Published  22/12/2015

Art Basel Miami Beach 2015

Art Basel Miami Beach 2015

Although its subtext was sales, fair week provided a swirl for the senses. A dizzying array of work was attended by more than 35,000 artists, curators, collectors and viewers (77,000 if you include the satellite fairs). ABMB 2015 remained, by its size, reach and gravitas, at the top of its game

Art Basel Miami Beach
1-6 December 2015


Read the blogs and you would think Art Basel Miami Beach a pop-up, and the surrounding activities a Dionysian revel. Bounced off the klieg-lights of the Miami Heat basketball team playoffs, Monday’s hip-hop performance by Jean Wyclef at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), whose throbbing finale saw Jorge Pérez himself hoisted on to the sound blaster’s shoulders, Tuesday’s Design District kickoff with songster Lenny Kravitz moonlighting as a photographer at his “Flash” show, and art hipster Jeffrey Deitch parading a motorcycle gang and artist Rashaad Newsome’s band through the streets, premiered ABMB week as a y’all-come hot happening. Happily, those who came for the art found a lot more.

The fair that launched in 2002 as a veiled excuse to sell real estate, this time around showcased 267 galleries and close to 4,000 artists, spawned 20 satellite fairs, green-lighted countless pop-up events and, for six days and counting, turned Miami into a city of hope. Attended by more than 35,000 artists, curators, collectors and viewers, ABMB 2015 remained, by its size, reach and gravitas, at the top of its game. Although its subtext was sales, fair week provided a swirl for the senses, with sound scraping the walls and fresh graffiti jumping off them. On the beach, across the bay and down the streets, its visual palette was Art – more art than you can search online in a day or a West Chelsea run-through in a week in New York.

Monday served as a teaser with back-to-back openings of a handful of cutting-edge galleries – Gallery Diet among them with an outstanding one-person show of Ann Craven’s moonscapes – that are pioneering new, almost hot art zones in Little Haiti and Little River.

Tuesday jumpstarted the action with a first-time collaboration between the art world’s premier power foxes, Larry Gagosian and Deitch, who filled four floors of the Moore Building with more than 100 works by 50 artists that explicitly addressed the human figure. The sculpture, placed randomly to break up that numbing march down the wall, involved materials that ranged from a Duane Hanson clothed grandmother to a replaceable Urs Fischer melting candlewax full-length portrait of Zhou Yinghua (AKA Michael Chow – coincidental that Gagosian held the after-party at Chow’s W eatery?) More compelling, if not to everyone’s taste, were the cheek-by-jowl vibrant canvasses, painted the old-fashioned way, brush held in hand, by mostly unfamiliar artists whose commanding imagery countered the Jean-Michel Basquiat conceit of leaving the viewer to decipher a work’s meaning. Titled Unrealism – as much to indicate the show’s focus on the heightened and surreal as to comment on the ubiquitous label “untitled”, which serves as a lazy catch-all for work too of-the-moment to reference history, antecedents or fully thought-out ideas – the show was a not-to-miss tour de force, a revelation of the power of extreme figuration to elucidate the human condition – Tala Madani, Emily Mae Smith and Jonathan Gardner were among the standouts, with Jenny Saville, Richard Prince and John Currin among the 11 artists upholding the Gagosian brand.

Wednesday, as reported, the main event opened quietly – the early-entry VIP invitations having been cut down to time-tested collectors – but the press was too hasty to attribute the first hours’ hush to poor sales. If, in contrast to the satellite fairs where works priced between $20,000 (£13,286) and $40,000 were flying off walls, main fair buyers were taking their time, making notes, and smart-phone researching comparable gallery and auction sales, it was but to validate such hefty purchases as a 1954, $15m Francis Bacon, a 1971, $10.5m Picasso, two multimillion-dollar Warhol Mao paintings and a $2m Jasper Johns Savarin coffee can monotype! There were no gee-whiz installations, but Jimmie Durham’s classic sculpture of a car crushed by a monolith, and a flashy assemblage anchored by a dead tree that Ai Weiwei had rendered in bronze provided irresistible photo-ops.

