A History of The Most Epic Celebrity Appearances at Art Basel

Being only peripherally aware of the art world, Art Basel is a largely unknowable entity to me that brings to mind hazy images of art on white walls, Miami beaches, and Instagram posts that make me feel like I’m doing something wrong with my life. But I spent almost a decade in Austin, Texas, attending SXSW each year, which in my philistine mind, I imagine is a bit like a less flashy Art Basel—the purpose of the event is secondary to the chance to party.


And if there’s a chance to party in a glamorously tangential relationship to art, famous people—and, more importantly, aspiring famous people—will be there! Art Basel made its first appearance in Miami in 2002, and celebrities showed up immediately. I couldn’t find much celeb coverage from that first year, except for a YouTube performance of Fischerspooner and some Getty Images of Stephen Dorff. But, by 2006, Paris Hilton was on the scene—ever since, there’s been a litany of mildly bizarre celebrity moments each December, somewhere in Miami. 


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2002: Kathleen Robertson, Stephen Dorff, and Molly Shannon…Walk Into a Bar?


In what seems like an extremely 2002 situation, the only celebrities that turn up in a Getty Image search of Art Basel 2002 are photos of actor Stephen Dorff (the star of underrated—IMO—Sofia Coppola film Somewhere), 90210’s Kathleen Robertson, and former SNL star Molly Shannon. I feel like some sort of bizarre fanfic could be written about a night in Miami spent with these three very unrelated, yet oddly fitting actors.


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2003: Chris Rock Fake-Punches Muhammad Ali


I want this image blown up and framed on my wall. At 2003’s Art Basel, some lucky photographer captured Chris Rock fake-punching Muhammad Ali at his book premiere party for his Taschen-published Greatest of All Time: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali. Fun fact: This book now exclusively retails for $6,000 and over.


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2004: Baywatch‘s Traci Bingham Was Everywhere


If Getty Images are any indication, 2004 was an iconically campy year for Art Basel. The handful of photos available mainly just show Baywatch star Traci Bingham auctioning off a swimsuit for charity. In the above image, drag queen and Trump-adoring conservative Elaine Lancaster and Bingham vamp it up together. Life’s wild!  


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2006: Paris Hilton Makes Her First Art Basel Appearance


In spite of Paris now being an Art Basel fixture, it would appear that it was her sister Nicky that first drew her to Miami in 2006. The first appearance of the OG reality star was at a charity gala her sister threw. The following year at a party at the former Versace mansion, the New York Observer reported that Paris spent most of the night, “pretending she was speaking to someone on her cell phone” and being following by “a security guard and some weird guy in a strange Halloween-style hat.”

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2008: Pamela Freakin’ Anderson!!


The most captivating Art Basel appearance goes to Pamela Anderson! In 2008, she wandered around in a beanie and booty shorts, posing sensually on table tops and holding hands with David LaChapelle. This is a reminder that celebrities used to be more fun!


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2010: Venus Williams Stares Seriously at Art in Fur-Trimmed Boots


By 2010, celeb sightings at Art Basel were way more plentiful—Pharrell was throwing parties and Gerard Butler was seen everywhere in cargo shorts. But the winner for this year’s Best Celebrity at Art Basel goes to Venus, who—unlike a lot of celebs—appeared to actually be there for the art. She was spotted looking at paintings while wearing fur-trimmed Ugg boots. Iconic!


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2013: Lenny Kravitz Wears Silver Boots on the Beach


2013 was a particularly frivolous year for Art Basel. Lindsay Lohan partied at Shore Club, Adrian Grenier frolicked in the ocean, and Lenny Kravitz walked on the beach in silver boots. This was the year the New York Times wondered if art was being “squeezed out of the picture” and Paris Hilton’s brother was beaten up?


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2015: Bethenny Frankel Poses With a Clown


I’m not sure there’s really anything else that needs to be said.


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2017: Cardi B Had Fun at Jeremy Scott’s Party


Last year, Cardi performed at Jeremy Scott’s party with Moschino. Slick Woods was there, and the whole thing looked very fun in the way that Jeremy Scott parties look really fun. She also gave a great/honest quote about buying art to WWD: “I like things that are very colorful. But you got to debate whether it’s something that talks to you or makes you money. One of those pieces probably costs, like, $20,000. And I’ll buy it because it’s talking, but I don’t know what the hell it’s talking to me about.” Big same!

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