Art Basel Miami Week — My Personal Experience
Miami’s Art Basel Week — set against the backdrop of a presidential election upheaval in the US, the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria and the mega viral #MeToo movement — drew fewer visitors in 2017. Yet the impact and intensity were buoyed by those who showed up and paid close attention. After sifting through ten art fairs, five private collections and three museums, here is a summary of what stood out for me the most.
Art Basel (in) Miami Beach
The main attraction, Art Basel, took place in the newly renovated Miami Beach Conventional Center, which boasts ten percent more exhibition space to accommodate some twenty-one new dealers to this year’s roster of participating galleries. As fairgoers might anticipate, there were many attention-grabbing pieces by prominent artists that we all know and admire. That being said, in this article I’ll skim over the already famous to focus on both the under-the-radar and emerging artists who represent a diverse range of mediums and subjects.
For the less-exposed artists in the US look no further than a well-arranged booth of the Peter Freeman Gallery. Here the first standout was Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis, with a new wall piece, Still Life With Anchor and Rope (2017). An old, thick rectangular door with original hardware is repurposed as the “frame”. On its top left side the artist dangles a rusty anchor and a long rope with the remainder loosely coiled at the bottom of the frame. To its right, a piece of new glass is placed inside of the frame painted with a block of striking tangerine color. The elegant marriage of the old and new material, with subtle details and variation, suggests a congregate philosophy, mixing poetry with anthropology.
For the less-exposed artists in the US look no further than a well-arrangedbooth of the Peter Freeman Gallery. Here the first standout was Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis, with a new wall piece, Still Life With Anchor and Rope (2017). An old, thick rectangular door with original hardware is repurposed as the “frame”. On its top left side the artist dangles a rusty anchor and a long rope with the remainder loosely coiled at the bottom of the frame. To its right, apiece of new glass is placed inside of the frame painted with a block of striking tangerine color. The elegant marriage of the old and new material, with subtle details and variation, suggests a congregate philosophy, mixing poetry with anthropology.
I was also struck by German artist Franz Erhard Walther’s minimalist textile sculpture, Definierter Ort, beweglich Ziele (Defined Space, Mobile Target) (1984), with its vibrant yellow and black colors waiting to be activatedby the viewer. His interactive structures and constructions, which explore the negotiation between dormant and active states, won the Golden Lion award at the 57th Venice Biennale. Also on display were two galvanized steel buckets with water, Bore (1982) by Richard Wentworth. He re-presents everyday objects, stretches affinities and imbues them with new and broader significance. In doing so, he fundamentally alters traditional definitions and perceptions of what sculpture is. These three older European artists who have made ground-breaking works in the past continue to inspire younger generations.
Speaking of older artists, I have to mention Jim Dine’s painting, Oslo, Midsummer with E. (2016),at the Richard Gray Gallery’s booth. Set alongside a slew of William de Kooning’s recognizable works, Dine’s piece still shone through: silhouettes of figures in bright red, black and white against a blue background that looked very familiar. I was thrilled to find out that it was inspired by Edvard Monk’s The Dance of life (1899), a painting I saw in my own eyes the year before in the Oslo Museum. The 82 years old post-war artist has been inextricably linked with the Pop Art movement; but he is so much more than that, as evidenced by his diverse body of work. The elegant marriage of the old and new material, with subtle details and variation, suggests a congregate philosophy, mixing poetry with anthropology.
Peres Project from Germany showcased a blue-dominated booth featuring promising young emerging artists. In Melike Kara’s painting, LittleLies (2017), we see a group of intertwined dancing figures with stunned expressions on their faces, who show no hint of identities or history. These ghostly figures rendered in simple lines, blue hues and pale pink skin tones wait for the viewer to fill in their stories. If you were at Art Basel Unlimited (the Swiss edition) last June, you may recall Donna Huanca’s performance piece with body-paint models. In Miami, her abstract paintings and sculptures in bright blue colors make a strong statement, radiating forceful emotion. Another young artist, Beth Letain’s geometric blue-red color blocks and marks embrace minimalism, with respiring negative space. They may appear casual and even random to the inexperienced eye, but in fact they are carefully thought-out and historically referenced.
