All art is at once surface and symbol
Art Basel 2023 got us looking at our own backyard and reminded of Oscar Wilde's words as works using mirrors were abundant.
Stories may be many from this year’s art week, as they usually are. With the main fair at the convention center having restricted entry on nonpublic days (which may have delayed entry to many, yours truly included) we had time to visit other venues and fairs. And how wonderful they were. And that may just be the story to tell this year: how the city’s contemporary art scene has matured. Bret Sokol’s recent article in the New York Times entitled Miami has matured into a Cultural Capital. What’s Next? is a great read that seconds this idea and questions how the recent spike in cost of living may influence the city’s future. But that’s a topic for another conversation.
Our favorite story came from Mexican artist Hector Mendoza. As we entered a booth in the main show attracted by a huge sculpture of a wolf-like creature hanging from the back wall, Mendoza came smiling towards us and readily told us it was called Coyota, a tribute to his aunt Zenaida, who was one of the few females to smuggle immigrants across the Mexico-US border. She realized women were often beat and raped by the mostly male coyotes, after paying dearly for their services, so she took on the job to protect them as well as make a profit.
Here is some of what we saw, in the order we saw it:
Progressive Art Brunch
On the eve of art week, Progressive Art Brunch offered excellent shows by participating local galleries. N’Nambi Contemporary’s America has a Problem showed stark critical art by Tylonn Sawyer and a brunch from heaven while at Pan American Art Projects’ wonderfully enthusiastic curator Dr. Ross Kaplan welcomed us with a comprehensive tour of its group show Text / Image a series of works exploring the connection between language and art. On view at Andrew Reed, the new kid in town, After Rainfall, lush hyper-realistic floral paintings and watercolors by Kate Bickmore.
La Cometa opened its doors in Miami after a year-long renovation. The gallery was founded in Bogotá, Colombia in 1987 and in 2019 expanded within the country, to Medellín and later the same year to Madrid, Spain. The inaugural show in their spacious building brought works by 3 artists, each exploring current issues such as mental health by Camilo Restrepo in Perpetuo, and environmental perils by Miguel Ángel Rojas in 400 Golpes. Ricardo Cárdenas’ gestural sculptures Intersecciones Aleatorias II occupied their garden. We were lucky to meet, upon entrance, Esteban Jaramillo (co-owner alongside his brother and father), who gave us a passionate tour of the show.
A long white tent is built on the sands of Miami Beach each year to host the very popular independent art fair Untitled. That’s where we headed next to encounter Leo Castañeda (read recent interview here) literally surrounded by his paintings, which covered all the walls of Negrón Pizarro Gallery. A screen and chair were at the center and invited visitors to play his video game Levels and Bosses. Next we got reacquainted with Micaela, whom we met earlier this year in Mexico City, from the excellent Paris-based gallery Afrikaris. At Untitled they exhibited intriguing pointillist paintings by Senegalese artist Osmane Niang. At Finnish Galerie Forsblom artist Jenni Hiltunen’s painting In Bloom depicts a young casually dressed woman staring at the viewer, her gaze at the same time unapologetic and vulnerable, the strong contours reminiscent of Alice Neel’s portraits.
Miami Design District
The Miami Design District offered an eclectic programming themed Art Takes Form. Italian architect and designer Gaetano Pesce showed many of his pieces and was present for the opening, ready to strike a conversation. Upon congratulating him on the show he asked us if we thought the pieces were fun, which we certainly did. Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch collaborated on a group show, Forms, that explored the idea of abstraction alluding to the human figure. French artist JR’s mural collage The Chronicles of Miami, was unveiled during Miami Art Week. There were several other public art installations and in-store commissions offered by the neighborhood.
Also in the neighborhood is Charles Gaines: 1992–2023 a wonderful survey of the conceptual artist presented by the ICA Miami that traces the evolution of his practice and occupies two floors of the museum. Airplanecrashclock (1997–2007), one of his “disaster machines”, which regularly initiates a miniature catastrophe of an airplane crashing into a city is included in this show (see video below). Advancing his tree series started in the 1970s, this show also includes his Southern Trees series where he uses pecan trees photographed on a visit to Boone Hall Plantation, in Charleston County, South Carolina, not far from where the artist was born and lived until he was five years old. Gaines’ deeply complex and meticulous work stimulates our minds and points us towards the ways that systems affect our lives.
Galleries presenting at Design Miami were invited to respond to this year’s theme Where we Stand, selected by its curatorial director Anna Carrick, reflecting on place, purpose, community and heritage. Her statement starts with a quote by novelist and activist Elif Shafak “Stories bring us together. Untold stories keep us apart.” It continues, explaining that “ Where we Stand spotlights the role design plays in reflecting and responding to the world around us. Ranging from joyful personal expressions to socially-conscious responses to our era’s most pressing issues, the narrative-driven works demonstrate design’s potential to support community-building, cultural preservation, social and environmental justice, and beyond.”
Art Basel Miami Beach
The convention center was exciting. We visited more than once and were happy to find more local galleries (Spinello Projects, Fred Snitzer, Central Fine, and Emerson Dorsch). Hallways seemed wider and coffee stands more abundant. For this edition 277 galleries in 6 different sectors. We saw wonderful work by Vivian Sutter at House of Gaga (CDMX, Mexico); Dalton Paula at James Fuentes (New York City, USA); Reginald O’Neal’s sculpture at Spinello Projects (Miami, USA); Lauren deal Roche at Eric Firestone (New York City, USA) and more. We also noticed an unusual abundance of artwork using mirrors. Are artists inviting us to look deeper into ourselves? Or do they reflect our collective narcissism? I prefer to think most aimed for the former. Here is some of what we saw.