Art Basel Miami Beach Is Roaring Back—With a Vengeance, and Without an Apology

In February of this year, a grand outpost of the New York Italian restaurant Carbone opened in Miami’s South Beach and was anointed as the hottest joint in Magic City. On a visit during its first weeks, I spotted the music executive Clive Davis at one table, the art-collecting real estate developer Aby Rosen at another, and Mario Carbone glad-handing the big spenders who occupied the plush corner booths. In July, the hand of God intervened, and the restaurant was damaged by a fire. But Carbone could not be stopped, and by September, Drake made a stop at the Sinatra-washed rigatoni fantasia to hang out with Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street himself.

That is all to say that next week, during the madness that is Art Basel Miami Beach, for all but the close friends of the owners and, say, Clive Davis, a table at Carbone is a pipe dream. Which is how we ended up with…another Carbone, just a few blocks up Collins Avenue. It’s called “American Express Platinum x Carbone,” a pop-up erected on the grounds of the Edition hotel.

“You’ve been to the restaurant in Miami, and you’ve seen that there’s no shortage of people who want to go to Carbone,” Alex Lee, vice president and general manager of the American Express Global Dining Network, which includes the reservations app Resy, told me over the phone this week. “We thought, what better opportunity to do something in addition to the restaurant—they’ll have a chance to interact with Mario Carbone himself, in a very special setting.”

A special setting indeed. After two years of a fair-less Florida due to the pandemic, the art world (and celebrity and marketing worlds) will finally get the all-out, full-blown Art Basel Miami Beach it deserves. A bonus Carbone is hardly the exception during this cultural bonanza, when such overflows have become the norm. Should New Yorkers miss Marea’s fusilli with octopus and bone marrow while they’re out of town for a few days, fear not, there’s a temporary one erected at the Kimpton hotel. Downtown Gotham cocktail joint the Dead Rabbit is at the Ritz-Carlton, and Mexico City’s Insta-famous art boite Contramar is in town too—expect to see that red-and-green grilled fish dish all up in your timeline. José Andrés is cooking alongside artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, while food-world Bieber Flynn McGarry is at the pots and pans for a Ruinart x David Shrigley event. Is that Lizzo performing on the beach? Yes, that is Lizzo performing on the beach.

It’s all gearing up to be an edition of Art Basel Miami Beach that’s set to be the most event-packed one ever, as art-buying, Birkin-clutching, Champagne-swilling NetJets clients finally have a pan-cultural event that’s not just cool to attend, pandemic ethics-wise, but practically mandatory to attend. And it comes after a miserable two years of being forced to buy six-figure paintings and five-figure watches only online.

“There’s a lot of pent-up energy,” said Craig Robins, the real estate mogul and mega-collector whose firm developed the Miami Design District, where a new Chanel flagship opens next week, joining Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, and others. “We’ve all been restricted in our lives, and so coming down to Miami when it’s freezing up north and getting to see incredible art is what people want to do.”

I asked Robins whether there’s ever been this full of a dance card before the opening bell of the art fair.

“From the design district, we’ve not seen anything on this level,” Robins said. “If you look at the level of interactions, where it’s a full-blown Louis Vuitton men’s show or Chanel doing an incredible art installation, all these things combined make it an elevated experience. The fashion brands, they’re starting to see Miami as one of their number one markets in the world.”

And Robins is the guy to ask, as he helped bring the thing to Florida in 2002 alongside car-dealership billionaire Norman Braman and then director Sam Keller, calculating that they could “take the sex appeal of Miami, and combine it with something substatial, like the most important art show in the world,” as Robins recalled this week.

Speaking of which, that’s right, there’s an art fair called Art Basel happening during Art Basel—the one that is by far the most important art expo in North or South America. And while the Miami Beach Convention Center is where the collectors and dealers will be Tuesday morning when the fair opens to the most important VIPs, it’s hardly the most important part of the week for so many hangers-on.

“Some people argued about how there were all these people who came to Miami and never even went to the art fair—but now that’s acceptable,” said Jeffrey Deitch, who’s participated in the fair each year since its arrival, apart from the years when he served as director of MOCA in L.A. “Art has become the platform for all these other creative fields, certainly for the fashion industry, every major fashion brand has art collaborations in Miami. This is what Miami has become—if you want to get a more pure art experience, go to Art Basel in Switzerland. This is a different kind of city.”

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