At David Zwirner’s booth, one pink leg and a pair of feet clad green socks jutted out from a dull-flesh-toned nude couple, set against a grayish background. Lisa Yuskavage’s Ludlow Street (2017) effectively utilizes jarring bright colors to indicate the couple’s playful mood. The Paris dealer, Applicat-Prazan, featured lesser known midcentury European artists. My favorite was Nicolas de Stael’s still life, depicting objects on a strikingly red canvas, which bordered on abstract and expressionist painting. The Brazilian gallery, A Gentil Carioca, displayed a few Arjan Martins’ paintings characterizedby ethnic identity, often based on historical photos. These works portray people in everyday life, and examine the ever-present colonial. Other memorable paintings in the fair included Hammer Galleries’ presentation of Dona Nelson’s mixed media pieces — on freestanding plywood base — Mountain Passengers (2017) and Platform (2017) and Raoul Dufy’s at Hammer Galleries in bright color palette inspired by the ‘Master of Color’ Henri Matisse.
Among photographs, I was taken by Alfredo Jarr’s arresting series, Gold In The Morning (1985) at the Goodman Gallery booth. His photographs show stark portrayals of arduous labor, under dangerous conditions, at Serra Pelada, an opencast mine in a remote part of Brazil. The promise of gold spurred a massive influx of 80,000 miners to dig a giant pit with their hands. In the same booth I was struck by Mounir Fatmi’s piece, Evolution or Death (2013), in which a naked young woman appears to have a home-made bomb strapped to her body. The work is at once terrifying, threatening and beautiful. Upon closer inspection, I noticed her explosive belt is made of a collection of books and wires bound together by commercial tape. Does the book bomb symbolize arming people with knowledge to evolve? Or perhaps the impending doom of our human race? Mounir Fatmi’s photo forces viewers to oscillate between certitude, meaning, symbolism, assumptions and truth. It requires us to look again and question our behavior or cultural reflex.
At the Jack Shainman Gallery, Carrie Mae Weems’ 25 pieces and 5-line tinted photo installation, The Blues (2017), caught my eye, among which, 8 photographs portraying R&B singer Mary J. Blige in various emotional stages: proud, vulnerable, accomplished and resigned. The rest of the photos were in different shades of blue, which permeated the work with an inescapable melancholy. Other standouts include Jean Pigozzi’s haunting black-and-white canine photographs, Charles and Saatchi (2017), at Galerie Gmurzynska and the heralded photomontage series Sueños (Dreams) by German-Argentinian artist Grete Stern, exploring surrealism through a feminist lens.
There is never a shortage of intriguing sculptures and invigorating installations at Art Basel especially from the widely-known modern masters. But I only have space here to note a few contemporary works. Oscar Tuazon’s Natural Man (2015) at Luhring Augustine consists a walnut tree which has one branch grafted with a column of concrete. If you hook it up to a water line, a trickle of water would be pumped out of the knot in the tree trunk. Chloe Wise’s A poem of Pilates (2017), places faux spoiled fruits and antique silverware on top of a cowhide-covered plinth to create a still-life sculpture in which food becomes a link to map out the ever-shifting relationships between consumption and alternative pleasures. Dealer Levy Gorvy show cased Terry Adkins’ intriguing sculpture: a wood-and-metal fruit picker by George Washington Carver, vertically positioned in the air gripping a distorted hand-blown glass head with a silver patina which rests atop a red pillow the artist once wore as a hat during a performance with the Lone Wolf Recital Corps. Other noteworthy works were Tom Sachs’ mixed media installations at the Sperone Westwater booth, and Saadane Afif’s carpet pieceembroiled with a real note of mathematical lesson in a Marrabesh market as a performance piece.
Among the few performance works in the fair, Gallery Arredondo\Arozarena presented Israel Martinez’s Stealth and murmur (2017). Here, two performers engaged in slow-motion wrestle, one holding a megaphone, sometimes whispering in viewers’ ears some historical facts about Mexico. At the David Castillo Gallery, Kalup Linzy performed in drag as his fictional personality “Katonya” at 3 p.m. each day. Donning a blonde wig, he drew and sketched through the hour, exploring identities, sexuality, race and gender through imagined characters.
