How to Be at Art Basel Miami Beach: A Thriver's Guide
Sarah Nicole Pricket on what to wear, where to go, and when to rent a moped.
Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Getty Images.
A LITTLE MEMOIR OF GOING TO MIAMI
The best time I had in Miami South Beach was the first time I went, seven years ago, maybe eight. It was one of the last years where rich and clear-skinned young people with little to do were becoming “deejays,” whereas in the years to follow, as we’ve seen, they started to become contemporary artists with significant followings online. A Canadian fashion magazine (like anyone who would work at a Canadian fashion magazine, I’m from Canada) sent me there on a press trip that ended days before the art fair began, and I had never been to the fair, or any fair, so I found a tiny apartment in the southeast part of the beach and stayed. My beautiful, excitable friend A-V flew down to join me. Between the two of us we knew one other person who’d be around, and she was a high-class babysitter staying at the Setai.
There was a bus to take you from the low to the median part of South Beach. The bus cost twenty-five cents. I have no recollection of going to the fair, but I remember that one midday A-V and I tried to “check out Wynwood” where the graffiti was and got lost. We were drinking mimosas in milkshake-sized plastic cups, which had come two-for-one with breakfast at one of the pink-stucco’d, seedy-inside hotels manqué and which the laughing waitress had let us take to go. Drunk at Walmart, we shoplifted Wet ‘n’ Wild lipsticks, Skittles.
At night I wore a hot orange silk shift from Acne to make my hair look blonder and I was quite thin, very unhealthy. I had never worn sunscreen. I had no idea I was supposed to be moisturizing. It was the time of my life.
I wore a black suede dress from the Sixties, cut too low and too tight and terribly rhinestoned, and Glenn O’Brien told me I looked like a skinny Kim Novak. I didn’t know who my favorite artist was so I told him it was Cy Twombly and, since then, it’s been true. A-V and I went five nights in a row to a temporary outpost of Le Baron because we could smoke indoors there and we thought, and I guess I still think, that smoking indoors is a mark of civilization.
I wore a black-and-white leopard-print dress from the Eighties that I had cropped to the upper thigh, taped with packing tape at the hem, to look more like Balmain. The man behind the magazine Purple took a picture of all the girls in line for the bathroom, sharing real coke. I’m the only one looking at the camera. Everyone else pretending not to see. When I got out of the bathroom he asked me whether I wouldn’t rather be talking to him than talking to “that guy,” but that guy was a better photographer and he was tall, young, with huge, pale eyes, a bit like a male deer. I slept with the better photographer on a beach and it started to thunder and storm and he took me back to his place on a motorcycle. Well, perhaps it was a moped.
I went every year after that, for a total of five or six (I can’t remember) years. I remember crying over an Ana Mendieta. I remember taking so much Klonopin that, immediately upon returning home, I fired my shrink. But the last year was 2015 and I was writing diaries for Artforum, wearing Jil Sander, invoicing Ubers, asking the right questions, thinking of what Claire Bishop wrote on relational aesthetics and what Hal Foster wrote on avant-garde versus kitsch. A friend texted to say she had ecstasy at The Dream Hotel. I watched her talk to that guy, the photographer. I watched her get on the moped. I waved bye. It started to rain.
I assume there is still a Walmart in Brickell, and there is probably still a bus on Collins Avenue, though it may cost fifty or more cents now. The city remains unreal and the weather, sunny and humid, is good for the skin. Breaking into pools at hotels where you are not a guest is not difficult just before sunrise. All the same, it’s unlikely that I will ever go back to Miami in early December. It is air-conditioned to a degree that feels cynical. It is ridden with interminable lines to get into anything called, like cardboard art in a children’s book, a “pop-up.” It is demoralizing because all attendees who are actually from the art world (rather than from somewhere in, like, Los Angeles) suspect that they should not be there and yet have no intention of letting anyone more eager and less deserving go in their stead. Perhaps most importantly, it is not fun and nothing new happens there.
But if it’s your first time, who knows? You might like it. You might as well try.
A GUIDE TO BEING AT ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH
Love of art is a sketchy proposition that must routinely be tested under awful fluorescent light, and one’s taste, too, must be subjected to the world’s largest onslaught of other people’s so-called ideas to prove its worth. However, this does not mean you have to go to the main fair, at Collins and 17th, when everyone you know is also going. Quite the opposite: Do not go the main fair until the last possible hour, when there is no one you want to see. Wear a baseball cap and sunglasses. Take off the sunglasses only when you are very close to the art. Do not get close to art that already looks great from a distance.
Should you be affiliated with a major, recognizable publication, like an “art-world Bible,” while not being recognizable yourself, try to keep it that way. Also, keep your press pass hidden. It’s annoying to be treated with sudden respect, and to be given a lot of press materials written by people who, surprisingly often, believe they could do your job.
Whether or not you are a writer, one thing you should have is a book—your own. Every aspiring personage in the art world loves to have done a book and thus to have something to carry around with his name on it, because naturally the art world is object-oriented and books in the time of Instagram are objects first. I do not mean that such a person has written a book, exactly. But he has sort of…compiled it, from tweets and text messages, misremembered lyrics to pop songs, misremembered dreams from three nights ago, thoughts he nominally owns, jokes that don’t work as jokes and so are forced to become poetry, et cetera, and he has had it published by a small but generous press, printed in a format somewhere between a zine and a pocket guide, under a title that is simply the name of the last .jpg he downloaded. For example, mine would be cardinale delon or The Leopard 2.
