A trip through the mirage of Art Basel into the scarred face of Miami
Not surprisingly, Robins was adept at explaining the art theory behind his development projects, and the ways Dacra is bringing art, design, and real estate together "to make Miami a brand name." He said he learned from the successful preservation of historic buildings in his South Beach projects that consumers were starting to reject the cookie-cutter commodities of the mall and "starting to value unique experiences" made from "a combination of permanent and temporary things." On the streets of the Design District and Wynwood, Robins sought to bring together restaurants, fashion showrooms, and high-end retail stores, surrounded by parties, international art shows, and public art. "This gives a richness to the experience of Miami," Robins said. "That is the content that Miami is evolving toward right now." I thought of Lapidus, the Godfather of Art Deco, and his quote about the Fontainebleau: In Wynwood, Robins wanted to turn not just a hotel lobby but an entire neighborhood into a place where visitors feel they have entered a movie.
Robins grew more excited as he discussed his vision. "With my work at Dacra, I build communities," he told me. "When we brought Art Basel here, Miami immediately became recognized as a world-class city."
Others are skeptical. "Miami will always be an attractive place for people to visit in December, but you can't graft culture onto a city," says Alan Farago of the widely read blog Eye On Miami. "It's a mistaken belief that art can be a totem or a symbol of a great city without there being any substance. Miami will continue to be a pretender because there is no investment in local culture beyond building massive edifices like the Performing Arts Center."
Indeed, the center — now renamed the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center, in honor of a wealthy benefactor — has become perhaps another in a long line of tragicomic failed improvements for the area. Bunker-like, it has been likened by some architecture critics to an upside-down Jacuzzi. Though 20 years in the making and long heralded by boosters as a building that would instantly make Miami a "world-class city," the center has operated at a deficit and suffered from poor attendance since its opening. The future of Museum Park suddenly turned cloudy a month before the opening of this year's Art Basel, when Miami Art Museum director Terrence Riley unexpectedly resigned days after unveiling the architects Herzog and de Meuron's final model for the new buildings. Riley sited a desire to return to private practice as an architect, but online speculation had it that he already knew cash-strapped Miami would ultimately be unable to raise the money to build the museum.
Farago wonders what would change if the city did have the money. "In Miami on one hand, we have public school teachers using their own salaries to buy art supplies for their students," he says. "Then we have these one-off art events and a performing arts center that brings us road shows of Rent, Annie, and 101 Dalmatians."
When I asked Robins what lasting benefits Art Basel provided to the community, he cited a roster of new restaurants opened by star chefs and fashion showrooms. "It encourages people to come down here year-round," he said. It was clear that Robins was discussing amenities designed for tourists, or for a speculative community of future residents who might be enticed to come to Miami.