It’s hard to deny that the main attraction during art fair week in Miami is Art Basel, but that’s not to say that it is the most interesting venue to explore. There’s a big universe of art to explore outside the Miami Beach Convention Center and here is a summary of what I saw and some observations (all accompanied by slideshows). I’m not going to pretend like the fairs are an artistic feast, they are the business side of art, which is fine but these fairs really end up being a convention of art … so, down to business.

Pulse is well-known as a venue for many up-and-coming galleries dominated by artists who have yet to establish themselves in the secondary market (aka auction houses). These aren’t yet blue-chip talents but they may very well be. This year’s venue was a little far from the other fairs but it was a great space that was well-designed and comfortable. When I got there it rained, so I appreciated the umbrella butlers that escorted me between buildings (ok, I admit it freaked me out but it’s better than getting wet). All in all it was a fair dominated by wonderful work that was intelligent without resorting to gimmicks.

That’s not to say there weren’t some real showstoppers that verged on the gimmicky, like OK Mountain‘s zany artsy bodega for Arthouse, which created a great funhouse effect that was well suited to the fair. Other major works which caught my eye were Sandow Birk’s epic drawing, “Monument to the Constitution of the United States” (2008), Andrzej Zieliński’s “Blanco ATM” (2009), a small painting by Sarah McKenzie, and an installation by Mads Lynnerup.

Art Miami was alright, but that’s it. They tried to spice things up with a video viewing area but I didn’t have the patience to sit through it all, though I did enjoy Tracey Moffatt’s “Heaven” (1997) about Australian surfers being caught changing into their bathing suits on the beach.

The fair was filled with some interesting vintage work but the fair’s layout didn’t lend itself to an enjoyable experience, it felt crowded.

The Nada fair was divided into two halls, Napoleon & Richelieu, and while the former was good, the latter was fuckin’ awesome. The booths in the Richelieu hall were well-curated and interesting. I found some of my favorite installations in this wing, including Peter Jackson’s Tchotchke sculptures, Paul Gabrielli’s display at Invisible-Exports, and David Scanavino at Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery.

The Rubell Collection is a blue-chip collection with stuff you’ve only read about on blogs or in magazines (sometimes art history books). It was free, pleasant and pretty impressive. This show was dominated by a “Pictures Generation” aesthetic and its manifestations in later art.

I found the whole show a little boring but there were some amazing moments, including the main gallery on the first floor which was dominated by Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Crash…Boom…Bang” (2008) and Frank Benson’s very chilling and mind-blowing “Human Statue” (2005). Btw, is it just me or are there a lot of cute naked people in the exhibition (I think I missed a couple, but here are the one’s I recorded: NSFW 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)?

I can’t do Scope justice, so I won’t even pretend. The reality was that I went there to finally meet the Carmichael’s of the LA-based Carmichael Gallery, both of whom I have tweeted with and corresponded with over email, so after I stopped by their booth I wandered around the fair and discovered a free rum bar in the back … let’s just say the rest is history. My photos are limited (less than the number of rum drinks I had that day) but it seems like a nice fair but nothing groundbreaking. Though I did spot a large work by Judith Supine that was exhibited at English Kills last April. When I asked the gallery owner the price it seemed a little high (pre-crash pricing) but before she finished her sentence she already offered me a 20% discount — it was the last day of the fair I guess.

Aqua is a West Coast-dominated fair and gives those of us from the East Coast a rare chance to see what’s going on across America’s Pacific regions. Sure there was Scott Koen’s lovely small sculptures at the Gregory Lind Gallery and Margarita Cabrera’s “Bicycle – Blue & Maroon” but the whole Aqua space felt cramped and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Fountain is the stepchild of art fairs and the work on display is often interesting, experimental and brash. This year was no different and while there was a lot to wade through (and at times it felt a little like a swap meet) there were some gems. My favorites were Laurence Hagerty’s untitled installation and Brian Leo’s hilariously folksy Google painting.

No one I spoke to had even heard of the Art Whino fair and the only way I discovered it was by talking to some street artists from Queens, New York, who told me that I should check it out. It was a quirky display that was heavily biased towards a young male aesthetic dominated by visual tricks and things that would make people think, “wow, that’s cool.” But the art had heart and what most of the artists need to do is work on developing their ideas. Btw, this fair is obviously influenced by graffiti and street art culture.

And, of course, not all the best art is in galleries so check out these pics from the streets of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.