I don’t actually have one of these books, in part because I am sociopathic enough to think that, if I did have one, people would read it and so it would have to be very good. But many media-trained artists and writers in art media are refreshingly unconcerned with what is good and prefer what is necessary, which is to be able to say, Do you want a copy of my book? I’ll give you one.
What I can give you is an extremely partial list of little books by artists and/or art writers that are good, which you can carry if you wish to start a conversation that is not about yourself.
Dead is Better — Alissa Bennett
Dark Pool Party — Hannah Black
I Would Do Anything For Love — Al Bedell
Fuck Seth Price — Seth Price
Mucus in My Pineal Gland — Juliana Huxtable
It is a myth that you need a museum-branded canvas tote to get into the art fair. Paradoxically, a beach bag is unexpected. Look for one in floridly patterned mesh, with absolutely no text, at the Presidente Supermarket or a ninety-nine cent store in Little Havana. Always carry a modest selection of exotic fruits and a pair of drugstore sunglasses, for when you lose your good ones.
Flip-flops are likewise cool. No footwear telegraphs less respect for society, and wearing a cheap pair to the De La Cruz is tantamount to performing guerilla theater. For styling cues, see who else but Mary-Kate Olsen in a pair of what appear to be black Havaianas with a duchessse satin maxi-skirt and a vintage tee, or Rihanna in a pair of heeled flip-flops so ugly they deserve to be called “contemporary.” Need a pedicure? It’s beyond me to see the difficulty in painting one’s own nails, a task that hardly necessitates rib removal, but if you need a professional to do it, go see Lynette at Acetona Nails. The best color is a jean blue—a light jean blue.
For early dinner before all the later ones, try a Haitian joint on Fifth Street called Tap Tap, where everything is warm and chill and the food is delicious. Order the goat with rice and red beans, and with malanga fritters, and with plantains, or if you are a vegetarian order the legim. Ask the waiters to make you a mystery cocktail with a great deal of rum. If you are going to enjoy yourself anywhere, it’s here.
The fancier parties are at hotels that back onto the beach and, although it is discouraged, it’s easy to slip down wooden stairs and find a way to the water. Check the label on your dress to make sure it won’t shrink or get ruined, then walk in until you’re swimming. You may be a shallow, well-medicated dilettante with no ties to the natural world but you’re more alive than you think. The water is immense and you don’t matter there. The Biscayne Bay, which borders the peninsula on the east side, is a forty-mile alembic combining freshwater (so invigorating) with saltwater—the best cure for the common hangover.
If you carry a flask everywhere, people will think there is something wrong with you, like alcoholism, which is not in vogue. Purchase a seven-ounce glass bottle of Florida water, sold many places but especially drugstores in Florida, made since 1808 by Murry & Lanman’s. What is in the bottle is actually a sort of religious cologne, smelling like lilies and pale lemons. Use it to spiritualize your bath, or splash it on after a shower or shave. Use the empty bottle for, of course, vodka. Though the bottle says “cologne” on it the word is easily covered with the hand, leaving the word “water” prominent, and the bottle is also traditionally illustrated, with flowers and things, very pretty. No one will be the wiser. Many New Yorkers will be jealous because in New York the water market is very saturated and the competition to be seen drinking the latest and most interesting varietal of water is intense.
Naturally you should also carry breath mints: I prefer Tic Tacs in white.
Wearing sunscreen is another thing that continues to be advisable. The best you can buy at a drugstore is La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios 50 Tone-Correcting Primer. The best humidity-proof foundation is Maybelline’s Dream Matte Mousse. The best bronzer is one by Rimmel. It’s important that no one see you blush.
Should you be a man worried about being accused of sexual harassment in a climate that, this year, is hotter than ever, perhaps it is time to try something new. Only speak when spoken to. Keep your hands in your pockets. Take this time to say, to do, and to be as little as possible. Consider it a vacation from the stress of wondering whether any of these women actually like you. Heaven knows you’ve earned it. But if you are going to try to have sex, rent a moped.
Finally, for everyone else, a word which may or may not be useful. Take it from someone who thinks dressing appropriately is loving your oppressor, even though she herself has many appropriate dresses and wears them more happily than she likes to admit: a young feminine person of any attractiveness can hardly look smart enough to deter what we once called “unwanted sexual advances.” Look as slutty and hot as you want. Look hotter and men will be unable to pride themselves on finding you worthy of a compliment. The thing likely to make you an easy mark in the art world is, in a perverse twist, naked ambition. I do not mean the desire to do something well and be recognized and respected. I mean the desire to be known, which is natural.
Once, at one of Artforum’s dinners, the (now former) publisher Knight Landesman was sighing as usual that not only was I refusing to sit and flirt with the dealers, but also I did not even care to be introduced to people who could “help me” with my “career.” He said, not to me but to my editor, that he did not know what to do with me because it was impossible to guess what I wanted. Knight has found many opportunities over the few years of our acquaintance to give me advice, often about how to behave with men, but there, though he didn’t mean it that way, was the only advice worth having.