Rao’s, and he told me that it’s not just Basel week that The Joint is booked. The tables are spoken for until next summer.

“Presently, we are fully committed throughout Q1 and Q2, 2024,” he explained.

Might as well give Frank a call and book the table for next December.

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