Bananas, Bones, and Bikes: Scenes From Art Basel Miami Beach 2011

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See the sculptures, paintings, and installations featured at the 10th-annual cultural festival

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Alesh Houdek

Art collectors often use the language of addiction when they talk about what they do. And watching them at Art Basel Miami Beach—the annual art festival that concluded on Sunday—bears this out. They prowl the booths, arranged maze-like in the Miami Beach Convention Center, purchasing pieces that run in the five-, six-, and seven-digit price range often on little more than intuition. There are over a thousand galleries from all over the world represented at Basel and a dozen or so satellite fairs, and the collectors have less than a week to see as much as they can. Even in the nadir of the 2009 a lot of money changed hands, and with the top end of the world's economy fully rebounded, the collectors are spending voraciously.

This is the tenth anniversary of Basel in Miami, and one thing remains unchanged: Few of the galleries in the main fair are based in Miami. While the local art scene has grown over the last decade, Basel continues to draw mostly from New York, Los Angeles, and Europe. There is much soul-searching here about why this is. Miami has a strong group of collectors and over 70 galleries, but lacks some of the resources necessary to attract and maintain top-tier artists to the area such as a leading art MFA program.

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As always, rumors circulate about Basel moving its wintertime operations to another city (the main fair has taken place in Basel, Switzerland, every summer since 1970). But the things that drew the fair to Miami in the first place remain firmly in place: the scintillating December weather, the local art scene (while still somewhat parochial, it is an order of magnitude stronger than that in other potential cities), and spectacular geography. Most importantly, its location allows easy travel from all parts of the US and Europe.

The fair was subdued compared to prior years, presumably from aftershocks of the economic recession, much of the art comparatively tame. But there was something for everyone, and that included the outsized and outré pieces that have made Basel in Miami famous.

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Alesh Houdek lives and works in Miami. He writes occasionally at Critical Miami.

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