Days at the fairs

Miami-based art critic Shana Beth Mason gives an update on this year´s Art Basel Miami Beach and some of the satelite fairs.

Installation view at Art Basel, Miami Beach Image courtesy of Cheim & Reid, New York

Installation view at Art Basel, Miami Beach. Image courtesy of Cheim & Reid, New York

It would be relatively easy for art, itself, to be eclipsed during the week of Art Basel in Miami. What with the endless rounds of events and secretive parties centered around everything but the consumption or connoisseurship of contemporary art, a healthy group of cynics have swelled their ranks when asked about their experiences in the so-called Magic City each December. Those who are recognized among the public and their peers as influential or ‘power players’ have openly confessed to staying no later than three days into the week, oftentimes leaving days, even hours, after the First Choice VIP Preview (where invitation-only access is granted a full two days before the public opening). Carmakers, fashion designers, architects and musicians all flock southward to capitalize on the population surge and the foreign cash they bring along. It would be no surprise, then, that hardened academics, critics and collectors would find the whole affair no better than a slickly branded, price-inflated, celebrity-hoarding circus.

To assume that Art Basel in Miami is without its treasures, however, is most unwise.

Mircea Cantor Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (2012) Production still, 4 min 6 sec HD movie Image courtesy of the artist and Magazzino, Rome

Mircea Cantor: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (2012), Production still, 4 min 6 sec HD movie. Image courtesy of the artist and Magazzino, Rome

Several booths inside the vast Miami Beach Convention Center stood out thanks to a conscious effort to curate their respective content. New York-based galleries Cheim & Reid and Paul Kasmin Gallery were exemplary: Kasmin’s softly whitewashed booth allowed Morris Louis’s Gamma Omichron (1960) to serve as a stunning counterpoint to an equally impressive Brancusi bronze entitled Jeune Fille Sophistiquée (1928-2013), while Cheim & Reid’s darkened booth boasted a pink painted-bronze from Louise Bourgeois, a 1977 Lynda Benglis sculpture and a playoff between a 2013 Adam Fuss pigment print and a Jenny Holzer marble footstool engraved with the words ‘MEN DON’T PROTECT YOU ANYMORE’. Magazzino, who had just finished its run at ARTISSIMA in Torino this November, hailed from Rome with two powerful works by Mircea Cantor: his 2012 short film Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (2012) and a curious hanging DNA strand made from gold-plated steel safety pins entitled Epic Fountain (2012). Two additional Italian galleries, Galleria Continua (San Gimignano) and ZERO (Milano), presented challenging work from artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Pietro Roccasalva and Yuri Ancarani. London’s gallery offerings were plentiful with excellent selections from Lisson Gallery, Max Wigram, Sadie Coles HQ and Alison Jacques Gallery. In the NOVA Section, younger programs such as Spinello Projects, Mendes Wood, Vilma Gold and Peres Projects represented artists of the current avant-garde.

Keith Haring's painted Buick at opening of Piston Head: Artists Engage the Automobile (hosted by Ferrari & Venus Over Manhattan, New York) Image courtesy of the author

Keith Haring’s painted Buick at opening of Piston Head: Artists Engage the Automobile (hosted by Ferrari & Venus Over Manhattan, New York). Image courtesy of the author

At satellite fairs such as UNTITLED, NADA Miami Beach and Pulse, there was an injection of new energy radiating on emerging artists and the spaces showing them. Both UNTITLED and NADA were located relatively close to Art Basel, both fairs would enjoy fiscal and critical success throughout the week. UNTITLED held bragging rights to the first major opening of the week, with an exclusive opening night unveiling a limited edition photograph by Marina Abramović to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation (Abramović, herself, was in attendance). Universally accepted as a cerebral show that could only be fully appreciated by the most left-field, bespectacled global hipster, NADA hosted only the most cutting-edge, critically bolstered work (and as yet, the show is always free and open to the public). Pulse, located in Wynwood near Downtown Miami, distinguished itself as a show where photography and installation are key elements; the mood is decidedly lighter, as it served its guests with an outdoor lounge and garden and a fun sector with affordable artist editions and posters.

UNTITLED art fair on Ocean Drive and 12th Street, Miami Beach Image courtesy of UNTITLED

UNTITLED art fair on Ocean Drive and 12th Street, Miami Beach. Image courtesy of UNTITLED

True, the parties were as hard-hitting as ever with both elegant and rousing events hosted by Audemars Piguet, W Magazine, Ferrari, Dom Perignon and MoMA. Yes, the faces of Leonardo DiCaprio, Val Kilmer, Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, Kanye West and Adrian Grenier were seen throughout the week. But let it be known that Miami is not without its commitment to cultural exchange (especially with the inauguration of the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Pérez Art Museum Miami) within its own borders and as a host to the global contemporary art market. The proof was in the painting, the publicity and the public response.

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