Art Basel Miami Beach

December 23rd, 2017  |  Published in December 2017

“To spend time in Miami is to acquire a certain fluency in cognitive dissonance.” – Joan Didion

Both Miami and art fairs in general leave one feeling simultaneously elated and defeated, so an art fair in Miami is a natural choice. The Swiss figured this out about 15 years ago when they decided to bring Art Basel to Miami, but couldn’t quite muster any sort of Swiss-like efficiency to the cacophony that was Art Basel Miami Beach 2017. Hurricane Irma delayed renovations to the Miami Convention Center (where ABMB is located) and, apparently, any thought about whether it makes sense to force billionaire-art-collectors to cross the adjacent four-lane Dade Boulevard without a cross-walk in order to spend their not-so-hard-earned money. Needless to say we heard quite a bit of bickering about the foot-traffic problems that, anecdotally, left certain usually influential gallerists shut-out of the fair’s opening in a dispute with the Miami Fire Department. The gallerists, like us, probably would have preferred to enter into a perfectly fine door on the east end (where most of the parking was) rather than walk over a mile around the scaffolded convention center to enter into another somewhat nicer, more decorated door.

Amidst this discord, and certainly as a result of it, I looked even more than usual to art for quietude. Art fairs aren’t the proper places to have a truly transformative experience with art but if one is able to cultivate a modicum of grace it’s possible to find what you’re looking for. So here is a highly subjective take on a few things I saw and liked.

Etel Adnan, Untitled, 1995, 19”x16”, Sfeir-Semler Gallery

The work of Lebanese painter and poet Etel Adnan is best understood after delving into her biography, which is vast. It includes study at a French convent school; a professorship in philosophy in California; authoring numerous books of poetry, novels, and non-fiction; and, most pertinently here, creating paintings. She’s not afraid to tackle philosophical questions like beauty and the role of art in our lives with diminutive, brightly colored landscapes.

John Zurier

John Zurier’s austere monochromes are at once emotional and understated. In this painting, I think inspired by his numerous trips to Iceland, a titanium white band floats atop a mass of blue, interrupted by blue lines of lesser intensity, all made of thin, rigorously applied layers of pigment. The bands and layering act to coax the viewer from mere calm appreciation to a disciplined and meditative look at the formal elements of the painting.

Thomas Houseago, Big Head (Dancing Devil), 2015, 90”x40”x25”. Xavier Hufkens

The Los Angeles based England-born artist uses disparate materials like plaster, rebar, wood and metals to create figures that are simultaneously modernist and post-apocalyptic. Big Head (Dancing Devil) at Xavier Hufken’s booth is in cast bronze and left raw, a reference to tribal masks that influenced so many early modernists, from Picasso to Brancusi to O’Keefe.

Benoit Maire, josegarcia gallery

French based artist Benoit Maire was a new discovery. His juxtaposition of material and form along with references to ancient and contemporary philosophical questions seem to purposefully create ambiguity, as if to say art is incapable of answering anything but can still communicate something. In other words, all is not lost. In addition to painting and sculpture, he also makes furniture including the furniture at JoseGarcia Gallery’s booth (incidentally I’m noticing an art fair trend for galleries to have highly refined booth furniture that’s as collectible – and costly – as the art on the walls.)

Brazilian artist Lucas Arruda was well represented at ABMB by powerhouses David Zwirmer and Mendes Wood. His intimate seascapes painted from memory utilize a well-defined, cohesive theme to convey a paradoxical vastness. Any small, subtle change in these paintings is a huge event, in much the same way that the addition of, say, a bowl in a Morandi painting contains multitudes.

Art Basel Miami Beach is, for all its faults, an excellent way to see great art that unfortunately doesn’t get shown in the Midwest. If a fair-goer notices any themes (and the few pieces discussed in this article are admittedly minimal and materially focused) it’s likely a result of taste and subjectivity rather than any sort of zeitgeist. In other words, there’s something for everyone.

–Matthew Metzger

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