Public projects are all about viewer experiences and their social and political impact. For the third Audemars Piguet Art Commission, Los Angeles-based artist Lars Jan, working with guest curator Kathleen Forde, created “Slow-Moving Luminaries”, an immersive pavilion on a site spanning 100 x 50 feet, addressing the theme of climate change and issues related to rising seas.
The work invites viewers to traverse an extravagant labyrinth populated by scrim, flora and five building-like sculptures rising and falling by mechanical lifts. When you arrive on the upper deck, there is a pool of water where five brightly lit building models in different sizes and shapes emerge and recede in concert through apertures in the ceiling, at varies speeds and combinations. The pool and white sculptures visually allude to the surrounding skyline and ocean seen from the deck. The night view was, not surprisingly, the most aesthetically moving, with illuminating structures set against a stark night, and their reflections on the dark water. The effect was magical. The curator notes, “it references everything from Angkor Wat to Japanese temples to labyrinths to meditation paths to maritime symbols and California minimalist light artists.” Standing against the rare cold Miami breeze, I couldn't take my eyes off this piece until closing time late at night.
ES Devlin’s Room 2022 (2017), at Miami Beach Edition Hotel, is another mesmerizing public project in which the artist takes visitors on a journey from reality to illusion. The piece begins with guests seated in a deceptively normal looking hotel room, numbered 2022. A video projection covers one wall of the room, with Devlin’s voiceover about waking up to a single line of light in a hotel room, then going through an abstract plan, room-by-room, floor-by-floor. As the screen returns to a single line of vertical light, it opens to a hotel corridor where visitors are invited to freely explore different doors, some open and some locked. Through the maze of doors, visitors find their way into a semi-cylindrical, water-flooded, color video-saturated zoetrope, whose many images of were filmed on Devlin’s camera phone rendering scenes of children, lovers, skylines, fireworks, etc. From this space two doors lead into a vaulted, elliptical floor to ceiling mirror labyrinth. Here, walls and corridors have been bent, sliced through and mirrored. Visitors see each other reflected on the sectioned walls and mirrored ceilings. Devlin notes, “this work playfully explores what might happen if this combined imaginative force could be turned back and ingested by the system itself, and how it might manifest in its architecture.”
Untitled Art Fair, in a large tent directly on Miami Beach, has quickly established itself among the countless satellite fairs for uncovering forward-thinking emerging talents and refreshing works that are full of conceptual challenges and innovative ideas. At Gallerie Ron Monados’s booth, I was enthralled by the stunning photographs featured in the three-channel video installation, Passage (2017), by South Africa artist Mohau Modisakeng. The video installation was a favorite standout at the Venice Biennale 2017. In this piece, three characters in mostly black attire —a woman with a hawk perched on her arm, a young man in a Trilby hat and another woman wrapped in a Basotho blanket — each lies inside a small white boat set against dark water. Shot from above, they perform gestures that allude to a struggle against unseen restraints, as the vessels slowly fill with water. Eventually, the subjects submerge completely and sink, along with their boats. The work isa poetic meditation on slavery, displacement of identity and the erasure of personal history.
At Galerie Thomas Fuchs, I instantly recognized a group of small metaphorical portraits by theyoung Italian artist Rudy Cremonini, from a previous show at Volta New York 2017. I was touched by the vulnerability indicated on those faces, shown in muted colors. At the same booth mid-career artist Ruprecht von Kaufmann’s oil-on-linoleum portraits showed a bit more detail, in strong colors. The faces in Kaufmann’s paintings appear determined and engaging, bearing their souls directly to the viewer.
New to the fair this year, dealer Piero Atchugarry showcased one of the best booths, featuring two Latin American artists, Veronica Vazquez and Artur Lescher. Vazquez, from Uruguay, presents a series of fifteen small wall pieces, comprised of wire, paper and thread on cardboard boxes demonstrating her ethereal femininity. To its right on the same wall, her large framed wall assemblage, Weaver II (2014), made from ragged metal plates sewn with rusty wire conveyed an eloquent raw energy with soft touch. On the left wall of the booth Vazquez’s large masculine metal sculpture, Mural (2014), stacked with various slabs of rusty iron rose to an imposing five feet. Add to this, the gallery floated a pair of sleek stainless steel pieces by the Brazilian artist, Artur Lescher, above his minimal wall pieces, Rio (2017) and Sem titulo, sa serie Dardo #06 (2016). These works investigate the mechanics of form and movement, balance and tension.
