On Monday night, a tall Germanic blonde stood in the hallway of a waterfront mansion in Miami Beach admiring a Mel Ramos portrait of a stunning blonde suggestively straddling a bottle of Heineken beer, the only item of clothing on her body the espadrilles on her feet.
“My husband always tells me, ‘You know, Petra, you look like one of those Mel Ramos girls,’” said the woman, Petra Levin. “A friend of ours happened to know Mel Ramos and he doesn’t do many portraits anymore, but we met him and he said,’Yeah, I’ll make one.’”
When you’re a Miami art collector, sometimes all you have to do is snap your fingers. Welcome to Art Basel 2016.
In a few short years, Levin and her husband, Stephen – the former chairman of Gold Coast Beverage Distributors, Florida’s largest beer wholesaler, which he sold for a reported $1 billion a couple of years ago – have become major players in a Miami art scene already teeming with ambitious collectors and on this night they were showing off their impressive collection to the fair’s early arrivals. There was Martha Stewart, Mickalene Thomas, the dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Gavin Brown, and the local collectors Sarah Arison and Irma and Norman Braman making the rounds amid several large-scale pieces – a Jeff Koons egg over here, an Ai Weiwei bowl over there, an epic Takashi Murakami canvas to top things off. And that was just the living room.
The Levins moved in here three years ago, when they bought the house for a cool $30 million from Alex Rodriguez and made it their own. The room where Rodriguez had his batting cage? It’s now the site of an Urs Fischer nail sculpture and a Jim Hodges spider web. (Levin sits on the board of the Institute of Contemporary Art, which was hosting the party alongside W and Saks Fifth Avenue.)
“I like big spaces,” Levin said in her bedroom, which overlooked the bay and their yacht, as she called out the brand artists hanging on her walls – another Murakami, a Roxy Paine sculpture on a table, an Isa Genzken at the foot of the bed. “A lot of people get scared of big rooms like this, but I just think this is awesome.” Hard to disagree with her there.
In Miami, more is the operative word. More art, more parties, more...stuff, and nowhere is that on better display than at Alan Faena's giant Mid-Beach complex. As the Levins showed off their collection, the Argentine hotelier opened his new Faena Forum with a Brazilian-style samba squad and a classic harpist, who were followed by a modern dance performance that saw half the crowd climb on stage for the finale of an up-and-coming pop star’s set.
Ximena Caminos, Faena's wife and the chair of the non-profit Faena Art, likened the pace of the evening to something of an “architectural striptease.” Indeed, guests first gathered outside the building designed by Rem Koolhaas and after a ribbon cutting, the Samba Squad emerged with male and female dancers alike clad in painted-on beards, booty shorts, and lots of black feathers.
Stewart had made it over here, too, and she and Courtney Love – who, incredibly, happens to be starring in a local production of a musical theater drama called Kansas City Choir Boy – were ushered onto the first floor, modeled after an actual Greek forum, to enjoy the exact opposite of a conga line, a performance by the classical harpist Julia Coronelli.
Inside the main theater, choreographer Pam Tanowitz premiered her collaboration with OMA architect Sho Shigematsu, Once With Me, Once Without Me, a site-specific modern dance performance that was meant to show off the architecture of the space. After a bit more hobnobbing, Warner Brothers-signed recording artist Spencer Ludwig – imagine a rail thin Bruno Mars type who plays the trumpet – took to the stage to play music from an as-yet-released album (though, you might have heard his single “Diggy” in a recent Target commercial).
The night also pulled double duty as Faena’s birthday celebration. Ludwig lead the crowd in serenading the developer, and he was then presented with a replica of the new building made out of chocolate cake, naturally.
The forum, Faena said, aims to be “an incubator for the creative elite to think together, to work together, to be together.” In other words, it’s a place where real estate meets real culture. It wouldn't be Basel without that frisson.