Sunday, December 9, 2012

Miami Art Fairs - Art Basel

     Up until Tuesday, December 4th, I was a Miami Art Fairs virgin. I'm happy to have lost my cherry in a big way, going to 10 shows and VIP/press events in 4 days! Still stoked by all the art I saw and the effect it's had on me. More on that later.
     I'll start with the big boy, ART BASEL. This was a blue chipper show with many big name artists and secondary market work. At the preview it was all press and big $ collectors (an interesting lot, often wearing very funky eyewear and fun to eavesdrop on). Noticeable in this show, and most of Miami actually, are the ubiquitous 6'+, 90 lb, models/ex-models in 8" heels that my Miami friend informed me are known as "sticks." I can understand why they flock here since they have zero body fat and couldn't survive the colder climates up north; it's also REALLY hard to walk on snow and ice in 8" heels.
     Anyway... Art Basel was a very large show. The work varied widely in terms of media, style, genre, concept - it was all here.  As I pondered all the work I'd just seen, I struggled to sort out what I was feeling, what I got from it. At first I couldn't put my finger on it, until I realized the difficulty was what I was NOT getting from it. Most of the work seemed - cold.  I didn't see or feel any work that was loaded with emotion, that grabbed me by the lapels and shouted at me. I sensed almost no angst, anger, outrage, or joy. It seemed the artists were holding back, and I pondered why. Why was it that most of the work had no apparent emotional investment from the artists?? Part of this is that the galleries were showing work with an eye on making money and playing it safe, not that that's a bad thing. Then it hit me - the issue here is an indication of the times. We live in a "cell phone photo" society wherein people see, say, a fistfight and take a photo, then they see a funny poster and take a photo,  with equal weight and emotion (or lack thereof). That is how most of the artwork here felt, like the artist was a step or two removed. They were documenting someone else's moment, image, energy or emotion. Making an image that they thought was "cool" much like they'd post an image on a social networking sight. That permeating sensibility made this show flat. Not bad, just a bit distant.

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     Always on the lookout for trends, I counted five galleries showing work where an artist painted on the front page of the NY Times. This has been done to death (see the Fred Tomaselli pieces below right) however, Siebren Versteeg (Rhom Hoffman Gallery, Chicago) had a new take on it by enlarging a  cover to 90x55" and creating an abstract painting that almost completely covers the printout (left).

 A fellow art traveller pointed out the presence of several mirrored and endless tunnel type works. An example is these barrels at Paul Kasmin Gallery (NY) that when you looked in from the top, the illusion was of a ladder descending into a deep pit with text like "Scream" over the top. Very popular pieces and disturbing in a doomsday scenario kind of way. The photo was shot looking down into the barrel.


On the lighter side, Roberts & Tilton Gallery had a Barry McGee piece, "Untitled (Pimple)" 34x37", mixed media on 4 panels.

Jorge Pardo's work was on display at Galerie Sabine Knust from Germany. These pieces had a delicate quality as he integrated geometric shapes with plants and flowers. Excellent composition with a palette that is stimulating and meditative at the same time.

  I couldn't resist shooting this piece because it reminded me of a joke we had in art school, "If you can't make it good, make it big, if you can't make it big, make it red." With apologies to the artist and those into minimalism.

     I saw paintings at two locations by Peter Opheim (born in Germany in 1961 and now living in New Mexico), this piece was at Boltax Gallery. Eye catchy, fairly large with quirky imagery, they look like playful creatures sculpted out of animation clay or Play-Doh, arranged and then painted (quite nicely) by the artist. At first glance, they seem to be based on cartoons, but there's an edge of darkness, maybe eeriness, to them. He states that "an optimistic view of life is just as valid as a pessimistic one" and that he uses "imaginary figures to express what it means to be human."

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