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Miami has its beaches, where tanned bodies stroll in the sun in the expectation of admiring glances. Now it has an equivalent beauty show of towers by starchitects vying to outdo each other with their muscular and curvaceous skyscrapers. There are buildings going up by Foster, BIG, Zaha Hadid and Herzog & De Meuron. There are blockbuster museums and dazzling white private galleries — the current buzz being around the sculptural concrete spiral of the Faena Forum cultural centre by OMA, aspiring to be Miami’s version of New York’s Guggenheim.

It’s tempting to think that this transformation of a rundown retirement resort into a glam global city followed the arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002, and Design Miami/ in 2005. But the picture of a city with no architectural culture catalysed into action by the arrival of big art is only part of the story.

Miami has exploited successive waves of architectural fashion to express its constantly evolving self-image. In the 1920s and 1930s there was the Mediterranean Revival, which made it aesthetically Hispanic, followed by the Art Deco of Miami Beach, which made it modern. In the 1950s it evolved its own style, the exuberant MiMo (Miami Modern), a unique cocktail of Deco flash and Space Age futurism. In the 1980s its brand of mirror-glassed and pastel-shaded PoMo reflected its biggest cultural export, the television show Miami Vice.

Florida real estate has always gone boom and bust, and it struggled after the latest crash, a crisis that made developers reassess their generic towers and commission starchitects to differentiate them in an overcrowded market. But it hasn’t been smooth, and even the classiest buildings are now in trouble again.

The current architectural era arrived in 2010, not with condos or villas but with a parking garage: Herzog & De Meuron’s 1111 Lincoln Road. It was like nothing before it, a naked concrete frame filled with life and light and topped with a nightclub. It combined everything about the city: the al fresco lifestyle, the cars, the nightlife.

The city had already been hard at work rebuilding its reputation for architecture from the ground up. Craig Robins, co-founder of Design Miami/, had been steadily rebuilding a rundown neighbourhood of furniture retail, storage and light manufacturing, as a design district. European in scale and Latin in feel, it has palm-tree-lined streets and chichi storefronts designed by bright young architects. It is a significant part of the fair’s legacy in the city, though it is rapidly changing from a neighbourhood of design stores and workshops to one of upmarket boutiques, gaining mass appeal but losing what made it cool.

Robins also introduced the blockbuster art/architecture installation which has become part of the buzz around the fair, allowing architects to make an immediate impact without the going to the effort of creating actual functional buildings. Zaha Hadid’s dramatic “Elastika” in the Moore Building set in motion a vogue for sculptural installations that culminates this year in SHoP’s “Flotsam & Jetsam”. Hadid herself adored Miami and had also planned a parking garage for the city (which some are now attempting to revive) before she died in the city earlier this year. Miami has also picked up on the growth in architectural tourism, peppering its streets with interventions. Installations by Marc Newson, Konstantin Grcic and others (including a recreation of Buckminster Fuller’s Space Age Fly’s Eye dome) illustrate the potential for design to create a narrative landscape at an architectural scale. With each year the city gains a new layer of interest. It is an ingenious device for doing something that art fairs are often unable to do: leave a trace beyond the tent. At the bigger scale of the skyline, however, there are other strands which have contributed to the city’s status as an architectural attraction. Most important is its emergence as a Latin American city. Ironic as it seems, Miami has become the meeting point for those from further south, from Brazil, Mexico and beyond, an offshore safe house for Latin American dollars.

That confluence of Anglo and Latin-American culture has arguably led to a looser, more open architecture, with echoes of exuberant Mexican modernism and Brazilian élan in the deep porticos and attenuated columns of Niemeyer’s Brasília. Architects Herzog & De Meuron have most fully articulated the city’s potential in their parking garage but also in the Pérez Art Museum, with its hanging vines and generous porches. Both buildings point to a more public and generous architecture, which is a reaction to the mallification of contemporary commercial architecture and a celebration of the climate and the city.

