In the solar system of more than 20 concurrent art fairs, events and parties of Miami Art Week, Art Basel was the Sun around which everything revolved. The august international fair set the stage within the expected formality of the Miami Convention Center venue and a preponderance of blue chip galleries, as well as the emergence of some welcome and unexpected political themes. Predictably, a number of the 193 participating galleries highlighted renowned art stars like Damien Hirst and Julian Schnabel.
Adding to the mix, were works like Mel Bochner’s eye-catching and amusing text-based painting Indifference which was prominently mounted in the booth of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, for the Beverly Hills gallery’s Art Basel debut. At the same time, several representative LA galleries showed a cadre of exciting local artists, such as Elliot Hundley, whose stunning large-scale multi-media collage Revolutionary Song, was showcased in the Regen Projects booth.
Less predictable was the emergence of a resounding political and socially conscious theme, whether by coincidence or design, prevailing throughout Art Basel. On entering, it was impossible to miss Sam Durant’s bold and cautionary electric sign with black vinyl text, “End White Supremacy” popping from a red background. Prominently mounted on the outside wall of Blum & Poe,’s booth, the piece (edition 1 of 3), circa 2008, had gained renewed relevance post-election, at the dawning of a new era when the alt-right has moved from the fringes into the mainstream. Angelenos will have a chance to view edition 3 of 3 of the Durant piece – which is part of the Hammer Museum’s contemporary collection – when the museum re-opens in its newly expanded space in early 2017.
Most striking as a cultural undercurrent throughout the exhibit hall, was a significant showing of major pieces by prominent and mid-career contemporary African American artists: Stephen Friedman Gallery showed Kehinde Wiley’s Equestrian Portrait of Isabella of Bourbon (2016) a dramatic large-scale painting of an African American female figure on a horse, re-contextualizing the 1635 Diego Velazquez classic. The inventive painting and mixed media figurative work of New York artist Derrick Adams cropped up repeatedly – at Tilton Gallery, as well as being featured in the Art Basel Miami special curated exhibition Kabinett. New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery showed pieces by Kerry James Marshall, Nick Cave and Barclay L. Hendricks, while Blum and Poe restaged a small section of the marvelous street scene from Henry Taylor’s installation at the Culver City gallery last fall.
Particularly timely and poignantly relevant was an exquisite photo-realistic portrait of Barack Obama by Karl Haendel: Unfinished Obama (mirrored) (2016) (pencil on paper) at the Wentrup booth, in which the outgoing president is portrayed gazing down with an expression of deep concern. The inadvertent African American theme breathed life into Art Basel while injecting an optimistic note, seeming to suggest that artistic freedom transcends political agendas.
With a vibe somewhat comparable to Art Los Angeles Contemporary, (ALAC) (coming up at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar, January 26-29), Untitled Miami is set up in an alternate venue – an airy structure with a wall of glass windows and doors opening onto Miami Beach, with the Atlantic surf in the background. Also about to debut in San Francisco, Untitled is an international curated art fair with an engaging selection of galleries, non-profit organizations and artist-run booths. Among participating LA galleries were Shulamit Nazarian, Wilding Cran, Ochi Projects, Luis de Jesus, Diane Rosenstein, Cirrus Gallery and Cirrus Editions, Steve Turner and Klowden Mann. It was the second year for Ochi Projects, and the Culver City gallery will also be participating in Untitled San Francisco. Gallerist Pauli Ochi reported that the Miami fair was a great success for Ochi Projects. “We were a bit bold this year and brought a large installation of several eight-foot tall paintings by Zio Ziegler, which was very well received. The Untitled team does a wonderful job and I’m looking forward to showing Los Angeles based artists Rives Granade, Molly Larkey and Brian Wills at the inaugural Untitled SF,” Ochi said.
As if echoing Art Basel’s African/African American undercurrent, one of the standout booths at Untitled was that of London-based Modern Forms, which showed sculptures from Zak Ové’s Invisible Man series. These seven-foot tall figures are based on an ebony African statue the artist’s father gave him in the 1970s. Also featured was an installation of Ové’s inventive collage “paintings” composed of found vintage crocheted doilies with superimposed metal faucets.
Down the beach, the Scope Fair, with a focus on emerging galleries and artists, presented an engaging selection of 125 exhibitors from 22 countries, and included LA presences like BG Gallery, Duncan Miller and MRG Fine Art. Appropriate to the emerging artists theme, Scope is characterized by a viewer friendly, high-energy buzz. Featured among the gallery booths, the Bombay Sapphire Artisan series is one of the sponsored outreach campaigns of Miami Art Week. A collaboration with Russell and Danny Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, the project offers national exposure to unrepresented artists. The Bombay Sapphire party, one of numerous hosted events during Art Week, was held on the top level of a Miami parking structure, with a dazzling view of the lights of the city below. Partygoers got a preview of work by some of the featured emerging artists while being bathed in the glow of Bombay gin blue strobes.
Pop-ups all over the city rode the tide of Art Basel, such as an exhibit by Culver City’s Fabien Castanier Gallery in the Wynwood Arts District featuring a coterie of the gallery’s urban contemporary artists, including LA-based Andrew Schoultz (continuing through January). Much more off the beaten path – at Marina Blue on Biscayne Boulevard – “Neo-Global: A House for Mr. Biswas” offered another perspective on the Miami art scene. The intriguing curated mini-fair reflecting a selection of work by Caribbean artists added to the overall smorgasbord of flavors that is Miami Art Week.