Alex James: The Great Escape

Miami's massive art attack
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The Independent Online

We're in Miami. Everybody's in Miami. It feels like New York used to. There's a huge art fair taking place all over the city, Art Basel Miami Beach. All the important galleries, dealers and collectors are here, all showing off. A lot of the museums in Miami - and there are many good ones - are privately owned collections. The owners usually dislike each other. One patron hosted a sculpture exhibition in someone's garden, right next to the flagship museum of his sworn enemy, just to annoy him.

The surrounding houses had boarded-up windows and junk in the gardens and the area was gridlocked with limousines. I've been assisting my friend Robert, a sculptor, with some of his new work, which was in the garden. Some trees were decorated. One had baubly globs dangling from stockings, another had a mass of psychedelic leaves glinting in the sun. There were blobs and wigwams and a shed with no doors or windows.

The garden was full of sculptures and peaceful as a pipe, apart from the odd explosion. I helped Robert adjust the volume of the explosions his flying speedboat trailer made. There were just a few hours left until the show opened and there was a magical thrill of anticipation.

Art thrives in Miami. It's everywhere. That Marc Quinn sculpture in Trafalgar Square - I went to someone's house and they had one in their garden! If you're rich in Miami, and you want to secure a place in fashionable society, a good art collection is as important as having the latest car and a big boat. Even the gangsters collect. They all seem to like Julian Schnabel, for some reason. Collecting art flatters rich Americans in two ways; it lends them sophistication, and it's a chance to accumulate more wealth.

The scale of the Art Basel fair is astronomical. I've spent the last three days tearing around countless shows. I was overwhelmed by fannies, cocks and death to the point I could take no more. Then gradually, in a warehouse full of giant balloons and people dressed as glove puppets, my own thoughts came back. It wasn't all challenging: there were huge mechanical masterpieces that were just nice to look at, a marble run with bowling-ball sized marbles, a dark room in a warehouse building with static intersecting conical lasers, fairground ride type things. Something for everybody.

We brought a dreadful lurgy with us. It's taken out our host, half the children, their nanny and the mother-in-law. Thirty-six hours of violent sickness and brutal diarrhoea. Geronimo got it first, and I called Claire's preposterously expensive Harley Street GP. She said: "Give him Coca-Cola, it replenishes the minerals he's losing. Oh, and crisps. He needs salt. Nothing else." What a doctor! It was the perfect cure; crisps, Coca-Cola and art. I love Miami.