Virtually gone were fragile materials and unstable surfaces – the coffee, chocolate, feathers, blood, ashes and living plants that have been plaguing museum curators – though brilliantly executed exceptions, such as the collaged paintings Egan Frantz builds up from toilet paper traversed by blue-painted bicycle treads at the Michael Jon Art Nova space, sold out. Defining the fair experience, the work on exhibit was, as ever, largely market-driven, targeting maximum impact and branded recognition, but quality was high, with many presentations curated for reflection, grouped for immersion, and closely edited for sheer viewing pleasure.

The fair itself has matured; whether the consequence of a perceived market softening, or of the increasingly onerous expense of shipping, installing, lighting, staffing and lodging, gallerists had played it safe, or, more kindly, saleable, with material chosen less for eye-candy than depth. Highlights were rareties such as an André Kertész at Howard Greenberg, one of the mirror-distorted nudes from his famed Distortion series; a stellar bronze Mel Kendrick sculpture at David Nolan; and the pristine solo presentation of Robert Mangold’s serene geometrics at Elvira González.

Marginalised for the most part, shiny pieces wrought by a team but produced as art and sold as art ceded to work “executed by the artist”, as captioned under at least one work on display. And my 3D-printing fears proved premature. I could find only a dozen or so works thus produced, but that one was by Frank Stella and three were being shown by the eminent Berlin Galerie Thomas Schulte was unsettling.

Fair fatigue was limited to: “If I see one more Anish Kapoor …!” By and large, viewers seemed reassured by the ubiquitous presence of Alex Katz and positively thrilled by the repeating portraits of Chuck Close as they glimpsed the artist himself manoeuvring his wheelchair between them, agreeable to photo-ops and dialogue with strangers.

Sparsely attended, due mainly to their corner positions, but of a seriousness that moved the fair experience into the realm of exploration and learning, were the closely curated special sections devoted to specific concerns such as (genuinely) emerging artists (Nova), work on paper or with media new to the artist (Editions), thoughtful mini-retrospectives (Kabinett) and rising international talent (Positions). Of particular significance, historical work overlooked by the market (Survey) called on the viewer to recalibrate: what, in the end, constitutes the art of today, that selected by the committee selecting the galleries, which in turn select the work to be shown – or the work being made by artists with no gallery, often working right under your nose?

The sign of when a fair grows up is when irony sets in. None seemed to pick up on the paradox of Larry Bell’s stunning installation over a glitzy clothing store of The Factor of 36, his historic chrome-coated glass panels angled into a maze. Or on the move of the fiercely not-for-profit, affordably priced New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) fair to the shiny, unaffordable Fontainebleau. Or on the storied Galerie Gmurzynska peddling paintings by Sylvestor Stallone. Or on the chance juxtaposition at ABMB of Joseph Kosuth’s conceptual white neon lettering and a Tracey Emin come-on pink neon that questioned whether art of the past can dialogue intelligently with art of today. Or on the worlds-apart slick NetJet’s flagship Bombardier Global 6000, parked at an outlying airfield, which Snarkitecture’s Miami artist Daniel Arsham had been hired to ornament, and the jaw-dropping, 4,000lb, full-scale replica of a Soviet MiG-21 fighter jet, painstakingly reproduced by Miami artist Asif Farooq, using only paper and glue, and on display in his studio. Or on co-sponsor Davidoff’s installation in the pristine Miami Beach Botanical Garden of a lounge where guests could learn how to blend and roll its polluting cigars. Strangest was the last-minute injunction against Cuban artist Carlos Rigau’s illegal immigrant piece involving a homemade raft he had planned to sail on to the beach – an illegal act become an illegal act once again. Wildest was the real-life stabbing that fairgoers thought a performance piece until reported otherwise by the press.

Thursday opened ABMB to the public and channelled the VIPs to the strongest of the satellite fairs. That the homegrown Art Miami together with its satellite, Context, now combines 215 exhibitors, testifies to its growing importance to the local and Latin markets. Astounding to come across a pristine 9ft (2.75m) Alexander Calder in the entryway, refreshing to find the ubiquitous Damien Hirsts and Jeff Koonses offset by closely edited booths such as that which Bernice Steinbaum curated around “The Peaceable Kingdom”.