Indeed, Latin American galleries have enjoyed consistent exposure and success at Untitled Miami since the fair’s inauguration. Chilean artist Maria Edwards’ installation Uni-versos (2016) at Arroniz Arte Contemporaneo presented a poetic constellation of twenty-one perforated musical sheets, each bound by guitar pegs and bicycle spokes, suspended in the air by black threads. Their perpetual, invisible movement is achieved by the unseen manipulation of weight, balance and air movement. The artist listened to the Goldberg Variations while randomly arranging incomplete scores together to create new music. She then perforated the sheets, and painted one side black, so the light would come through luminous points in the darkness, or the other way around.
Liliana Porter is an Argentinian artist known for joining incongruous old toy figuresand objects in her metaphorical installations, representing an altered realitywith humor. Her installation, To Clean Up II (2012-2017), depicting a miniature female toy figure trying to sweep up an enormous long pile of red dust put a smile on my face. There were so many noteworthy works in Untitled, but I can only list a few more: Cristina de Miguel’s idiosyncratic paintings, sophisticated while disarmingly childlike, and steeped in humor, at Fredericks & Freiser Gallery; Henk Stallinga’s conceptual LED lights and tubes on canvas, Planes (diptych, 2017), which play with our visual perceptionat Gerhard Hofland’s booth; and Ryan Brown’s paintings that mimic old, creased catalogue pages with ragged tears on the edges and pencil writing, at Y Gallery.
Art Miami & Scope Miami
Art Miami kicked off its 28th edition in a new location, moving from midtown to downtown Miami, taking over the former site of the Miami Herald newspaper at One Herald Plaza. Other than abundant secondary-market art, there were energetic, colorful works side by side with decorative, flashy and loud pieces. Again I’ll skip well-known names like Damien Hirst and Manolo Valdes, and instead try to introduce you to artists you may not have heard about yet. First on my list, Eugenio Merino, whose clever political piece, Face Wash (2016), comprised a set of commemorative plates with faces of US presidents, such as Obama, Nixon, Eisenhower, and so on, lined up in an industrial dishwasher.
I was captivated by Paris-based Venezuela artist Manuel Merida’s kinetic circling series of works at Art Nouveau Gallery. The artist encased colored paint powder in a round frame and set it to rotate at a slow, perpetual, consistent speed, causing the powdered pigment to move, thus creating new gestures of landscapes, light, shadow that continually shift and change, and are never the same. Alongside works by well-known Latin American masters, Gabriela Morawetz’s series of layered photo-works contrasted geometric forms against ritualistic settings —the meta-physical and scientific — to suggest a sense momentum and timelessness.
When I visited Art Basel Miami, I looked forward to discovering new works by the artists I follow each year. In this regard, I was happy to see the latest innovative work by Gregory Scott and Marck. Scott is known for combining photography, video, painting and performance into playful and inventive video installations. He builds sets in his studio where he films a series of actions and then he embeds various video pieces into the final work, playing with our perception and breaking down the barrier between the artist and viewers. His new piece, Time (2017), at Catherine Edelman’s booth starts out as a photograph inside a museum space, wherein eleven paintings are hung on the wall. Soon we realize, however, they are actually eleven small embedded video screens playing various short pieces he made, each starting with an image that looks like a painting.
The dealer Licht Feld exhibited Marck in Context — the sister fair to Art Miami — for the past few years. This year he changed to Scope Miami, located directly on Miami Beach, next to Untitled. Marck’s humor is often dark and he is exceptionally good at manipulating different spaces, extending the action in his videos to the viewers’ universe outside of the screen. His past work bordered on the sadistic, with pieces made to look like women were locked in a box or enclosed walls. But this new video installation, Black/White (2017), is more sensual in an aesthetic sense, presented as a diptych in slow motion, showing a nude black woman falling backwards against milky white liquid on one screen, while a nude white woman falls backwards against dark water in another.
Azumi (2016), another diptych video sculpture, illustrates a nude woman whose upper and lower body are seen separately on each screen, while a milky liquid is poured over the top of her head. In the space between the two screens (mounted vertically), water trickles down just like the liquid in the screens. Art Student (2014), an earlier video sculpture, shows a sleepy-eyed woman smoking a cigarette in slow motion. Each time she blows smoke to her right, real smoke comes out of the frame. Marck explained to me that the smoke was in fact steam coming out of the machine he installed and synchronized to the video behind the screen.
