Published  16/12/2014

Art Basel Miami Beach: 14th Edition

Art Basel Miami Beach: 14th Edition

This year’s fair was all about art as entertainment – and it didn’t disappoint. With more than 250 galleries, sales ranging up to $4.5m for a Warhol, and celebrity buyers such as P Diddy and Leonardo DiCaprio, it was clear as one noted director said that ‘happy’ is what’s happening now

Art Basel Miami Beach
2-7 December 2014


There is no comparing Art Basel Miami Beach to any other art fair. Apart from its focus on selling, it is motley and disparate, an indoor-outdoor caravanserai of human energy, talent, hope and desire. At once the stage for serious art and for art as promotion, it satisfies both as a seminar on art-making and as the ultimate selfie. Escaped from the walls of the main fair’s convention centre, the stage, as with all outdoor theatre, bleeds out to the perimeters, with Art Basel now the logo for the 17 satellite fairs, pop-up exhibitions, spontaneous productions and performances that extended this year to a waterfront concept-fair in downtown Miami and a thrift store in Little Haiti.

No one can claim to have “done” the fair – it is too large and dispersed for everyone to have experienced it the same way, which makes for interesting comparisons on the plane going home, rapturous sharing of highpoints paired with the inevitable letdown of having missed this or that installation, off-piste gallery, beach happening or after-party. I, too, although a Miami snowbird (translation: have apartment and car there) and can zip around easily, fell short of doing it all, but found this year’s all-you-can-see marathon filling and exhilarating.

The action started on Tuesday across the bay with a clutch of satellite fairs that took a jump on ABMB’s Wednesday VIP Convention Centre opening. The outlier, Miami Project, brought the white tent total to five, anchored by Art Miami, which, for its 25th edition, stretched to more than 200,000 sq feet to include its newer gallery fair, Context, and fronted 130 galleries representing 15 countries. None opened before 5.30pm, making sprinters of those planning to take them all in before dinner, but the quality of work shown at Art Miami alone made for cancelled reservations right and left.

Showstoppers ranged the gamut from a chandelier hugging the floor and pieced from repurposed porcelain figurines sourced from thrift stores (“to show,” said the artist, “what no one wants any more”), to Simón Vega’s installation of a Miami Dollar General Store (commenting on the only things affordable for the neighbouring Haitian community), to paper busts that assistants unwound like Slinkys (speaking to the illusion of permanence). Two pristine wood Louise Nevelsons showing close by a Jeff Koons engaged an unforeseen dialogue between hand and factory production values. A museum quality Wifredo Lam painting and an Augustín Cárdenas bronze fronted a strong Latin American presence. A wall of Cy Twombly photographs was a teaching moment (“who knew he took pictures?”) And a Banksy (I kid you not) plunked in an intersection for all to trip over attested to the voluntary surrender of street art to the art market.

This year, the opening day of the main fair in the Convention Center was limited to VIP admission, although the list was greatly expanded making for a saner experience for both collectors and dealers. Once past the grumpy, roped-off cattle line, the pace slowed and the mood lifted. With 267 galleries (46 more than last year), there was a lot to digest. At the fair’s vortex, Larry Gagosian held court alongside the black marble Jeff Koons girlie planter that was hot off the sellout exhibition that closed Manhattan’s uptown Whitney Museum, and looked four times as large here. “I had pleaded with them not to place it below ground level, but I wasn’t the curator,” the mega-dealer offered, in a rare admission of leached power. Radiating out from the centre in diminishing order of prestige were fellow heavy-hitters. At the Gmurzynska Gallery, notable for a Kabinett schoolroom installation of A Kid Could Do That!, which exhibited big name art by such as Joan Miró and Kazimir Malevich that a naive viewer might still think his child could make, I witnessed a bidding war for a Picasso. Old-time dealer Ursula Kritzinger, ever at the edge since she introduced a work of Paul McCarthy that rocked Miami 25 years ago (bought by the Rubells, of course), presented a wild, in-your-face chronicle of some crazy Los Angeles character that had absolutely no sale potential, but was held heroic for documenting the powerful 1960’s moment that started it all. Crowds lined up at Sleeping Performance, a Marina Abramović installation sponsored by the Fondation Beyeler, to don noise-blocking earphones and lie down on cots, even though the artist was pointedly not present (ditto, two other “relaxing” installations conceived for the fair that involved a slow-motion walk and counting rice, to bring “a sense of awareness to the here and now”, and – not incidentally – to promote her forthcoming institute).

Sales were swift, across prices that ranged from $4.5m (£2.86m) for a Warhol 1973 Mao to $4,500 for a small, Polly Apfelbaum ceramic. Sean “ P Diddy” Combs relieved Sadie Coles of a Sam Durant, Marianne Boesky sold Leonardo DiCaprio a 1973 Frank Stella, whose retrospective will open the new Whitney Museum, and Paul Kasmin sold Michael Jesselson Iván Navarro’s light piece, BOMB; at Pace MacGill, photography collector Joseph Cohen snapped up a Josef Koudelka, and the Galerie Thomas Shulte sold the last of Robert Wilson’s portraits of Lady Gaga as an Ingres from his master painting series, revealed to be a video only by her fluttering earrings. Word was that mega-collectors Steven Cohen and Peter Brant, advisers at their heels, were buying too, though dealers wouldn’t say what. None reported selling to Eli Broad – he may have been recovering from the press breakfast given that morning to announce plans for the 2015 opening in Los Angeles of his private museum. 

