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Scooters, Versace, and Magic at Miami Art Week.

To thrive, art creators and connoisseurs must strive to understand the world in which art is appreciated, created, and commoditized for consumption. Currently, one of the best places to do this in the United States is during Miami Art Week in December, a time when Miami, Florida is transformed into a week-long mecca for art devotees. There, the best and brightest artists from around the world are showcased by prestigious galleries and dealers.

I decided to make the annual pilgrimage myself to gain more knowledge about this ever-changing industry of wonderment. Here are some of my top moments from Miami Art Week. Enjoy!

Tuesday Travels

Although I’m a proud road warrior, after 15 hours of driving solo, I confess that I would have happily slept in an old conversion van to recharge! Unfortunately, traffic delayed my arrival leaving me no time to spare. I quickly readied myself in the charming Air B&B I would be staying at for the first part of my trip, wished my kind host family a great evening, and hopped into the first of many Uber rides during my adventure.

Context at Miami Art Week
Context at Miami Art Week

For my first event, I chose the Context art show VIP Night Preview. Upon arrival, large outdoor sculptures proudly greeted show attendees and attracted selfie veterans like moths to an artisanal flame. I immediately knew, upon entering the show, that I had to come back. The throngs of people admiring and discussing art was absolutely intoxicating. Gallerists kept me so engaged in conversation that I did not make it around the first corner of the first aisle before the show closed!

An evening well spent.

Wynwood Wednesday with an Aqua Evening

Being a self-taught artist, there are vast landscapes of the art world I have yet to explore. One such place was the Wynwood Walls (including the Doors and Garden), where aging warehouses serve as larger-than-life canvases for American and International artists working in the graffiti and street art genre. Rather than merely walk the grounds myself and read about each piece from my phone, I booked two artist-led tours to lead me through this cultural landmark.

During these tours, I learned how Tony Goldman, an entrepreneurial real estate developer and patron of the arts visionary, dreamed of turning the warehouse district into a thriving art destination. In 2009, his goal was achieved when vast murals were exhibited for the first time during Art Basel Miami (i.e., the genesis of what has burgeoned into today’s Miami Art Week).

Wynwood Murals at Miami Art week
Wynwood Murals

My first guide, Roberto, met me at the entrance and led me through the winding path through the warehouses. As part of the tour, he took me “off road” by shepherding me through nearby blocks until we reached the mural he was working on. As my eyes wandered, he introduced me to the fascinating “rules of the road” that guide tagging etiquette. For example, artist Ron English carries such well-earned gravitas that the “Fun House” mural he created near Wynwood over 10 ago has yet to be touched by fellow artists, an occurrence tantamount to a miracle here.

Not to be outdone, my second guide J.C. gave me the experience of a lifetime. He dove into detail regarding each of the murals that compelled me the most, including educating me on how artist Tristan Eaton honored the artist whose mural he had to cover in creating his own, by leaving a small blue square of her work untouched as part of his own work exalting empowered women. Next, we entered the Peter Tunney Experience Gallery, filled with artwork by Mr. Tunney, including works featuring repositioned popular phrases and reclaimed materials from the now defunct Las Vegas Taj Mahal. I learned that the faint smell of cigars signaled the artist was near.

Artist, Crash, working on a mural in Wynwood
Artist, Crash, working on a mural in Wynwood

J.C. then pointed out local hangouts, coffeeshops, and eateries that continued to enrich and expand the Miami art scene. Thrillingly, we came upon renowned street artist John “Crash” Matos creating a mural. When he took a break, I ran over to shake his hand and thank him for his work. Good fortune continued to smile when we next met artist Aholsniffsglue, whose real name is David Anasagasti, and who is most well-known for his “sleepy-eyeball motif.” J.C. had only moments ago reminded me of how American Eagle Outfitters used Ahol's motif in an international campaign without compensating him, drawing international attention to the issue (the parties eventually settled out of court). After shaking Ahol's hand and praising his work, we wrapped up the tour and I headed back to the murals for some one-on-one alone with them.

Upon returning, I caught the whiff of cigars nearby. Determinedly, my nose led me back to the Experience Gallery where Peter Tunney himself was leading a tour I discreetly joined. I was able to briefly thank Jessica Goldman, the powerhouse curator and matriarch of The Wynwood Walls, who continues her family’s legacy supporting the arts. My Pittsburgh-born heart leapt with the joy of kismet when I met several key individuals from the Andy Warhol Museum, whose work brings joy and inspiration to countless members of the Steel City (also known as Pittsburgh). These three tours were eye-opening experiences that showed me I have the potential to meet incredibly talented individuals who share my passion for tremendous artistic growth. Translation: The possibilities are literally endless.

Nearly every building or sidewalk in the area had an artist’s mark on it. One of the most beautiful qualities about it all was that the only two taboos seemed to the presence of a blank wall or showing disrespect to a fellow tagger’s creation. Translation: We have the power to create beauty out of nothing and show respect to talented strangers in a competitive industry. All of this happened before 3 o’clock. In the iconic words of Ariana Grande, “Thank you, next!”

After grabbing some quick refreshments, my Uber whisked me away to the Opening VIP night at the Aqua Hotel for Aqua Miami. The energy there was electric. Each room on each of the two floors presented an almost mini gallery-like experience, inviting attendees to immerse themselves in each exhibitor’s unique perspective.

