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Culture / Travel

Comic-Con for Billionaires

A Rare Look Inside the Art Basel VIP Scene

BY Billy Fong // 01.15.18

I have been attending the famed fair since its first year in 2002 and have only missed one convening of the global art world. I had actually contemplated skipping Art Basel this time, but I am glad that I made it down to sunny South Florida for the spectacle. From what I’ve understood, it is generally the highest amount of private jets flying in to Miami for such a short amount of time.

I’ve heard one art dealer suggest that Art Basel is a parking lot for NetJet that week. I won’t name names, but I remember 2014 when a group of Dallas socialites flew in for the day and the command to the pilot as they deplaned – “keep it running, we’ll be back later this afternoon.”

For the past few years I’ve spent Art Basel week with one of my best girlfriends – renowned art consultant Meredith Harper. Her life is so hectic jetting around the world to go to fairs and meet with clients that she likes having me by her side in Miami to keep conversations when she is too exhausted after a day walking from gallery booth to gallery booth. We like to get to South Florida on Monday in advance of the Wednesday VIP Vernissage so we have a few days of pool time and to strategize outfits.

The amount of wealth entering the Miami Beach Convention Center called for increased security given the tragedies continuing to occur around the world. I actually found it to be an extremely Democratic process since it didn’t matter how much you were worth because you still waited alongside everyone else with a VIP preview card. My favorite quote while in line was “this is Comic-Con for rich art collectors.” Obvi it was being made by a young techy billionaire (who likely had attended the nerd extravaganza on numerous occasions).

At Art Basel Miami with Billy Fong

The phrase “cold shoulder” kept coming to mind as I walked the fair filled with booths representing blue-chip galleries including Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth. For two reasons – the hierarchy of art world snobs always work hard to seem disaffected snubbing other collectors and the fashion trend of exposed shoulder blades was rampant. I pray that both reasons will come to an end.

After logging too many steps on my Fitbit I realized that the perfect accessory for walking the fair – a bald guy on your arm. Spotted perusing art of all shapes and sizes – John and Lisa Runyon, Ashley Tatum, Howard and Cindy Rachofsky, Justine Ludwig, Dorothy Kosinski, Brian Chaffin.

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The fashion that week is not for amateurs. Over the past five years, the fair has become a magnet for luxury retail lines to launch new products and cultivate new clients. The party invites that usually flood one’s inbox the weeks leading up to Art Basel Miami are generally from Chanel, Dior, Moncler… This year, my standout party was at the Webster (famed clothing store – kinda like our Forty Five Ten) for Rochambeau.

I adore seeing the fashion crowd hitting the infamous dive gay bar Twist at 2 a.m. for drinks (the place doesn’t close until after the last patron stumbles out, generally around 4 a.m.).

If you haven’t attended previously, book your reservations now for December 2018 and be sure to stay at the recently re-opened Raleigh Hotel. Give me a call and we can start our packing strategy soon.

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