Tented on the beach, the Untitled fair impressed with booths curated by Nyehaus and Albertz Benda around West Coast eminents Ron Davis (whose $300,000, nine-panel resin sold to Stallone) and Ed Moses (whose gridded interventions, priced at around $40,000, sold fast); and created something of a happening with installed seating on Lawrence Weiner benches lettered A Respite At Some Point ASAP,and a tiki bar “presented” by the artist collective Helper that offered an inhouse liquor-spiked carrot/ginger cocktail called Jooice.

Pulse, the notoriously feisty fair seen as a stepping stone to ABMB, was pared down this year to 80 galleries, all tried and true – and successful, judging by the strong sales reported by such seriously curated galleries as Winston Wächter and Danziger – but came off as curiously sanitised, at once overly safe and dangerously facile; its target installation of faux-pop an embarrassment – a selfie opportunity, at best.

NADA, dear to first-time collectors for its original material and low prices, held back on its usual outré installations, but did well with artfully crafted work such as a David Adamo bubblegum-pink deflated balloon and sold out of affordable, artist-made limited-edition souvenirs.

Public – planted in Collins Park, the outdoor sculpture fair served once more as a respite, an opportunity to play and engage with name art; young and old dialled the sun through Francisco Ugarte’s needled Sunlight, fingered the bronze lace of Ursula von Rydingsvard’s reworked Bluff, stroked Sterling Ruby’s scarlet lips, danced around Tony Cragg’s double twirled maypole, sat in Hank Willis Thomas’s bent steel speech-bubble benches, and climbed on Marianne Vitale’s intrepid heap of railroad yard steel scraps. Was Tony Tasset’s outsized Deer ornament commenting on garden kitsch, itself kitsch? No matter, I loved it.


More painting, tending to semi-abstract, as imagery edged out abstraction; such were Chris Ofili’s etched figurations that emerge as copulations out of a mottled blue backdrop, and Fondation Beyeler’s three-wall installation of tiled pixellation that in photographs reads as porn. Sculpture, sized to the table and outdoors; far less photography; and virtually no video.

Female artists as artists first. Hopefully, their strong showing at each venue will for ever put to rest the cry of women ignored. Unrealism roared out of the gate with (among the fore-mentioned) Dana Schutz, Ella Kruglyanskaya and Sascha Braunig. Dominating the five Soundscape artists suffusing the New World Center’s 7,000sq ft outside projection wall were Alice Jacobs, Mariele Neudecker and Sofie Alsbo. At ABMB, Pace showed (and sold, at prices ranging from $75,000 to $1m) 16 signature black Louise Nevelsons; Mitchell-Innes & Nash gave a wall to Jessica Stockholder’s 14-element assemblage; Rosalyn Drexler’s canvas collages of magazine strips took over Garth Greenan’s Survey booth; a Kiki Smith white car-painted bronze anchored Timothy Taylor’s space; Noga, the sole Israeli gallery (why?), drew a crowd to Keren Cytter’s video dramas realised with open-source software effects; Galerie Karsten Greve mounted Northern Irish artist Claire Morgan’s tiny taxidermies; and, at Galerie Lelong, a poignant abstract landscape by Etel Adnan spoke to her vision that “Ultimately, our real home is our life”.

At Scope, Bianca Praetorius denied immortality with her felt appliques that disintegrate when removed from the wall. At Pulse, Emerson Dorsch showed Frances Trombly’s intimate hand-dyed and woven pastel garments, and Danziger sold out of Corinne Vionnet’s digital manipulations of tourist snapshots. Lauren Shapiro clustered small, white, sculpted works at Locust Projects’ NADA space, and Suzanne McClelland, featured at the Rubell Family Collection, turned up here at the Team Gallery space. ICA showcased Alex Bag’s screaming video The Van. Elsewhere, Nancy Hoffman fronted Viola Frey’s looming ceramics, and Francis M Naumann showed the lilting watercolours of Suzanne Duchamp (who knew Marcel Duchamp’s sister was an artist and this, her first ever US exhibit?). The diminutive Littlest Sister Art Fair stood on the shoulders of tote bags announcing “Smallest Art Fair Biggest Balls” and sold out of its $100 T-shirts lettered: “Name 10 female artists and I’ll give you a kiss.”