Tanner Lawley artwork at Aqua Miami Artweek with Sara O Connor
Tanner Lawley artwork at Aqua

Last year when I participated in Miami Art Week as an exhibitor, I was blown away by artist Tanner Lawley, who captivated me by his uncanny ability to gregariously engage with new and returning fans. I was ecstatic to introduce myself to him this year as I entered his gallery room. There, I met Mr. Lawley and fellow presenting artists Peter Skidd and Ryan Stalsby. After the show concluded, the talented trio found me waiting outside for my Uber and invited me to dinner. Naturally, I said yes and happily soaked in the gift of the knowledge they gleaned from their years of experience in the art world. Full of gratitude and food, we parted ways for the night.

Thursday: The Best Laid Plans

If you want something, ask. I caught wind of a VIP Art Panel at Scope Miami I wanted to attend, and I got in by respectfully asking to participate. The quality of panelists was incredible, and when the floor opened up for questioning I posed the question of how emerging and mid-career artists can identify and work with candid, experienced professionals like these presenters. Relationships matter in any industry, but this simple truth appears to carry particular weight in the art industry. So, after connecting with a few artists in attendance, I officially entered the show.

The immediate impact of the space was apparent, from the high, open ceilings to the large exhibition displays. I do not know if I had ever seen so much color with so many different materials used for artistic expression. A particular highlight I had been anticipating with glee was meeting a hero of mine, Brent Estabrook, who works passionately to reinvigorate our love for fine oil paintings and engages with his Instagram audience with occasional “Ask Me Anything” live chats to inspire and encourage fellow creatives. From 10 AM to 7 PM, the siren’s call of Scope kept me captive.

Scope Gallery at Miami Art Week
Scope at Miami Art Week

As the show concluded, I laughingly reflected on the grand plan I had made for this week. You see, I’m a bit of a Type A person (a fact that surprises no one already familiar with my obsessive dotting and former career as an attorney), and my plans constantly needed shifting as new friends invited me to new opportunities. One such new friend was Chicago-based sculptor and performance artist, Alan Hicks. We met earlier that day at the panel discussion and he kindly invited me to the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series party held at the Versace Mansion when we serendipitously reconnected at the close of Scope.

The party featured works by regional winners from across the United States and Canada, who competed for a $10,000 stipend and the ability to create a public installation in New York City. Actress Tessa Thompson hosted the evening (who else is excited for the new Men in Black spinoff?!), and won the heart of attendees by calling for a musical introduction for the winner and endearingly comparing her boss outfit to a loofah. I danced, I networked, and I fell in love with like-minded people who had all gathered together to celebrate the wonder of human creativity.

Sara O'Connor at The Versace Party in Miami Art Week
The Versace Party

Fridays are for Finding Unexpected Things

Continuing my newfound tradition of allowing plans to adapt, I set sail to find the Urban Art Fair. Alas, it was not to be! After several trips around where the show was supposed to be, and a few ladylike curse words later, I recalibrated my plans to instead explore Art Miami.

Talk about finding hidden and not so hidden treasures! As my fans know, Yayoi Kusama, a prominent Japanese contemporary artist who creates fantastical installation works (among other creations), has proudly shaped my career as an artist. For the first time in my life, I saw her work live. Right in front of me, within touching distance, was this globally impactful woman’s work. Leaving to explore other works was not easy.

Yayoi Kusama Artwork at Miami Art Week
Yayoi Kusama Artwork...And Me

But explore I did! While I was examining work by Damien Hirst, another artist who has influenced my obsession with circles and whose work I had yet to see in person, a lovely mother and daughter began asking me about the work and why I was attending the fair. After sharing my story with them, I was humbled when the mother asked to take a photograph with me in front of the work so that she could brag to her friends and learn more about me after the show. Such is our shared belief in what I am going to accomplish with the help of wonderful people like them.

My experiences that day served as a beautiful reminder that even when the best laid plans seem to fail, new ones carry the potential for profound positive impact.

Scooter Saturday

Although I am still new to the art world, I have already seen firsthand how some artists forget to focus on the business aspect of their profession. No single blog can unpack this issue, and, even if it could, opinions differ on how to approach the issue.

For me though, it’s clear. Money and relationship building are not dirty concepts; they help artists connect with wider audiences who then consume and create art, thereby ensuring that art not only survives but thrives on a global level. Business must be a part of the conversation. So, I spent the bulk of my day revisiting shows to examine works I had yet to view and speak with industry leaders to learn as much as possible. By 9 PM, I wanted to wrap up my evening at whatever restaurant looked to be the busiest (a sure sign of good food). Puerto Sagua fit that description, and I ate everything recommended to me (a sure way to enjoy a meal).

Sara O Connor With Banksy art in Miami Art Week

Eating alone has its advantages. Doing so allows you to turn strangers into friends, and I started chatting with my bar stool neighbor. It turns out that he was a world traveler who occasionally wrote about art and had a deep appreciation for Miami Art Week. He shared his thoughts and experiences with me, including taking me on a scooter tour through downtown Miami for an outdoor art tour unlike any other. The next morning, I spent my last day at Art Basel on business development and discovering more wonderful works of creativity.

The Journey Home

And so ended my trip to Art Basel, a fun-filled, informative, and exhilarating journey of undulating narratives, beautiful works, and solid foundations to continue my growth as a business person and artist who continues to find and give inspiration.

On my drive back home, I met a young girl and her mother at the gas station and ended up giving her a small piece of art to take home. I was tagged in a post later that day showing the piece of art above the little girl’s bed. My heart melted, and yet again I was able to see the impact art makes on everyone. Art heals, art saves, and, on this trip, art made a little girl smile.

Sara O Connor Fine Art Miami Art Week

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