Here’s a scene that was repeated ad nauseam throughout this year’s edition of Art Basel Miami Beach: a group people with similar interests and political inclinations, usually in the arts or in fashion or some combination of the two, are seated around a well-appointed table, usually in some tony spot, powwowing, kibitzing, racking their brains and pulling their hair out and asking themselves in despair, How did we get here? What do we do? What panels can we convene?
It was inevitable that in this our season of political discontent, the election should also crash the idyllic alternate reality that is this sprawling annual stop on the international society circuit. The subject would rear its ugly head tentatively at first, as if unsure if it should intrude in polite conversation, slowly testing the waters to see if your dinner companions were, you know, on the same team. Then someone would throw around the phrases “flawed candidate” and “good of the country” robotically as if that’s what you were supposed to say in these settings. And then, after a while, after you’d established you all went to the same fundraisers and read the same books, usually Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an emotional fusillade would shoot out in search of validation.
“It’s because usually you’re alone in your apartment looking at TV and going ‘Gah!’ the actress Rose McGowan said Thursday night in the Design District. “Here you actually have likeminded people around you who aren’t insane.”
Twenty seventeen may go down as the year Art Basel became one big group therapy session, with the elite and cultural cognoscenti hand holding and bucking each other up from the safe distance of openings, pop-ups, dinners and champagne-swilling parties in one long-running, tranquilizing echo chamber.
“It’s just like nice to be down here and not have to ask any guys if they voted for Trump,” said the socialite Caroline Vreeland.
Political conversations throughout the week played out like the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, starting with denial and quickly moving on to anger and then acceptance.
“I’ve been in mourning for about a month,” said the stylist June Ambrose at a dinner Public School designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne were throwing at the Confidante hotel, where they’re “designers in residence.” “I’ve found myself just standing in front of artwork and stimulated. It’s almost kind of like a meditation. I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s really helped me kind of focus and get out of it.”
“I kind of thought about not coming here from the depression that had set in,” McGowan said at a party for the water brand LIFEWTR. “But it’s been very therapeutic.”
Basel, for one, was a nice distraction from the avalanche of media coverage around the election. “It’s a chance to, like, turn off the TV, and stop looking at CNN, and stop looking at Twitter,” Chow said.
“I’ve not watched any TV. I really needed to just decompress,” Ambrose said. “For me, it’s been nice.”
At these gatherings, regardless of the setting or the occasion, everyone bargained in their own sincere ways with the situation at hand. “From a creative standpoint, you have to use these opportunities, at least how we feel, to give a platform to another point of view,” Chow continued. At a Whitney Museum dinner with Tiffany & Co., Mia Moretti and Margot, the curator Isolde Brielmaier and the artists Hayden Dunham and Leilah Weinraub – the Hood by Air chief executive who’ll also be featured in the 2017 Biennial – hatched plans to advocate for criminal justice and ways to find another Barack Obama. “We have to find 600 people like him!” Weinraub declared. On the opposite end of the beach at a $25 million mansion where Louis Vuitton was showing off a new Objets Nomades collection, the collector Beth Rudin DeWoody implored her cohort to seize the moment.
“What we can do as people who are caring liberals is support organizations like Planned Parenthood and just be vocal with what we feel is important,” she said.
Of course, as well meaning as all these kumbaya moments were, it was Art Basel at the end of the day. There was always another party to go to, another opportunity to decompress.
“Life goes on and we’re going to have to adjust,” DeWoody said. From the Vuitton event she went to the Whitney dinner, which Moretti and Margot left to go to the Moschino party at the Delano hotel, where they were joined by McGowan and Courtney Love and Shanina Shaik and Gucci Mane, both of whom then went over to Aby Rosen’s big Dom Pérignon-flowing party at the Wall, which was presided by a blissfully oblivious Paris Hilton.
McGowan briefly flirted with skipping Basel this year but then she had a better idea. “I decided to play violin on the Titanic,” she said before running off to have her picture taken.