CUTTING-EDGE CONTEMPORARY ART AT THE MIAMI FAIRS
Last weekend from December 5th through 8th, Miami became the center of the art world with artists, gallerists, curators and collectors flying in to attend the major Art Basel Miami Beach fair and numerous other satellite art fairs. Besides US-based galleries, there were a large number of galleries from Europe, Canada, Chile, Korea and Japan. There was a lot to take in, from parties to public art installations, but the week definitely was an exhilarating overview of current trends and movements in contemporary art around the globe.
Art Basel Miami Beach is a prominent and highly prestigious fair, not only in Miami but worldwide. (There are two other editions of the fair: the original in Basel, Switzerland and its newest venture in Hong Kong.) A select number of established galleries are chosen to exhibit, displaying renowned “blue-chip” artists and artworks often priced upwards of $50,000. This year, however, the fair stirred up quite a controversy—you might have already heard about it! Conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan sold two of his sculptures entitled ‘Comedian,’ consisting of a banana duct-taped to the booth wall, for $140,000 each. There was such a crowd to see this work that rope lines had to be erected for crowd-control. Then, on Saturday, another artist took the banana from the wall and ate it, sparking even more of a news frenzy, and by Sunday the work had been taken down for safety.
Two satellite fairs that left a great impression on me were CONTEXT and UNTITLED, not only for the quality of art shown there but also the curation of the booths. CONTEXT focuses on emerging and mid-career artists, so it is a great space for discovery. UNTITLED, a staple of the Miami fair scene, featured inventive uses of surprising mediums like aluminum, aluminium mesh and textile to achieve dynamic effects that stood out compared to traditional paintings. For example, Madagascan artists Joël Andrianomearisoa presented a new series of canvases layered with strips of multicolored fabrics.
One artist that particularly stood out to me at CONTEXT was Antonio Sannino, an established painter from Naples. Inspired by the legacy of Italian masters of traditional landscape painting, as well as his own passion for travel, Antonio’s paintings explore modern scenes like chaotic city streets. He uses an interesting technique of combining thick oil paint and resin on aluminum, producing an eye-catching surface.
With its tent pitched right on the sand and live music playing, the scene at SCOPE Miami Beach was upbeat and festive. The fair was absolutely packed with art and people, including quite a few selfie-takers. This year, SCOPE launched a special section exploring contemporary Chinese art, which was fascinating. Curated sections of a fair can be a great way to immerse yourself in a particular genre, without feeling overloaded by browsing too many artists, mediums and subjects at once.
PULSE art fair is another Miami mainstay, showing cutting-edge contemporary works at affordable price points. One of the showstopper installations was a vibrant series of paintings and sculptures by South African artist Ralph Ziman, presented by a gallery in Los Angeles. He incorporates complex glass beadwork in traditional patterns made in collaboration with artisans from Zimbabwe and the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. Each work takes months to complete, and the final result is simply extraordinary.
I also attended Aqua Art Miami, hosted at the Aqua Hotel in South Beach. This fair offers a refreshing alternative to the standard tent-and-booth setup by instead giving each of the 62 participating galleries a room in the hotel. All the furniture was removed, so each room was completely transformed into exhibition spaces that you could pop into as you made your way down the hallway. There were also performances happening throughout the fair, such as live tattooing, and overall there was a friendly and engaging atmosphere.
Over the span of just two days, I attended more than seven art fairs, each showing dozens of galleries and hundreds of artists—by the end of each day, after hopping from tent to tent to hotel, I definitely needed to take a step back and rest my eyes. But, I left with a reinvigorated passion for art, exposed to so many new ideas and techniques and exposure to art and artists and galleries from all over the world, which one does not get to see otherwise. It’s always inspiring to see so many artists pursuing their dreams and pushing their practices forward.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan