Art amid the palms

May I come clean? I love Miami.

There are many reasons for this, some more shallow than others, but what really pasos my doble in the city people call the capital of Latin America is its art scene. After New York – and in some instances, dare I say, even before it – it’s arguably the hottest, most vibrant in the country.

The kingpin of course is Miami Art Week, which this year runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4. With vast exhibit spaces, including tents the size of airplane hangars, and a backdrop of the turquoise-blue Biscayne Bay fringed with tropical palms, Miami does art like nowhere else.

Topping it all is Art Basel Miami Beach — held at the Miami Beach Convention Center — the largest fair of the week, with 250 galleries around the world participating. The brilliant “Design Miami” show, held in the Convention Center’s parking lot, is not far behind in scope. But there are myriad other shows and events, too, of course, to entice and delight you, including the Satellite Art Show, Aqua Art Miami, the Miami Project, New Art Dealers Alliance Inc. (NADA), PULSE Miami Beach, Fridge Art Fair, X Contemporary and INK Miami Art Fair — to name but a few. Out of breath? You will be. You’ll shed a few pounds, too, over the course of seven days, because despite the shuttle buses that run from venue to venue, Art Week is an endurance test, a fitness program like no other, with shoe leather and rubber soles wearing out quicker than you can say Julian Schnabel.

Another area in which Miami often seems to lead the field is hotels. Over the last 25 years, the city has enjoyed a great track record of sympathetic historical renovation, while new-build hotels have taken sophistication to new heights, often literally. Like great art, imagination in hotel design and management runs free. Indeed, the two seem to run in tandem. Perhaps that’s why they call hospitality an “art.”

In the new Faena district, which takes up six blocks of prime Miami Beach oceanfront, a new bilevel arts center is due to open in time for this year’s Miami Art Week. Developed by the visionary Alan Faena, who made his name as a developer in Buenos Aires, the jewel of the new district is the Faena Hotel, formerly the Saxony, whose soaring cathedral entrance, devoid of check-in desks and concierges is, to quote the man himself, “a place of reflection.” You can reflect, too, under the hotel’s Alberto Garutti chandeliers, whose light output is linked by computer to echo the weather patterns of the Argentine pampas; or in the sumptuous oceanfront suites, accented in Faena’s signature red; or around “Gone But Not Forgotten,” the hotel’s focal Damien Hirst sculpture, a gilded mammoth in a vast steel and glass vitrine, positioned dead-center in the sight line between the hotel entrance and the ocean.

Another powerful sculpture, Hirst’s “Golden Myth” horse and rider, takes center stage in the hotel’s modern Asian restaurant, Pao by Paul Qui. The performing arts are not forgotten, either. The Faena has its own 150-seat theater, in which the sexy, in-house review, “C’est Rouge,” plays five nights a week in season. And when your soul needs soothing, it’s to the Faena’s Tierra Santa Healing House you go, where treatments are performed using Faena’s own range of blended oils, healing stones and flower poultices, along with Himalayan singing bowls, selected by the resident shaman, to help balance your chakras. “Healing comes from the inside out,” the attendants say here, wisely.

A few blocks south of Faena is the Nautilus South Beach, another newly-opened, renovated oldie, also with a heavy emphasis on art. Originally designed by architect Morris Lapidus in the 1950s, Nautilus’ collection includes colorful works by Jean-Michel Basquiat in the lobby as well as custom artwork from American photographer Sante d’Orazio. Lapidus’ wonderfully restored, almost surreal “Staircase to Nowhere” is also a show-stealer. You won’t go hungry or thirsty here either: Guest-room minibars, housed in retro cabin trunks, should be renamed maxi-bars, because they’re huge. And at the hotel’s 200-seat Driftwood Room Mediterranean restaurant — the former supper club where bandleader Ralph Font popularized the cha-cha 60 years ago — they’re now marrying “the cuisine of Southern France with a Miami palate” and, in my view, cooking up some of the most exciting dishes in South Florida. Try the chicken diavolo for one. Well, the devil is in the detail, don’t they say?

Last but not least, on top of the Brickell City Centre and bordering both the Design District and artsy Wynwood, is the brand new East, Miami. This is the first hotel in the Americas from the Hong Kong-based Swire group, and it has arrived with a loud drumroll and serious razzmatazz. With the ingenious use of sliding panels, its ground floor coffee shop, Domain, turns into a sultry, sexy bar after dark, and the line to ascend the coveted elevator for access to East’s rooftop bar, Sugar, snakes around the block on weekends.

There are four pool “experiences” as well as a branch — the only branch, exclusive to East — of the famous Uruguayan beach restaurant, Quinto La Huella, where half the trees from the South American rainforests seem to have been chopped into logs to fuel the gigantic wood-fired grill. As for the art, it’s not so much on the walls here as all around you. Perma-tanned playboys and millennials with movie-star looks, moving in packs: It’s quite a scene. Yes, I know it’s rude to stare, but isn’t that what great art encourages you to do?

For more, visit miamiandbeaches.com.

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