From Fair to Festival: A Report on Art Basel/Miami Beach
Art Basel/Miami Beach, Miami Beach Convention Center, December 3 to December 6, 2015
Before detailing the manifold seductions of Art Basel/Miami Beach as the site of a virtual festival of the arts, it should be noted that the anchor fair was in good form. In fact, we thought that this year’s fair featured better examples and greater diversity than those of the past few years. The highly selected 267 galleries representing 32 countries brought to Miami Beach many of the popular blue-chip artists we read about in well-advertised one-person shows and contemporary art auctions. For those far from the Whitney Museum Frank Stella retrospective, many galleries displayed his paintings, providing a mini-Stella exhibition. There were also outrageous works like a 7-foot tall pair of blue and white polar bears by Paola PIVI made of foam, plastic and feathers at Galerie Perrotin and ingenious works like the wooden stools by John Preus at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery made from materials salvaged from recently closed Chicago Public Schools and selling for $800.00. Disturbingly, this year’s fair even included an actual stabbing event that was misinterpreted by some fair goers as performance art and others as an act of terrorism. We also sampled several of the close to twenty satellite fairs spread throughout Miami and Miami Beach and found the quality generally high.
There was a time just fourteen years ago when Art Basel/Miami Beach was a singular event of excellence that was accompanied by a handful of satellite fairs for those priced out of the main event or in search of emerging artists. While it is still a top-notch fair, its role has changed. Now, for art lovers internationally and for the Miami area, it gradually has taken on the role of a catalyst that sets in motion a veritable festival of the arts—in the spirit of Black Mountain College where many art forms collided and interacted. Indeed, one of the most Black Mountain-like events involved a collaboration between Silas Riener, a former Merce Cunningham dancer, and Martha Friedman, a Brooklyn-based creator of seductive soft sculptures that morphed into dance costumes at the Pore exhibition at Locust Projects.
The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, provided a powerful dialogue between the great Holocaust poet, Paul Celan and the Holocaust-drenched sculpture and painting of Anselm Kiefer at the top of his angst-filled game. In Geheimnis der Farne, weighing 50,000 lbs and set in a 2,500 square-foot room built especially for it, the common theme shared by the poet and the sculptor was a focus on ferns, a powerful metaphor for time, given their status as the ancestors of all plants. Along with two other major sculptures and several paintings and drawings occupying 18,000 square feet, this group of seven works is the largest exhibition of Kiefer’s work in the United States to date. In a neighboring room at Margulies’ Warehouse is another compelling dialogue — an immersive sound installation by the Turner-prize winner, Susan Phillipsz, dedicated to the Oscar-winning Austrian composer, Hanns Eisler. Using 12 speakers and 12 canvases, she depicts the struggles of this talented composer who went into exile and emigrated to New York in 1938 after the Nazis banned his work. Ten years later, after writing numerous movie scores in Los Angeles, he was investigated by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, blacklisted, and finally deported. Each speaker plays one violin note that collectively combine to form somber tones accompanying the canvases that reveal Eisler’s handwritten and notated archival scores, under the typewritten reports from his FBI file with their own handwriting and deletions. Together with Magulies’ permanent collection of sculpture and photographs, the Warehouse is an essential destination for any serious art lover.
An additional collaboration occurred outside on the terrace of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in a newly commissioned, three hour multimedia extravaganza spread across eight stages. Each featured a dancer choreographed by the popular visual and performance artist Ryan McNamara and an accompanying musician or vocalist performing a new composition written by the British music sensation, Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange). Each duo, bathed in a different colored light, performed a unique routine that encouraged a kind of “movable feast”. Inside PAMM was an outstanding exhibition of nine West Australian Aboriginal artists from the Miami-based collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl. Among the standouts were works by Warlimpirringa Tjapaljarri whose recent exhibition of swirling lines of small dots at Salon 94 in New York City was mesmerizing in its gentle opticality.
Another powerful strand of this festival of the arts was the presence of two well-selected surveys of Los Angeles Light and Space Art. At the Surf Club in Miami Beach, Joachim Pissarro, in consultation with Terence Riley and John Keenan, curated LAX – MIA: Light + Space, which included both vintage and new sculptures as well as recent paintings by Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Mary Corse, John McCracken, Laddie John Dill, Helen Pashgian, and DeWain Valentine. Set in an airy glass-encased building by Richard Meier right off the ocean, it provided an East Coast simulation of the Light and Space that so inspired the West Coast artists represented here. The curators of this show, who used this exhibition to launch their consulting group, Parallel LLC, exemplified another theme of this year’s art week, namely, new attempts to combine art, architecture and design. This was also in evidence at the Design Miami Fair where the interdisciplinary collaborative, Revolution, introduced Volu, (a prefabricated dining pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid and Patrick Schumacher), which also included the participation of the designer, Marcel Wanders on a panel held inside the new structure.
The other Light and Space exhibition occurred at Miami’s MANA in Made in California: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Collection. Among the approximately 100 exhibited works chosen from Weisman’s trove of more than 1300 paintings and sculptures made in the Golden State since the 1950s was a dimly lit chapel-like room. It featured a striking Corner Lamp by Larry Bell and an exquisite white disc by Robert Irwin with its classic four overlapping shadows.
Beyond these two Light and Space surveys was, in effect, a mini-retrospective of Larry Bell, the emperor of chemically-coated glass, a technique that created lyrical and ambiguous qualities in his sculptures. In addition to his iconic cubes on display in at least three different galleries at the fairs, another unusual standout was Bell’s island of thirty-six specially treated six-foot square sheets of standing grey, clear, and partially-coated glass panels. First exhibited at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, it is now presented at the White Cube’s space in Miami’s Design District. This compelling standing wall installation changes dramatically as one moves through and around the glass panes and as they absorb, reflect and transmit the different amounts of daylight.
Given our recently re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, it is not surprising that Cuban art was very much in evidence in the fairs, galleries, and museums. A standout was the first U.S. exhibition of Gustavo Pérez Monzón at CIFO. The 70 drawings and installations were completed between 1979 and the late 1980s at the height of his prominence in the Cuban art community. Combining aspects of Geometric Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism, he used Tarot cards, numerological concepts and a variety of fragile and mixed media on board to represent abstract systems which are simultaneously quasi-logical and emotionally evocative. For this exhibition, he also re-created a complex room-size spider-web-like installation using the elastic threads from socks along with stones and wire.
Our six days in the Miami area left us with our heads spinning. For this year, at least, there is simply nothing on the North American art calendar like the broad array of high-level aesthetic choices available during the week of Art Basel/Miami Beach. We left wanting to see more, but comforted in knowing that we’ll have another chance next December.
Also discussed in this Report
Anselm Kiefer: Paintings, Sculpture, Installation, and Susan Phillipsz: Innovative Sound Installation, The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, October 29, 2015 to April 30, 2016
No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting at Pérez Art Museum Miami, September 17, 2015 to January 3, 2016
LAX – MIA: Light + Space, Curated by Parallel LLC, The Surf Club’s Richard Meier Pavilion, Miami, December 2 to December 12, 2015
Volu Dining Pavilion: Zaha Hadid and Patrick Schumacher for Revolution at Design Miami, December 2 to December 6, 2015
Made in California: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Collection at MANA, Wynwood, December 3 to December 6, 2015
Larry Bell 6 x 6: An Improvisation at White Cube, 3930 NE Second Avenue, Melin Building, December 2, 2015 to January 9, 2016
Gustavo Pérez Monzón: Tramas, Selected Works from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection at CIFO Art Space , Miami, December 2, 2015 to May 1, 2016