“I’ll Be Waiting in the Rainbow Tesla”: An Art Basel Party Diary
I’ve just arrived in Miami to cover Art Basel and am already conducting FaceTime therapy in bumper-to-bumper traffic. When I pull into a parking spot in my friend’s rental—a Tesla with a rainbow tie dye wrap—to answer my therapist’s call, she’s shocked to see how calm and collected I am. Foolishly, I had left Miami Beach at 4:10pm, expecting to arrive at my AirBnB five miles away with plenty of time for my 6pm session, but after taking two hours to drive two miles in traffic, the likes of which I’ve only seen on a trip to New Delhi, I’ll only make the call if I do so on the side of the road. Art Basel gives chaos, and I’m grown up enough to just accept it with a quiet smile, even as people stare at me through the windows of my absurdly colorful vehicle.
My demeanor is so chill that my therapist actually suggests we take a little break from regular sessions, if I want, and I’m shocked, but also proud of myself, certain I’ve matured since the last time I came to Miami to write about Art Basel for Playboy eight years ago. Back then, the drama seemed to follow me wherever I went, and I embraced it with the bratty zeal of a 27-year-old with a miserly expense account. I didn’t just break the news of that year’s most iconic Basel drama—a certain queer rapper had thrown a ham sandwich at a certain German curator. I also caused unnecessary Twitter drama with the Art Forum writer who wrote about it, too, claiming my piece was the more interesting one, when it actually wasn’t (so if you’re reading this, SNP, I’m sorry!).
In the eight years that have passed, Art Basel feels less relevant than ever to the art world agenda, the parties more tired and basic, the clout-chasing less purposeful and seductive. So much so that I’m not even really sure why I’m here covering it, as I fight for my life to make the left turn that will finally take me over the causeway and get me the fuck off the beach.
The Prada party at Faena Forum is a sea of faces I think I ought to recognize, but I’m only able to pick out a handsome gay few. I feel most thoroughly Basel posing with American Horror Story twunk Isaac Cole Powell for a polaroid by the ubiquitous party photographer Andrew Tess and air-kissing furniture designer Kourous Maghsoudi while gazing at the VIP section, trying (and failing) to conjure Rosalia or Rihanna. DJ Richie Hawtin is playing booming techno to a crowd, no more than 10 percent of which likely knows what Berghain is. The Rem Koolhaus-designed dome feels like the inside of an eyeball, capped with a glass, iris-like roof, and the acoustics here are so juicy it’s like we’re drowning.
A rapper starts performing and none of the five gays know who she is, so I decide it’s time to head across the street to The Edition, where New York favs Club Glam and PIN–UP Magazine are hosting a bowling and ice-skating party in the basement. There, I’m surprised to find Shenghao Li—designer of the raver-approved handbag line Ratio Et Motus—smiling behind the decks. He tells me he’s just covering for one of the DJs who needed a private pick-me-up moment in the bathroom stall, because that’s what friends are for.
I’m chopped at the door for the first time this weekend waiting on line at Club Space to see Nick León DJ with a gaggle of local gays, who all get in after the manager, or owner, an older gentleman with green pencil in his eyebrows and an outfit made out of pieces of Marlboro Red packages, says he can only take four of us. It’s oddly refreshing how, in Miami, no one cares if you’re cool or hot, only that you show up with hot girls (we did not). The sexy, English market research guru Tarik Fontenelle whisks me away to Circo Loco, but there’s only one wristband waiting for him at the door. Once again, I get the chop. I should’ve gone to Twist.
The Interview pop-up celebrating the Lindsay Lohan zine is a mellow affair by the pool of the Edition. Music producer, heartthrob, and bestie Jonah Almost is serving chocolate bon bons behind the bar after a late night at Twist where, apparently, everyone went, confirming my suspicion I should’ve gone there last night instead. As we walk north on Collins, an SUV’s tires explode, jolting us from our hangovers. Everyone is filming as the buses and Ubers veer around this deeply tragic vehicle; behind its tinted glass, one can make out the silhouette of a woman in the back seat, her body vibrating in hysterics. No one helps her, obviously, and again I’m reminded that we are literally putting our lives at risk chasing whatever it is we are here to chase. Suddenly, I feel even grosser than before.
A publicist informs me I’ve been approved to interview Memphis rapper GloRilla before she takes the stage at Meta’s extravagant pop-up at the new SoHo Pool House in Wynwood, where Doja Cat performed the night before. The Meta team is so eager to get me into the journalist’s holding pen on time that my two unlisted friends are handed media badges with no questions asked, and soon I’m standing in some sort of augmented reality purgatory, full of Meta employees who look like they’re making a documentary. There is instagrammable art on the walls and everything glows white, as if we’re in that part of a video game where you style your avatar. I’m introduced to the impeccably-styled Taylen Biggs, not an avatar but an 8-year-old fashion blogger from Miami, who tells me her fluffy pastel coat is Alice + Olivia.
GloRilla is running late, I’m told, so one of three publicists looking after me placates me with chips, water, and a cocktail as I imagine myself as some sort of needy hostage who’s bonding intimately with his captors. The publicists are so fun, poised and well-dressed that a weird flicker of a thought begins to flash through my brain: despite all the chaos Instagram and Facebook have wrought on my social life and the culture at large, maybe it was worth it just for this event to be happening and for these publicists to get to have such fab jobs and be so cool and personable and possibly become my new best friends. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg really did tear. Is this what Stockholm syndrome feels like?
More than an hour later, around the time when GloRilla’s set is supposed to start, Taylen and I are informed that there’s no more time left for interviews and I’m ushered into the front row of an outdoor stage that’s so crowded somebody gets on the mic and tries to say people need to back up to avoid giving GloRilla corona. “Miami never even closed down,” someone yells back, as others laugh at how retro security’s warning feels, especially here.
