Art Basel Dos and Don’ts

A field guide for Art Basel Miami virgins

This is the art deco district of South Beach Miami. The buildings are painted in pastel colors surrounded by tropical palm trees.

Next week, Art Basel will set up camp in Miami Beach, heralding a week-long celebration of money, fashion, luxury and art – pretty much in that order. Collectors, consultants, critics and curators will overlap with the celebrities, celebrity art collectors, celebrity-spotters and celebrity courters who fuel the party circuit that defines Miami Art Week. It can look very inviting to the outside observer – and who wouldn’t like to trade the cold New York weather for a glass of complimentary Ruinart and a chat about hot new artists with Kim and Kanye?

But before you book that last-minute $1,000-a-night hotel room, read our tips on how to negotiate this nexus of art and money with the least possible damage to your ego and wallet.


DO: Act quickly if you see something you like – or at least put it on hold. All it takes is for Charles Saatchi’s art advisor/s to loiter in front of something for 30 seconds for rumors to start and a waiting list to form.

DO: Develop a thick skin. Sometimes a work is available, it’s just ‘not available to you’ – as one high-profile gallerist would tell the nobodies who wandered into her space thinking all they needed to purchase art was money.

DO: Check out the smaller satellite fairs like Pulse, NADA and Untitled where the art is often younger, edgier and more accessibly priced.

DO: Talk to gallerists about the work they are showing. It’s perfectly okay to ask: ‘Tell me about this work’. It’s a given that you’re not going to ‘get’ a lot of contemporary art just by looking at it.

DO : Talk loudly about your art storage problems if you want to be taken seriously as a collector.

DO: Enjoy all the museum-quality work by boldface artists that exhibitors will be showing to lure you into their space, helping collectors new and experienced connect with contemporary art.

DO: be prepared for the feeling that you’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time. As one big name art commentator told me: ‘Miami is where you can be in a room with 17 celebrities and know that down the road there’s a room with 18 celebrities’.


DON’T: Envy the big game hunters their advance access. When those doors open on the VIP preview the scrum of High Net Worth individuals makes the first day of Barney’s sale look like a tea party at Downton. It’s Balenciaga handbags and man bags at dawn!

DON’T: Mention money. Artworks aren’t bought or sold they’re ‘acquired’ and, once acquired, they are ‘no longer available’

DON’T: Be offended if the gallery wonk you’re talking to breaks off mid-sentence and makes a bee-line for someone more important. It’s not personal – well, it is, but getting all uppity about it will get you nowhere.

DON’T: Get offended if you’re told a piece is just ‘unavailable’. It’s a sign of a serious dealer trying to develop the artist’s long-term career (and their investment) by placing the work with important collectors and institutions. Ditto if you’re told a dealer will get back to you and never does – this means you’ve been Googled and come up wanting in art-buyer terms.

DON’T: Get dismayed if the names of the artists aren’t known to you. It’s up to you – and part of the fun – to identify the players of the future.

DON’T: Buy a lorry-load of art to back up your ‘storage problems’ story.

DON’T: Think because an anonymous daubing is hanging beside a Jackson Pollock that it’s important. The masterpiece is probably borrowed to confer status on the lesser artworks around it.

DON’T: Imagine that what’s going on in those celebrity-filled rooms is the bacchanalia of the century. Art world parties can be surprisingly dull depending on who is hosting – sometimes people are wary of being labelled too frivolous (read ‘fun’).

DON’T: Buy what people say you ought to buy unless you really ‘feel’ it, too.


Elaine Ronson is the founder of ArtKapsule.


Art Basel Dos and Don’ts