If Los Angeles became the city of sprawl, Miami always maintained a more European sense of urbanity, of strolling and showing off, with Lincoln Road as the venue for its passeggiata and South Beach, with its formerly seedy hotels and bars, as a neighbourhood defined by buildings rather than roads.

The question is: can the city maintain its identity once the starchitects have globalised its skyline? Can it create an identity as the North/South American capital, a city which depends on globalisation yet remains distinct within it? The answer probably lies in its capacity to preserve the character of its neighbourhoods — from the scuzz of Wynwood, the backstreet buzz of Little Havana and the glamour of Coral Gables — while reinventing itself as a city of towers. Its future lies in its balance between streetscape and skyscrapers.

Sectors: From slick white cubes to strange gimmicks, Art Basel will keep visitors engaged and entertained

Joan Miró’s ‘Peinture’ (1976), Galleries sector © Di Donna

Galleries

Two hundred modern and contemporary galleries displaying the work of more than 4,000 artists make up the main section of this year’s fair. 2016 sees the arrival of eight new exhibitors who have participated in less competitive sectors in previous years, including Galleryske from India and Labor from Mexico, as well as an increase in galleries specialising in the modern period, such as Di Donna from New York. Galerie Nagel Draxler will be returning to the fair following a five-year hiatus.

Nova

Nova is the sector for younger galleries displaying one, two or three artist shows that work as a coherent whole, including never-before-seen pieces from artists’ studios. Joint exhibitions this year include from House of Gaga, who will present work by text-based artist Josef Strau and Swiss-Argentine painter Vivian Suter. 47 Canal’s booth will display Anicka Yi’s unusual exhibition of animal fur and chicken skin, an exploration of the anxieties resulting from radical biotech.

Carmelo Arden Quin ‘Roâ’ (1950), Survey © Simões de Assis Galeria de Arte

Positions

Large, single artist, single project booths populate the Positions sector. This year, Adrià Julià takes over Dan Gunn’s booth with a multimedia installation that includes a mural based on Picasso’s “Guernica”, while Maggie Lee’s immersive installation at Real Fine Arts recreates a teenage girl’s bedroom, complete with video installations.

Kabinett

A heavily curated exhibition of 29 booths including art-historical showcases and solo shows from emerging artists. Several booths will present work that has never been seen before, including the diaristic drawings that Hedda Sterne made in her 90s, on display at Van Doren Waxter. Look for large crowds outside Kavi Gupta’s booth: Irena Haiduk’s installation is of a sweet shop selling Balkan confectionery.

Michael Craig-Martin’s ‘Umbrella’ (2016), Edition sector © Alan Cristea

Edition

Editions, prints and multiples from 11 global leaders in the field including Pace Prints, Carolina Nitsch and Alan Cristea Gallery, who represent print makers include Michael Craig-Martin and Cornelia Parker.

Survey

Now in its third year, Survey is a place for galleries to present historical projects created before the turn of the millennium. Among the subjects of the 14 mini-retrospectives are the Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, whose works on paper from the period after he was released from jail in the 1970s will be presented by Vigo Gallery, and rare kinetic sculptures from George Rickey, made relatively early in his career in the 1950s and 1960s, which will be at Maxwell Davidson Gallery. Simões de Assis Galeria de Arte from Brazil presents a set of works from the Uruguayan avant-garde artist Carmelo Arden Quin.

Public

More than 20 large-scale sculptures and installations by international artists will go up in Collins Park in time for Miami Art Week. Framed by the theme Ground Control and curated by Nicholas Baume, the sector includes work by Sol LeWitt, Ugo Rondinone and Jean-Marie Appriou. Public is produced in collaboration with the Bass Museum of Art — whose own refurbishments will unfortunately not be completed by the time the fair starts (the opening has been postponed until spring 2017).

Film

More than 50 films and video works will be screened during the fair. See page 3 for more details.

Photographs: Marlborough Gallery; Alamy; Steven Brooke; Di Donna; Alan Cristea; Simões de Assis Galeria de Arte

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