The Art Basel schedule of a Miami arts scene OG who’s seen it all

We asked a few players on the Miami arts and culture scene to tell us what they’re most excited about as Art Week and Art Basel descend on the Magic City. Here Cathy Leff, director emeritus of The Wolfsonian, looks back on how Art Basel has transformed Miami and what she’s most excited about as it returns. Yesterday we published local artist Stuart Sheldon’s recs

img_0447No one anticipated the enormous impact Art Basel would have on our community. It brought the world to Miami and presented Miami to the world. It spawned Design Miami and 18 alternative art fairs. It fueled unprecedented funding from the County and Knight Foundation, which attracted artists to and back to Miami. And it accelerated the recognition of art and culture as an economic driver, setting off a boom in cultural growth, a new start-up economy, and real estate and commercial investments.

As an almost-native South Floridian, I’ve been eyewitness to Miami’s stunning transformation. I grew up in Hollywood in the 1960s and fled in 1969. I never imagined I would return, but I did in the mid-1970s and began a career at the intersection of cultural production and community building.

I oversaw cultural funding and programs for the City of Miami, including Art in Public Places. The city was a blank canvas for invention. It was a time of tremendous growth, promise, change, and turmoil—the Mariel boat lift, McDuffie riots, drug wars, Christo’s Surrounded Islands, Miami Vice, the birth of Arquitectonica and a Miami aesthetic, Bakehouse Art Center, Miami Film Festival, Miami Book Fair, New World School of the Arts, Noguchi’s Bayfront Park redesign, Calle Ocho/Carnival, Kwanza, Tigertail Productions, and much more.

After that I headed to the Wolfson Initiative Corporation, working with Micky Wolfson on business, real estate, and philanthropic issues related to launching The Wolfsonian museum. Later on I became the director.

As The Wolfsonian emerged in the 1990s, other institutions were also transforming Miami’s cultural landscape: Center for the Fine Arts (now PAMM), Bass Museum, Museum of Contemporary Arts, South Florida Arts Center, National Foundation for the Arts (now YoungArts), New World Symphony, Miami City Ballet, and Miami Design Preservation League.

Private collectors, i.e. the Rubells and Martin Margulies, were opening their own spaces. Visionaries Craig Robins and Tony Goldman recognized early on the value of integrating arts, artists, and culture into their real estate initiatives, first on South Beach and then the Miami Design District and Wynwood. Miami’s cultural dynamism was palpable.

Next week we again take our place on the global cultural stage as hosts and conveners of Miami’s version of a world’s fair of art. It’s an opportunity to consume an incredible menu of ephemeral offerings. Satiety won’t be a problem for those with a big cultural appetite. Over-indulge!

As a design enthusiast, I especially love The Wolfsonian, Design Miami (and am excited to see SHoP’s installation in front of that fair), and the more-design focused installations and exhibitions. As a cultural consumer, the week, for me, is an opportunity to catch up on where art and culture are going. I love seeing new works and artists less familiar to me, so the main Art Basel is a great tutorial. It’s a chance to run into friends from out of town.

With that in mind, the following is a suggested itinerary of mostly free offerings:

  1. If you missed the free Nov. 27 inauguration of Faena Arts District (Collins Avenue between 32nd and 36th Streets), explore the new Faena Forum, Faena Bazaar, and Faena Park designed by OMA / Rem Koolhaas / Sho Shigematsu.
  2.  While on the Beach, don’t miss the Bass Museum’s new public art acquisition, “Miami Mountain” by Ugo Rondinone, and the site-specific art installations in Collins Park on 21st Street.
  3. The Wolfsonian’s Pursuit of Abstraction, Modern Dutch Design! and Christie van der Haak’s monumental installation, More is More, on the museum’s exterior and in its lobby (10th Street and Washington Ave).
  4. From Dec. 1 to 4, Art Basel takes over the New World Center’s projection wall at Soundscape Park for a free feast of moving image and sound works by an incredible international roster of emerging and established artists.
  5. Wynwood Arts District for the people-watching, street art, and trendy retail new to that neighborhood. There are a number of installations there and parallel art fairs (Art Miami and Concept, among others). The new Janis Kounellis and Anselm Kiefer exhibits at The Margulies Warehouse and “High Anxiety” and “New Shamans/Novos Xamas: Brazilian Artists,” are worth visiting.
  6. In the Miami Design District, I’m looking forward to the exhibition “Desire,” a new collaboration between dealers Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch’s, in the Moore Building; The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami’s Thomas Bayrle: One Day on Success Street; Luminaire’s GlasLove and Evergreen Brasil exhibits; and designer Gaetano Pesce’s Multidisciplinarita at Galleria Ca’ D’Oro.
  7. As a design devotee, I’ll definitely check out YoungArts’s collaboration with Savannah College of Arts & Design, especially Jose Parla’s contribution.
  8. For experiences intersecting art and architecture, head to PAMM’s gorgeous Herzog and deMeuron building, host to the retrospective of Argentine artist Julio Le Parc and Miami Center for Architecture and Design’s Architecture in Photography, organized by Amsterdam-based Gallery Club. Also, note the rise of the late-Zaha Hadid’s only Miami project, 1000 Museum Park building, directly across from PAMM.
  9. Explore Little River, Miami’s newest cultural district, and stop by Fountainhead Studios, Nina Johnson Gallery, Mindy Solomon, and Anthony Spinello Gallery. On Nov. 30, Ironside hosts a public open house.