RObertIndiana-e1355286013991For the six days of Art Basel Miami Beach 2012, the city of Miami and Miami Beach becomes the center of the art world —   drawing in celebrities, powerful international galleries, artists and art appreciators from around the globe.

This year it is on track to become the largest art event in the world.

In conjunction with Art Basel, Art Week Miami offers cultural events across the city. In the gentrified Wynwood district of Miami, Art Week Miami and Art Basel present street art at an unsurpassed level. This year the Bass Museum of Art presented the Art Public exhibition sector of Basel, offering outdoor sculptures in a public exhibition format.

Astonished that Miami has created Art Week surrounding Art Basel, Julie Harcos and John Huneke of the California Stone House Artist Residence felt that the event was too large and  spread out. “[The event] is over saturated, way too many satellite shows. It makes getting to the shows too difficult.”

I have to agree with them. With roughly 50 venues hosting art, it is nearly impossible to see it all.

An hour prior the public opening at noon, a large crowd of more than 200 eager appreciators had already formed. At opening time the number appeared to double in size — a good start for an event estimated to draw in more than 50,000 people from the parent company of the event, MCH Group.

Inside the sprawling convention center, the fair is broken up into an alphanumeric grid of galleries and exhibition spaces.

“It’s just so much too see in four days. Let alone one,” said Jose Lopez, a Miami local attending Art Basel for the first time. With over 500,000 square feet of space it’s easy to get lost and even easier to be overwhelmed by the massive scale of the event.

Along the aisles and in the galleries near the entrance, a who’s-who of modern and contemporary artists vie for attention from buyers. Giant names like Duchamp have entire galleries dedicated to their work and a debut statue, “Rum Run” by Robert Indiana, competed for attention with Richard Prince’s nurse paintings.

Richard Prince’s “Nurse In Panic” displayed in the Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Timothy Hutto

Ultimately, it was the sculpture that drew in the crowd, as people unwittingly walked right past the million dollar paintings.

International Galleries such as Whitecube and Gagosian were nearly empty in the early hours of the public day one, but the crowd steadily grew as the hours passed. Although sales had just opened to the public, pieces were selling fast.

“Art Basel has started very well for us and we’re very satisfied with it so far,” said sales associate Marinia Hinkens at the Galerie Karsten Greve, “but we are still waiting on the European buyers to show up later in the week.”

As this was her first year working the Miami Beach event, she was unable to compare sales or attendance to previous years. However, Janelle Hernandez, a native of Miami and historic preservation student advises that “Most people buy on Sundays.”

The Two Palms gallery, showcasing a series Chuck Close, Woodbury type portraits of celebrities, was tightly packed with gawkers. Pinecrest High School student Sydnee Smith was more interested in the personalities attending. “I like how all the celebrities come, they like art so it makes me interested.”

But even without the celebrities, I think the appreciators, artists and event staff would all agree that public day one was a success, but they have a long four days ahead.