Minutes later, GloRilla has emerged in a long blue wig. Her husky voice sounds even better live as she taunts a loser ex, “You ain’t been in shit since that PPP loan” in her anthem to being free and single, “F.N.F.” I feel free, too, as if I’ve been released from social content jail. Or maybe GloRilla truly is that bitch.
I haven’t made it to the beach or to any art yet, but it’s too windy for the beach, so Jonah and I decide to try for art instead. When we pull up to the circle of hell around the convention center hours before the fairs are closing for good, the chaos stymies our efforts to park, and we decide to skip the art.
On the sidewalk across from the convention center, we spot the charismatic Swiss designer Yannik Zamboni of Maison Blanche, who tells us through the window of our moving Tesla that the best look he saw at Basel was his own, from yesterday, which sadly went undocumented. So, later, he texts an image of his second favorite look, also his own: a white skirt and blazer with a digital-looking black print that’s somewhere between cow and ink blot, with a matching, black and white clutch. Thanks, Yannik. We love.
Being hot like Jonah comes with its perks. For example, tonight he’s been invited to see the live Chippendale show “Magic Mike,” so now we’re driving down the causeways of 1-95 to pay $25 to park at the extremely high production cabaret theater on the tip of Virgina Key. We claim our front row seats next to two local blondes who advise us when to cheer or put our hands in the air to “Hip Hop Hooray.” In this production’s version of the classic tale, Mike is actually a shy, British bartender. Coaxed out of his shell by an Amy-Schumer-esque emcee who tells him about all the “vagina” that’s about to “shoot into his face,” Mike discovers his natural talent for simulating romantic sex in a performative environment.
I feel for the show’s extremely talented dancers, who are required to lick whipped cream off audience members’ necks, and vice versa. When it’s time for the guys to give us all lap dances, the most obviously gay dancer chooses me and Jonah for what feels like some overly passionate humping on his end, and I feel like we are cleansing him of his straight-for-pay labor. As we dip out early, reeking of his cheap cologne, we wave off the women we sat with, who are demanding to know where we’re going and why.
Our quest to find food lands us back in the narrow and congested streets of Wynwood, where everybody’s trolling for parking. I thought I had seen every version of Basel nightlife hell, but this one feels specific and even more demonic: pop-ups with branded activations on every block, an open-air school bus with adults screaming Pitbull lyrics, and metal barriers lining the sidewalks to reign in pedestrians like cattle.
We avoid a cavalry of seven horse-mounted policemen clomping through the crosswalk and somehow find parking directly in front of Chito’s Red Tacos. “Everybody’s partying for Art Basel but me,” says the owner, Guadalajara-born Chito Ochoa. But he’s happy business is twice as busy during Art Basel and brags that he’s already been voted “Best Tacos in Miami” after just seven months in business. The lengua tacos tore and the chorizo mulita tore the most. “The secret is just love,” Ochoa tells us.
Singer Moses Sumney and arts writer Kimberly Drew are the chicest people I see at the FWB x UNISWAP party at Space Park party, where Honey Dijon is scheduled to DJ a couple hours later. “I feel like the vibe is—random,” Sumney says of this year’s Basel experience, but he manages to give me my first taste of FOMO when I ask him about the best party of the weekend. “The Casablanca party. 10 out of 10 out 10. The room was hot, and it was hot pink, and the dance floor was carpet.” He and Drew had just been at the classic New York party Everyday People nearby before it got busted by the cops on horseback I’d seen earlier. “I almost got trampled by a horse,” Drew said. “As a black woman, It’s very devastating that we can’t congregate without getting shut down.”
Watching Miami native and doll icon Antpuke eat her closing set at Domicile, a cracky, after-hours techno club in Little Haiti, I feel relieved knowing that night life can still be fun. As Antpuke flickers in red and black on the stage in front of us, a pack of shirtless gays writhe in ecstatic celebrations, lead by photographer and rave icon Joel Palmer and the cherubic porn artist Sean Ford.
“Period!” Ant Puke yells triumphantly outside the club where a couple fans keep the party going, dancing to the car stereo in the knee-high grass next to a sewer ditch.
The loiterers outside the gates of Diplo’s house party feel perfectly cast for this final opportunity to get chopped at the door: two white women hiccup the word “slay” after stumbling out of a huge SUV to join me and my friends in the driveway as we negotiate with security. Everyone works their phones, trying to summon the attention of any number of people inside who have assured us we are on the list. Shirtless Spanish designer Luis De Javier approaches the gate to tell us he’s doing his best to help get us in, but security didn’t even want to let him out of the house to come talk to us unwanteds.
“Can I at least get a kundle?” someone jokingly yells, and I half-expect him to stick a key bump through the iron bars of Diplo’s gate, until he says, “At least? Fuck off,” and spits some water on the ground. Then, security tells him he needs to put his shirt back on and hustles him back into the house.
I’m happy to go, but my friends seem a lot more invested. I don’t blame them; the event they’d come for had been a bit of a flop hours earlier—no one came!— and tensions are running high. They are eager to have a story to tell— celebrity interactions, glamor, or at the very least, sex— to replace the current narrative.
Most of them are much younger than me and more eager, and I wonder if I would’ve carried harder to get into Diplo’s when I was here in 2014. But I feel content with this weekend’s stories, and I’m ready to go home. I know that most of the best moments in Miami are the ones we probably won’t talk about again: dancing and swimming and driving endlessly around listening to more GloRilla. It feels like enough. I tell my friends I’m leaving in five. I’ll be waiting in the rainbow Tesla.