The Black experience. Nari Ward flowed over from PAMM’s solo show to the Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Zanele Muholi’s silver-print female portraits took over the Yancey Richardson Gallery, and David Hammons popped up in three venues prior to his forthcoming (rare) retrospective at New York’s Mnuchin Gallery. Unrealism presented the diasporic vision of Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Carolina Nitsch fronted Wangechi Mutu’s first bronze, Chocolate Nguva, and Kerry James Marshall’s cocky portraits showed both here and at ABMB. Kehinde Wiley, his heroic portraits marketed to near extinction, showed up only once, and sold instantly.

The Latin American moment. Bursting out of its officially dedicated fair, Pinta Miami, the art of South and Central America mushroomed everywhere. Kabinett profiled Colombia with Adolfo Bernal’s conceptual juxtapositions and Argentina with Eduardo Basualdo’s hallucinatory interventions. Mexico weighed in at Novawith Jorge Méndez Blake’s poetic dematerialisations of written texts, at Untitled with Carlos Sandoval de Leon’s ornamentations of found objects, and at Public with an hilarious installation of Rubén Ortiz-Torres’s jumping shopping carts. São Paulo was represented in full; Galeria Nara Roesler featured Virginia de Medeiros, and Galeria Luisa Strina brought marking work by crowd-favorite Mira Schendel and museum-darling Leonor Antunes. There was much talk of the Freedom Tower’s strong grouping of Argentinian artists in Miami, and an ABMB standout was artist Sandra Gamarra’s imaginary museum at Galeria Leme profiling the 70s Brazilian concrete movement with work by Luciano Figueiredo and Mauro Piva.

Cuban artists proliferated. Paraded alongside the hallowed roster of Ana Mendieta, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Tomás Sánchez was a new generation of still unfamiliar names. Collectors haven’t waited for the doors to open; around 100 have toured Cuba with Cuban-born Magnan Metz gallerist Alberto Magnan, who had just returned from sailing over with Frank Gehry on the architect’s yacht. Among those cruising the fairs were Shelley and Donald Rubin (of the eponymous New York museum), who have been collecting such contemporary luminaries as José Toirac, Sandra Ramos, Abel Barroso and Tonel. At ABMB, Galleria Continua fronted sculpture by Carlos Garaicoa; Fredric Snitzer showed José Bedia, María Martínez-Cañas, Alexandre Arrechea and Rafael Domenech; Jack Shainman showed Yoan Capote; Sean Kelly offered both watercolours and sculpture by Los Carpinteros; Marian Goodman brought Gabriel Orozco, one of the gallery’s original points of entry to Latin American collectors, and one of the better-attended Art Basel salon talks explored the “New Role for Art in Cuba”.

Cuba fever crossed the bay to the energetic 50-gallery fair, Red Dot, whose Latin American pavilion featuring Cuban artists extended to a nine-sculpture installation in Zona Franca’s garden space. Spectrum Miami, the fair associated mainly with live performance, devoted one of its two special exhibitions to ARTE Cuba, and the first edition of X Contemporary premiered with the multi-artist Hecho en Cuba. Most moving, at the little-engine-that-could Aqua hotel fair, Luis Castaneda’s poignant Black Girl in a Bus series showed daily life in Cuba a half-century ago. Most immersing, for its in depth presentation of the artist’s preoccupation with line, form and logic as derived from tarot card imagery and mathematical principles, the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation held the first-ever US solo show of Cuba’s famed artist Gustavo Pérez Monzón.

Coming off the David Zwirner London showing of Cuban abstract painters from 1950s and in anticipation of next year’s first-ever US showing of Cuban post-revolutionary work at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, there was a good representation of the work of Wifredo Lam and Amelia Peláez of the Vanguardias (vanguards) movement. And talk of the tent was the monumental sculpture of the late, great Augustín Cárdenas, pioneered in Miami by Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, for the suspected fakes to be auctioned that day, but aborted, Hollywood-style, at the last minute.

Asia. India weighed in at each fair with artists new to all I spoke to, and there was tightly curated work by a handful of Chinese artists who were new to me. But, despite a surge of impressive Japanese material at ABMA, this was not Asia’s year to generate buzz. An intriguing exception, at Context, was a 10-gallery showcase of South Korean artists, all individually compelling and working in mediums ranging from textured painting to layered glass, though so similar in their subtle sensibility that they struck me as a collective, or even, a genre.

