Places. Artists. Love: This One Time, at Art Basel…

It’s like a rite of passage, a sort of necessary evil to endure. One cannot say they’ve truly been initiated into the contemporary art world until they’ve undergone the baptism-by-fire known as Art Basel. No matter which location you choose – Basel, Hong Kong, and soon Los Angeles – you are duty-bound to be swept up in that great social/commercial cyclone. And then, there’s Miami Beach.

Ah, Miami. A swirling, decadent, poser’s paradise: a hurricane of alcohol, VIP passes to who-knows-what, waiting outside a celebrity-sponsored dinner/party praying for an impossible invite, and the occasional conversation about art, in earnest. And this one time, at Art Basel Miami Beach, I experienced everything above all…in one go.

I came into the Miami Beach Convention Center as a journalist for Whitehot Magazine. I accompanied my publisher, Noah Becker, over to a seating area where I found a man waiting for us: tall, with wild, wiry salt-and-pepper hair, clothed in a navy artist’s smock, black slacks and Doc Martens. An artist friend of Noah’s, surely. Casually, I introduced myself and showed him our website on my first-generation iPad.

What happened next defied any conceivable expectation.

He suggested we try our luck going into the famous/infamous Vanity Fair party/concert at The Raleigh Hotel. He knew the host, the then-director of MOCA Los Angeles, Jeffrey Deitch. I drove us up Collins Avenue, stacked with traffic and the ever-present construction work that the city always chose to carry out during the busiest weekend each December. We arrived to find that the party was pretty much over, but Noah and his friend asked me to wait while they approached the door. They emerged with two more guests, and they piled into my backseat. I was introduced to them: the first was a European aristocrat (who I shall call F.V.) and the second was a young man, the “escort” for the evening. “I must have some water! I’m so thirsty,” F.V. announced. I passed a bottle to the back seat. “You are a gem, thank you. What was your name, again?” “Shana. Shana Mason, I’m with Whitehot-“ “That’s nice, darling. Have you met Marco? He’s my man, tonight.” I nodded at the young man. Noah’s friend got back into the passenger seat, and I turned to the back to see F.V. leaning over, hearing the unmistakable sound of a prolonged sniff. As I took us to our next stop, The Soho House, F.V. suddenly embraced my passenger from the back. “Lee! Dahhling. I just spent three months on my yacht in the Aegean recording whale noises. You must do show for me, I speak to Jeffrey.” I looked sideways at him, and he acknowledged with his eyes how insane this situation was. As we inched along Indian Creek Drive to find parking past The Fontainebleau, someone shouted at the car from the street, “Lee, man! You’re a legend!” and threw up the universal “rock on” gesture. Who was this person in my passenger seat? I was completely oblivious to the fact that Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth) was riding shotgun in my hand-me-down Toyota Highlander.

Now a party of five, we approached the drive to the Soho Beach House. The Hilton sisters breezed past. Adrien Brody was moody as he left. F.V. and Lee were glued to their phones, trying to wrangle their way into the party, seaside. Suddenly, I turned to Noah and asked, “Who’s promoting this thing? Is it Nadine Johnson?” He shrugged, “I think so, might be so.” I then approached the slinky model at the door and asked incredulously if a friend of mine – who was working for the firm, at the time – was inside. Minutes later, my friend appeared at the door in his signature light-rimmed glasses and impeccably-cut blue suit. He waved to the doorman. All five of us were ushered into a narrow corridor, leading past the pool deck and into a pavilion pitched right in the sand. A lonely bedroom sofa faced the sea. I was freezing in the December wind (yes, even Miami gets cold now and then), and wrapped my pashmina right around my shoulders. I was joined by Lee and F.V. minutes later. We were photographed: Lee and I smiled, while F.V. chewed a fist, looking delirious. Cocaine tends to do that.

We had pretty much missed the party, but I had nothing else to demand of that night. A mix of savvy, cool and dumbass luck led me into those insane few hours that I won’t soon forget. And the art? Hmm. Forgot all about it.

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