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It Basels the Mind

Aha! We figured it out! Miami isn't really a city. It's a big event-planning company disguised as a city! Its club scene provides built-in entertainment; its hotels provide built-in lodging; its beautiful residents provide built-in decoration. That's why, when MTV, The Source magazine, or the Latin Grammys need a space big enough for giant egos, massive debauchery, and big-ass deals, they come here. Everybody rents out this place -- so why not the art world?

This time, the excuse for the party is Art Basel Miami Beach, the second-most-important contemporary art show in the world, behind only its sister gig, the Art Basel in Switzerland. Because Art Basel focuses on contemporary art from the past hundred years or so, you don't have to suffer through any prim landscapes or depictions of Revolutionary War soldiers in battle. No angels, no Venus of Willendorf, no Roman dudes in codpieces. What you have instead is stuff like a mixed-media installation of a stuffed rabbit undergoing an operation while its fellow stuffed animals watch from inside formaldehyde-filled jars or a gripping 1934 photo of a worker on strike being assassinated.

Like any Miami-wide shindig, this five-day fair is a multitiered event. The main gig happens at the Miami Beach Convention Center (1901 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach). Here, representatives from 190 galleries have been invited to show work, to wheel, and to deal. The public is welcome to browse (day passes cost $12 to $15), but buyers beware: Prices for art range from the few hundreds to the few millions. Art Basel's also sanctioning a bunch of other events, like the Art Positions exhibit at Collins Park (Collins Avenue and 22nd Street, Miami Beach), where 20 cutting-edge galleries have converted shipping containers into displays. Or the Art Sound Lounge at the Delano Hotel (1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach), where curators from the New York museum PS1 play tunes from weird geniuses like Malcolm McLaren, Lou Reed, and John Cale. Or the rock opera called Don't Trust Anyone over Thirty, a satiric history of the hippie generation, performed by puppets and featuring music by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. (Live performances take place at 5 p.m. each day at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, 2000 Convention Center Dr.)

Hip as all those aforementioned cats may be, they're way past 30 and long ago solidified their places as part of the art establishment. You might do well to hucklebuck off the beaten path and check out places like Objex Art Space (203 NW 36th St., Miami), an alternative gallery that is putting on six shows -- one of skateboarding art, another that's "an artistically orchestrated social free-for-all" and involves audience participation. "It costs, like, $25,000 per booth to be part of the official Art Basel," Objex owner Dustin Orlando says. "But we'll be open, of course. It gives us the opportunity to be put in front of the art elite." And maybe make some bucks? "Yeah," he says, "everybody milks it." -- Deirdra Funcheon

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