The layout of Pulse Miami has improved markedly since its new director, Katelijne De Backer, came on board and moved the fair to Miami Beach in an expanded, two-tent space situated directly on the beach. The works here that particularly left lasting impression include Mariu Palacios’ solo exhibition at Ginsberg Galeria. I was most in awe with her photographs depicting an identity-obscured figure fully cloaked from head to toe in black, or off-white cloth and fully bound. Some of the cloth was covered with handwritten Spanish, perhaps as a conscious effort to weave history into memory. With imagery, text and objects, Palacios explores the ways the past might reveal truths about the present.
Dario Maglionico is a storyteller whose mildly surrealistic paintings look like superimposed photos or movie negatives, with a series of actions of the same person showing up on one canvas. These actions are so swift that only part of the body appears in each, like when we recall something in our mind. Reification #32 (2017) evokes today’s multi-tasking lifestyle: we see a girl’s upper body picking up something in front of a bookshelf, while her lower body, on one side of the bed working on her laptop, and her disconnected legs dangle over the other side of the bed, relaxing with a cat.
In a similar vein, New York-based Ukraine artist Polina Barskaya is a traditional storyteller via her hyper-detailed paintings. Her small acrylic, character-laden works are painted from photos taken in the former Soviet Union, Italy and her travels abroad, as well as from the Russian community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
Perhaps because so many fairs are awash withreductive canvases and vaguely familiarabstract works, I was more inspired by figurative paintings this year than I used to be in the past. Both young and older generation painters continue to disprove the once heady assertion that “painting is dead”. The figures in such paintings today are not a step back or a return to the past, but a consequential and necessary step forward. And I’m always intrigued by the texture and placement of various materials. As such, I like the so-called Zombie Formalism paintings with little or even no paint, which utilize mixed media.
Kennedy Yanko uses paint skins she made herself to weave crumpled old metals in various colors, together on a red wood canvas, titled 33 (2017). Standing in front of piece, somehow I could hear its tune and melody. I couldn’t differentiate the skins from the painted metals, which was precisely the artist’s intent: to defeat the reference of what the metals used to be.Also noteworthy was Diane Landry’s kinetic mural Fall and Relapse (2017) at Vivianeart’s booth. In this work, we see rows of 60 flip-book installed in a metal frame with grids. The rotating “cards” reminded me of the old days when we still used rolodexes, remember those? Its perpetual motion and constant sound, generated by the automated mural, evoked the image of a powerful waterfall in my mind..
Moishe Mana, the Israeli-born American billionaire businessman who transformed his New Jersey based moving and storage company into an art brand, Mana Contemporary, has extended his namesake brand to Miami’s Wynwood art district. In its second edition, Mana Wynwood presented three well-curated exhibitions alongside Pinta Art Fair. Overall, much of the works shown were more of a political nature, as compared to other fairs and museums. Yet they remained aesthetically compelling.
Exquisite Corpse: Moving Image in Latin American and Asian Art was organized by Asia Society, Mana Contemporary and Smack Mellon,featuring a selection of video and new media works by fourteen contemporary artists. The installation itself was impressive, with two lines of tall walls lining up on each side and one video on each wall. Standing between the two lines of walls, one could easily glimpse all of the video screens and instantly choose the most engaging work at that given moment.
Lagrimas (2017) by Carlos Mottais a musical and visual essay that uses tears as a metaphor for social inequity, documenting what has been categorized as sick, pathological, rare and different people on the margins of “normality”. The original soundtrack is composed by Ian Turner, and based on Lachrimae (1604) attributed to John Dowland. The composition reflects on different types of tears from a social and cultural perspective. What struck me was the scene of a hand holding a cotton swab cleaning a wax figure with closed eyes and long lashes, as it looked like there were tears on the face. The artist considers his installations “social sculptures”, aiming to look beyond individual identity issues, to investigate social and cultural injustices in marginalized communities.
