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Art Basel Miami Beach: Where Art and Culture Converge

Article by Carla Torres 01.31.2017

What do the connoisseurs of the art world and Leonardo DiCaprio have in common? Their schedules are accounted for the first week of every December when, without fail, they jet to sunny Miami. They’re not there for the 70-degree beach weather or the palm trees swaying to the rhythm of salsa music. They’re there to be one of 80,000 makers, collectors, curators, critics and enthusiasts who tour the galleries of North America's most important fair: Art Basel Miami Beach.

Dubbed “the Olympics of the art world” by The New York Times, Art Basel has catapulted Miami’s reputation from an emerging art scene to a global nexus for art, culture and revelry. For me, a local raised in Miami before Art Basel became part of the cultural fabric in 2002, the week sparks excitement and anticipation. I've learned to expect the unexpected. That’s why some of the world's most prolific buyers and serious collectors, as well as Hollywood's biggest stars, find themselves coming back year after year in search of great art and the next big surprise. In the past, that’s meant everything from coming face-to-face with Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Made In Japan" (the highest-selling piece of art in the show’s history at just under $15 million) to a benefit concert/performance art show by Madonna.

This year's Art Basel gave me the opportunity to experience a series of once-in-a-lifetime events to which only a select number of Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Cardmembers were entitled. These unique experiences are what Art Basel dreams are made of, such as private gallery tours and a cooking demonstration and dinner courtesy of a Top Chef winner.

"We love fun, and we love Miami," Tara from Atlanta confessed to me within minutes of me meeting her and her boyfriend, Sean, during an opening cocktail party and private tour of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection at the National YoungArts Foundation. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card Art Basel Miami Beach experience was the perfect getaway for the couple, who met at a Ritz-Carlton hotel and share a mutual love for art. With Sean being the son of an artist and Tara being "art obsessed," it's a wonder that this was their first Art Basel show. "Leave it to The Ritz-Carlton to make it happen and set the bar," she said while clinking my glass of Champagne against hers. "Cheers to an unforgettable night and weekend."

Indeed, it's not even 20 minutes into head curator Mark S. Roe’s tour — which offered a glimpse into JPMorgan's renowned collection of 30,000 modern masterpieces — and I already felt I had made lifelong friends. And not just with Tara and Sean but also with Linda and Mike, members of The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card program since it launched in 2011 and who take time out of their busy schedules to experience the exceptional itineraries the program creates. (Think: exclusive fashion shows in New York and culinary experiences in Napa, California.)

These private events are made all the more special with benefits that make every moment count, including VIP access to galleries and museums, and private transportation with a police escort to bypass hours of gridlock traffic. "We'd go to all of them if we could. You don't have to worry about anything and everything is so well done. It really is the whole package," said Linda before admitting how "very particular and hard to please" she is. Of course, who wouldn't be pleased by the news we received at check-in of private concerts from U.K. singer-songwriter James Bay and electro-pop band CHVRCHES?


Singer-songwriter James Bay surprised Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Cardmembers with an intimate concert at Art Basel Miami Beach.

For Linda and Mike, the best parts of these trips aren’t just the VIP tickets and exclusive access to Art Basel and Design Miami shows where anyone from the curious art neophyte to the serious connoisseur will find a Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein to contemplate. Nor is it discovering emerging talent and maybe even going home with a beautiful souvenir to hang on your wall. Nor the special access to South Florida's celebrated art collections like the Pérez Art Museum Miami; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; and the Rubell Family Collection. It is reuniting with old friends from previous getaways and making new ones.

It’s also the unique experiences that only the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card can craft. Something I savored with my new friends when Chef Jeremy Ford shared his Top Chef-winning burrata cylinder recipe (the same one that had Padma Lakshmi raving in the finale) during a delectable eight-course dinner.

These are the kinds of memories that will last, if not a lifetime, at least until the next adventure — like previous experiences, such as dining alongside some of the world's greatest chefs at the marquee Grand Cayman Cookout, being in the presence of stars at the Petit Le Mans Racing Experience or getting a private ski lesson from U.S. Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley.

"Watching him give my son a private lesson was one of the best moments," said Joe, who besides being one of the first cardholders has been to every single Art Basel. Still, this one was arguably his favorite. "It's not just about the nice hotels or million-dollar art. It's the experience that matters."

 In the famous words of Pablo Picasso, “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I wonder what Mr. Picasso would have had to say after a spectacular weekend like this.


The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card

Cardmembers enjoy access to exclusive events like this one.  Learn more about other memorable opportunities and the exceptional benefits of The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card.

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