New to the fair was a sector called Survey, bringing gravitas with a deliberately digital-free zone that called on 13 galleries to present tightly curated historical projects – the standout, New York artist Alison Knowles’s The Boat Book, 2014, eight 8ft-high, wood-framed movable pages covered with images described by her dealer, James Fuentes, as “seminal social sculpture” that is “read” by crawling through it.

Edition, the sector devoted to prints, proved a big draw, its bright colours radiating out the fair’s overall message. “Colour makes people happy,” noted Pace director Kristin Heming, “and ‘happy’ is what’s happening now”. Her observation was borne out by what sold out right away, led by Nick Cave’s “hustle coat” at the Jack Shainman Gallery, Annie Morris’s totems at Winston Wachter Fine Art, and Cory Arcangel’s Technicolor compositions at Team Gallery.

Overall, the fair was judged better than ever. Leading Miami gallerist Fredric Snitzer observed: “The quality was more consistent than past years, the booths were better executed, and you could really get a pulse on what’s happening now in contemporary art.” Asked how he read the pulse, Snitzer replied: “Contemporary art is more and more entertaining, with artists saying, ‘I bet you didn’t think I could do this – isn’t it cool?’ With production largely out of their hands, the work is getting bigger and wilder. Even ‘hand-made’ is misleading – it could be physically handled by 500 workers in China! In my heart of hearts, I don’t really care – it doesn’t impact on great work – but it produces a lot of razzle dazzle, and that’s what is happening now – art as entertainment.”

What entertained? iPad photography is having a moment; placed behind strategic apertures in images painted on canvas or wood, they startle the passerby with a blinking eye, say, or smoke curling from a cigarette, or an insect crawling across what had seemed like a still-life. There were accomplished riffs on master paintings (Jean-François Rauzier on da Vinci; Robert Wilson on Dürer, photographer Chan-Hyo BAE on Elizabeth I, Masami Teraoka on Renaissance altarpieces), and an ubiquitous shorthand commentary of words, snide, wry, or provocative – “For Sale”, “Exit”, “Heroes”, “Not Yet Titled” – that were painted or scribbled, but predominantly drawn, in neon. The fire department had the latter roped off as fire hazards – even the large Jason Rhoades at David Zwirner, who has clout – with the exception of Martin Creed’s “People” at Gavin Brown, which revolved on a tall-enough pole. The return word was “enough-already”, a general fair fatigue with cute sayings: still, they must be saying a great deal to a great many because most sold on the first day, with all cameras recording Mel Bochner’s 2010 Blah Blah Blah. Mirrors popped up everywhere – at Gagosian, Paula Cooper, and all the satellite fairs; serving to update Narcissus to our selfie era, they offered art as reassurance – you are here, you’re looking good, and you don’t need to know anything more – while belying fabrication far beyond the pioneering mirror works of Michelangelo Polidori.

Abstract art still rules, if with overtones of chic, perilously close to a fashion statement; I overheard one buyer asking if the gallery had a blue version of a red-inflected canvas that he liked. To Snitzer’s point, there was a great deal of exhaustively manipulated work; Syrian photographer Hrair Sarkissian recreated and destroyed an architecturally exact model of the house his parents are still living in, Urs Fischer planted an elaborate installation under a flurry of green raindrops, and Mickalene Thomas crafted a walk-in room in homage to her mother that recreated her lamp, favourite chair and a diary of personal items such as lipsticks, jewellery and underwear cast in bronze. Speaking perhaps to a strengthening economy, bronze anchored installations across the board, from Peter Marino’s cast bronze boxes, to a Georg Baselitz sculpture, to rocks cast to simulate ash. And what is it with rocks? They penetrated all the fairs, and, at the Martin Margulies warehouse, Michael Heizer’s longtime three-boulder installation birthed Trashstone 412 by Wilhelm Mundt (2008) and Leuk Stone Circle by Richard Long (2000). Scattered, composed, stacked, embedded, painted and glued, rocks ousted the vitrine as the cool embodiment of concept.

On the wane, at least by dealer choice, were photography and video – though the exceptions were strong: high-definition works by Brian Bress sold well at Cherry and Martin at the fair’s Nova section, as did Adam Magyar’s super-slow-motion videos at Julie Saul and the Edward Burtynskys at Howard Greenberg. Sex snuck in, as though by a back door, at Kicken Berlin’s Kabinett showing of German photographers, with Helmut Newton’s frontal nude fashion models, but the druggy nude males and nude Tracey Emin moments of past years are snuffed out.