Rashid Rana’s Ten Differences (2004) addresses the politics of violence and the contentious relationship between the self and “the other”. The video begins as the artist is confronted by his mirror image, both selves pointing loaded guns at each other. The standoff quickly escalates into bloodshed, and they both end up dead from head wounds.The endless loop of this murder scene soon numbs the viewer into apathy, alluding to our growing indifference towards violence on a mass scale.
Focus on Puerto Rico is a program dedicated to heralding Puerto Rican artists and the diaspora, encompassing a three-month studio residency with various performance and open studio events. The program culminated in this exhibition curated by Mariel Reyes and Ysabel Pinyol. Most of the works exhibited reference the debris and wreckage of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, and the circumstances leading to the island’s ambiguous political status.Daniel Bejar’s American flag with fifty stars spelling out FAKE offered a touch of dark humor. And there was Robin Alicea’s mixed media wall piece which depicted a silhouette of the island made from trash bags with four paintings depicting rats, screaming faces, and a wood fire releasing demonic creatures.A group of little blue roofs, Skyviews (2017) by Roberto Tirado, mirrored what Puerto Rico looked like from an aerial view immediately after the hurricane; the tarps form a makeshift roof stretching across the area. Buscando donde cargar and my electricity withdrawal (2017),by Rafael Vargas Bernard, utilizes algorithms and sound engineering so that when viewers move closer, the parts move away, which reflects the discomfort of being looked at.
Another exhibition called The Words We Won’t Say, presented a selection of works by four Colombia contemporary artists: Iván Argote, Milena Bonilla, Carlos Motta and Oscar Muñoz, curated by Catherine Petitgas. Borrowing its title from a piece by Argote, the show centers on the discussion about a new version of Colombia following the 2016 Peace Agreement, which put an end to more than sixty years of civil war in the country. Since the anti-monument protests of Charlottesville last August, historical monuments and their evolving meaning across generations became the subject of intense debate. Interestingly, The Words We Won’t Say (2015), made from a partial of text on a fragment of a half circle concrete-and-wood structure has become, itself, a monument.
Pinta Miami Fair specializes in twentieth-century Hispanic-American, Spanish and Portuguese art. This year, for its 11thedition, five curators were chosen to organize a series of newly designated sections: Pinta Modern & Contemporary, Pinta Platform, Pinta Solo-Duo Project, Argentina Section and Peruvian Section.
Isaac Cordal showed a series of social/political artwork installations, in the form of sculpture and photography. The dominant piece was Follow the Leaders (2017), an installation made from human miniatures half buried in debris surrounding several concrete buildings. The work represents a city in ruins, wherein people still carry their briefcases to work and gather for meetings. The artist says he envisioned it initially as “a metaphor for the collapse of capitalism and the side effects of progress.”In more tangible terms, his work offers a critique of the absurdity of a society trapped in despair — while still going through the motions — as the viewer is invited to glimpse and perhaps identify with their fate.
Mexico-based Cuban artist Gustavo Perez Monzon’s installation, Viols (1981) at Freljo Gallery played on structural tension and release with three layers of elastic strings threaded from the ceiling and held in place by counterweighted nails on the wall. Known for his elaborate conceptual work, the artist often takes inspiration form sources as diverse as mathematics and numerology. Other standouts include Cecillia Paredes’ hanging installation, Room (2010), with woven copper ribbons; Georgia Kyriakakis’s photography installation focused on horizons; and Tony Vazquez Figueroa’s Plexiglas Black Mirror (2017).
Mana Wynwood and Pinta Art Fair seem to receive less press coverage and media buzz, as compared to the glamor and glitz surrounding the more high profile fairs. From the high quality works I have seen here, however, they certainly merit more appreciation.
In addition to the art fairs, there are the private collections — large enough to constitute museums — such as the Margulies Collection, Rubell Family Collection, The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) and Da La Cruz Collection which open their doors to the public during Art Basel Week. These are a must see. Mr. Margulies has added several of Anselm Kiefer’s large-scale installations to his “warehouse”, and they are mind-blowingly powerful. And I was also very impressed with the inaugural exhibition of The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, featuring the works of Edward and Nancy Kienholz, Senga Nengudi, Hélio Oiticica, Chris Ofili, and Tomm El-Saieh. Together with thereopening of The Bass Museum, they rounded out the world class art experience that keeps all eyes in the art world focused on Art Basel Week in Miami every winter..