Picture Perfect South Beach

Flock to Miami for the Art Basel festival, the prestigious international art show.
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South Beach, Fla., the town renowned for its decadent hotels, club scene and beautiful people, is transformed during the second weekend of December.

From Dec. 7-10, this section of Miami turns into a massive art party, and art enthusiasts, collectors, dealers, critics and curators travel from around the world to attend.

Art Basel Miami Beach is the sister event of Art Basel in Switzerland, one of the most prestigious art fairs in the world for the last three decades.

Founded by Sam Keller, the director of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, the showcase is located in the Art Deco district of Miami, mere walking distance from all the other main attractions of South Beach.

The festival, now in its fifth year, features a wide array of art, from visual to performance; in addition to viewing the art for sale, there are panel discussions, multimedia shows and movies.

The art ranges widely in price, from a few hundred dollars to works in the millions. The estimated total value of art sold at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2005 was $2 billion, according to AXA Fine Art Insurance.

Over 200 galleries from around the world are featured at the prestigious event.

"We come because Art Basel Miami Beach is one of the key international venues for showing contemporary art. Our intent is to always put our artists in the best possible venues and bring the public awareness of what they do," says Arthur Solway, director of the

James Cohan Gallery in New York, who has been attending the festival since 2002.

The works from the Cohan Gallery range in price from $3,500 to $3 million, Solway says, and the booth is different from other galleries in that it is designed to be more of an exhibition than one of commerce. Here, different artists are paired to give viewers an understanding of each one's commonalities.

Some of Cohan's highlights this year include Bill Viola, Yinka Shonibare, Roxy Paine, Folkert de Jong, Ingrid Calame and Trenton Doyle Hancock.

Further, as independent art consultant Kiran Carpenter points out, Art Basel Miami Beach is not only considered the largest art fair in the United States, but it also "gives people a chance to get exposed to international art, and

in turn is a great opportunity for galleries in the United States to get international exposure."

A one-day

ticket to the festival is $24; two-day admission is $36.

Invite Only

There are several exclusive events that do require an invite, such as the first annual Miami Launching of the Publikum Art Calendar Project at the Wolfsonian Museum. The project features artists such as Barbara Kruger, David Byrne and Andrea Dezso.

In addition, there are several private viewings at area collector's homes.

The key to getting into these hobnob events is, as always, who you know. So be social as you wander the festival if you need to score an invite.

Sleeping in Style

The Shore Club and the

Delano are the official hotels of the festival.

Both of these exemplify the true essence of South Beach, with their trendy bars, lush tropical gardens and state-of-the-art gyms.

Other luxe lodgings include the

Hotel Victor,

The Bentley Hotel and

The Tides, all of which are centrally located boutique hotels.

The

Loews and the

Ritz-Carlton are always good choices if one desires bigger hotels with superb service.

They both offer poolside lunch service, exclusive spa treatments and kids' clubs.

Or try the seaside

Setai, a 40-story glass tower that is one of the tallest buildings in the South Beach skyline.

Each room has a rainfall shower, oversized tub, Lavazza espresso coffeemaker and Acqua di Parma toiletries.

But be prepared to pay -- nightly rates range from $900 for a studio to $6,000 for a three-bedroom suite with a ocean-view balcony.

When the Lights Go Down

Dinner, the main event in South Beach, usually starts in the late evening.

Be sure to call ahead; reservations are a must.

Some of the hotspots include

Barton G, which serves eclectic American cuisine and has a beautiful enclosed outdoor garden;

Prime 112, a popular steakhouse (expect to wait hours, even with a reservation); and Bond Street (150 20th St.) and

Nobu, which both serve superb sushi and Japanese fare.

Newcomer Ola (425 Ocean Dr.) boasts locally-inspired Latin food and impeccable service; the

restaurant at the Setai dishes up Asian and French fusion, which is served either indoors and out.

In terms of nightlife, expect to pay a premium to get through the trendiest doors.

South Beach clubs usually play a mix of house and hip-hop and typically get going well after midnight.

Some of the more touristy nightclubs include

Prive and

Opium (both at 136 Collins Ave.) and

Mansion (1235 Washington Ave.).

For a classier, more exclusive club, check out

The Fifth (1045 5th St.). Again, make reservations and don't expect to avoid waiting in long lines.

And for the morning after, put on those sunglasses and check out the outstanding

brunch at the Ritz Carlton, which includes unlimited champagne -- the perfect way to revive yourself after the endless art-party weekend.

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