Image: Rotorelief sculpture
Alan Diaz  /  AP
Artist Robert Chambers wipes his Rotorelief sculpture at its arrival at the Sagamore Hotel, where it will be permanently installed, in Miami Beach, Fla. The sculpture combines a functioning helicopter with hypnotic discs in place of propeller blades.
updated 11/8/2007 5:46:00 PM ET 2007-11-08T22:46:00

It's the quintessential South Beach scene: Beautiful people lounging alongside shimmering water. Art imitates social life here next month with a fashion photography exhibit installed around a swanky hotel pool.

It's one of the many ways that Miami transforms into a contemporary art hub in early December. About 20 art fairs and other independent exhibits and performances lure serious collectors to mingle for a week with the locals in the city's parks, trendy hotels, giant air-conditioned tents and private galleries. Paintings hang from the walls, sculptures and videos enliven tropical gardens, performers entertain bus riders, and shipping containers will be reborn as gallery and concert spaces.

The centerpiece of the annual visual overload is Art Basel Miami Beach, the four-day international contemporary art fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center showcasing work by more than 2,000 artists. First opened in 2002, it's the sister fair of the annual art event held in June in Switzerland.

From Dec. 6-9 in Miami, Art Basel's "Art Supernova" will link exhibit, performance and storage spaces together in one hall. A more compartmentalized approach to exhibitions, "Art Kabinett," focuses attention on small, curated shows of photography produced without cameras, along with electric signs, architectural sketches from Latin America and an early installation of fur, lamps, drapery and other found objects assembled by Robert Mapplethorpe.

The fair extends to a beachfront village of repurposed shipping containers titled "Art Positions," and injects glitz into Miami's more natural landscapes. The Miami Beach Botanical Garden will sparkle with the Cartier Dome, a dramatic jewelry display that accompanies video artwork and an "Art Sound Lounge" with a soundtrack provided over wireless headphones. Monumental sculpture, ranging from 8 feet to 30 feet high, by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein will loom over the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, starting Dec. 8.

There's artwork to be made at Art Basel, too — at least for the crayon-and-finger-paint set, in a day care center run by the Miami Children's Museum.

Other independent art fairs, exhibits and events are also scheduled in Miami and Miami Beach to coincide with Art Basel, and some incorporate the local penchant for socializing into their designs.

Art Miami, a contemporary art fair staged Dec. 5-9, built a restaurant and lounges into its tented pavilion in Miami's Wynwood Art District.

"We weren't as interested in taking one space and making a VIP lounge. We wanted to make sure the public has the same comfort and added beauty to the experience of walking through the fair," said Ilana Vardy, director of Art Miami.

The models captured by fashion photographers Thierry Mugler, Jean-Baptiste Mondino and 18 others replace the usual sunbathers around the palm-lined pool at the oceanfront Doubletree Surfcomber Hotel in Miami Beach Art Photo Expo's "In Fashion '07" exhibit, Dec. 2-9.

The Sagamore Hotel, also oceanfront in South Beach, could be described as a "hotel installation" with its tradition of being featured in work created for Art Basel.

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Photographer Massimo Vitali memorialized the first Art Basel in 2002 with a live photo shoot at the Sagamore's end-of-fair brunch, now an annual event. This year's Art Basel Brunch on Dec. 8 will feature the unveiling of the large-scale, mass-nudity photographs Spencer Tunick shot at the hotel last month.

Slideshow: Super South Florida Robert Chambers' "Rotorelief," a functioning helicopter with its propeller blades replaced by hypnotically swirled discs, has been permanently installed on one of the hotel's low roofs in advance of Art Basel.

"People ask me, 'Are you running a hotel in a museum or a museum in a hotel?'" said hotel owner Marty Taplin. His response: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Small-scale exhibits will be tucked into almost all the corners of Miami's social scene. Artists take on art-lovers Dec. 8 in a poker tournament at the yellow Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, where one architectural installation will double as a functioning bar. Stephanie Sacco plans to hang video installations in a restaurant near her own Sacco Gallery, newly opened among the historic Miami Modern motels along Biscayne Boulevard.

Art can be found in traditional museum spaces as well during Art Basel: the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, the Wolfsonian in Miami Beach's historical district and other area museums and private family collections will host special exhibits.

There's so much art to take in that guides will be available for many fairs and exhibits. Art Basel offers tours in English and Spanish for $17, and advisers will be available by appointment to help build collections at Art Miami. Extra docents will be on hand at the Sagamore to help explore an Elliott Erwitt photography exhibit and other artwork from the hotel's collection, curated by Taplin's wife.

Art Access Guide '07, a compact insider's guide to Art Basel and its satellites, picks out the highlights from thousands of paintings, photographs, sculptures and installations on display in Miami and its beaches in the first week of December.

According to Heather Urban, who compiled the first guide four years ago, this year's highlights include side-by-side, though separate, photo exhibitions in Miami's Wynwood Arts District; the opportunity to buy pieces directly from emerging artists at the GEISEI Miami fair; and live performances on the shuttles between Miami Beach and the SCOPE Miami fair in the city's arts district.

"A lot of Miami Beach has become about the scene and who's being seen, but what I find the main goal of people coming down here is, is to see the best art they can and hopefully see something that's new and that they haven't seen before," Urban says.

Like many of the exclusive Art Basel parties, though, getting one of the guides requires getting on Urban's list on her Web site, urbanartaccess.com. Art may be for everyone, but in Miami, sometimes it's still behind a velvet rope.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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