And not one 3D-printed work could I find – each time I thought to uncover one, it turned out to be painstakingly crafted by hand. It seems that, although home-printer prices are tumbling, they can turn out only very small pieces, making large work counterproductive. It is coming, of course, and storied photography dealer Peter MacGill, for one, cannot wait. “It will be as revolutionary as the camera and the computer!”

More than ever before, the newness tracked to concurrent openings. None who saw One Way: Peter Marino, at the Bass Museum, will ever forget it. Pairing the architect and designer famous for dressing in metal-inflected black leather and for catering to brands of the level of Chanel, Dior and Bulgari, with a museum founded on a collection of Renaissance art seemed an oxymoron until heading up the ramp into a world that functioned as a Renaissance cabinet of curiosities. Walls lacquered the deepest black by celluloid filmstrips purportedly charged with images from Marino’s past lives led into rooms containing standouts of his obsessive collecting (who else owns 13 Anselm Kiefers?) that were inserted in the walls as into alcoves, totalling more than 135 works of art and “tons” of architectural projects. As remarkable were the architect’s 2014 artist commissions – the word Paradise spelled out with knives by Farhad Moshiri, Guy Limone’s Red, Black and Grey-White Tapestry composed of photocopies of digital collages, and Erwin Wurm’s sculpture of Marino as a skeleton, wearing only his trademark hat and coat. Explaining to a circle of admirers how his work, his self and his collecting are interlocked, Marino referenced his purchase of a Richard Deacon sculpture and, two years later, for a building he designed in Singapore, his commission of a large Deacon, which then inspired a building he constructed in Los Angeles.

Marino’s imprint crossed the bay to Design Miami/ where he was given an award and a stand-alone space for his collection of chairs, architectural maquettes and cast-bronze boxes. Under the new leadership of Rodman Primack, who made his mark in London as chairman of Phillips de Pury & Company, the tented design fair translated the branding sponsorship of Perrier-Jouët, Audi, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Swarovski into the dazzle of such over-the-top showpieces as a glittered sculpture of King Kong climbing Dubai’s Burj Khalifa hotel, a monumental wood-hewn structure commissioned from Seattle architect Olson Kundig to house the cafeteria, furniture commissioned by Herman Miller from French modernist Pierre Paulin circa 1972, but realised only now, and a stream of technology-driven works involving a table whose motor sensors raised handcrafted metal flora at the viewer’s approach, a clock spinning out countless time zones beforesettling on local time, and an installation by architect Jeanne Gang and photographer James Balog involving a resin iceberg, pierced with brilliants and set against an Arctic panorama.  

Two fairs put down stakes on the beach this year, with Pulse setting up tent on 46th street to cash in on the past year’s success of Untitled, 35 blocks to the south. They drew young crowds and neophytes, dressed for show, iPhones in hand to record works in the $30,000 range that sold in editions – prints, sculpture and photographs – so that even should some fly off the walls in the heat of the moment, the hesitant would find others tomorrow. Off-site galleries offered strong artist-is-present showings: at Central Fine on Normandy Drive, airbrushed paintings by Hubert Bush; at Emerson Dorsch, Back On Earth, hatched by Miami locals, Hugo Montoya and Brandon Opalka; at Locust Projects Daniel Arsham’s fierce intervention into the gallery floor, 25 feet wide and up to 3 feet deep, filled with artefacts from the recent past (a bashed-up guitar, a push-button telephone, radios, blown tyres – painstakingly recreated in concentric circles of volcanic ash, crystal and steel, and all sourced from eBay. Public art weighed in joyously at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens with Dale Chihuly’s riotous explosion of glass plantings, and at Collins Park with Fieldwork, 25 outdoor installations, many specially commissioned, such as Ernesto Neto’s Cor-Ten steel hammock (nós sonhando) and Elmgreen & Dragset’s bronze child on a rocking chair (Powerless Structures). Curated by Public Art Fund’s British director Nicholas Baume, it was tagged by conceptual artist Ryan Gander with a gift to Baume of two security guards who shadowed him through the week – the concept being, said Gander, that “no one ever recognises art directors, though they should be celebrities, so by flanking Baume with two big guys, everyone will think he’s important. And when the fair is just a memory, what will linger is the image of this very important person who went around with two guards.”

Brilliantly combining world-serious and Miami playful, the Rubell Family Collection offered a mini-retrospective selected from its more than 6,300 works and 800 artists, as well as work commissioned for the exhibition from the likes of Mark Flood, Aaron Curry, Kaari Upson, Will Boone and, from newcomer Lucy Dodd, a room-long abstract painting inspired by Picasso’s Guernica (watch her prices jump – the Rubells are opinion-makers, as we’ve seen with Hernan Bas among others). Marked by a 700-page catalogue, Thursday’s breakfast celebration climaxed with a food performance staged by daughter Jennifer Rubell, celebrating her parents’ Don and Mera’s 50th wedding anniversary, with them in formal dress at the centre of long tables seating revellers behind white-frosted wedding cakes that were spooned out to anyone up for a sugar rush. Together with Peter Marino’s dinner around a table for 300 that stretched along an entire blocked-off street of the Design Center, they were the perfect metaphor for art, art fairs, and now art collectors, as the new entertainment.

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