Interactive production. Audience participation, which for that one moment morphs viewer to artist, is the toothpaste that will not be put back in the tube. ABMB presented several digital works reactive to visitors’ movements. At Public, the outdoor space fronting the Bass Museum of Art, you could revive on Sam Falls’ benches embedded with “healing gems”; at the diminutive Fridge fair, you could have your dog or cat painted by the artist (and founder) while you talked technique with him; the Satellite fair fronted a project that transformed an entire neighbourhood into a creative utopia, with music, dancing and food. And who would have thought that people would hang around watching an artist buttering slices of bread and line up for 25 minutes to get one, as they did at the Rubell Collection?

Politics surfaced, mostly at outlier venues, excepting at an ABMB artist talk, when photographer/geographer Trevor Paglen spoke to Jenny Holzer about a new work being shown that tracks surveillance using his images of mass surveillance infrastructure, such as designated junction points of fibre-optic cables. Strangely, although 1 December was World Aids day, only PAMM addressed it – albeit with a strong showing of 70 works by the late Cuban ceramicist Carlos Alfonzo. Elsewhere, at Miami Project, an unsettling exhibit by 30 artists gathered more than 180 decommissioned guns from the streets of New Orleans to comment on gun violence in America. More disturbing, at Pinta, Cuban artist Carlos Martiel lay naked, chained by the neck to a pole that rotated flags of 21 past and present Latin dictatorships. And Galerie Perrotin’s pop-up showing of the 14-minute film Unframed – Ellis Island, in which Robert de Niro tracks, through 19th- and 20th-century photographs, the plight of immigrants attempting to enter New York, left viewers devastated.

Scatology. It says something about the current ho-hum moment that the most graphic presentation (at Survey) was by the octogenarian Dorothy Iannone. Unless you count the rude pun of the Beyeler installation, Zilia Sanchez’s erotically shaped canvasses at Kabinett, Valérie Belin’s digitally veiled mannequin nudes, a couple of puerile Emin knock-off neons, the reclining 7ft-long demure mermaid sporting the head of the actress Emma Watson, and the gratuitous half-clad dragsters at Satellite’s pop-up bar, titillation took a holiday.

Performance made serious inroads at both insider and outlying venues. At ICA, artist Erika Vogt staged a live collaboration with Performa 15; at his El Fresco showspace in Little Havana, graffiti artist Daniel Fila painted before everyone who paid a $24 entrance fee; and at Locust Projects’ home gallery, artist Martha Friedman worked with 1,000lb (453kg) of liquid rubber to explore the biomorphic substructure of western medicine and, in a collaborative performance with the dancer Silas Riener, to explore the tension between stillness and movement. For Holoscenes, set in a 30,000lb aquarium set up on the lawn of Miami Dade College, four actors performed quotidian tasks underwater, oblivious to the rising sea-level (and the week’s prescient downpour) that is threatening their/our very survival.

The revelation for me, being averse to commercialisation – was branding as patronage, the truly creative contribution of much-maligned marketers. Comparisons with the Medici fall short, but Louis Vuitton delivered in its new Design District store with Objets Nomades, an engaging exhibit of 10 designers’ travel-driven accessories – the standout, a fold-up turquoise leather Knotted Chair by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, known to Miami for his redo of the Mondrian South Beach hotel; Audemars Piguet partnered with the Peabody Essex Museum to animate the waterfront with Theo Jansen’s magical moving Strandbeest creations and, speaking to the increasingly seamless liaison between commerce and art, any who had the patience to line up at Apple’s nearby Lincoln Road venue could install the Apple/Google Play Store’s useful new free Art Finder app.  

Dizzy yet? There was more; the private/public collections, this year so compelling that they threatened to take over – the Rubell Family Collection all-female exhibition of more than 70 artists, titled No Man’s Land, is a tour de force of bravura scholarship and showmanship; the de la Cruz collection draws on the artists they have collected in depth to examine the breadth and influence of their practice, and such is the erudition and raw power of the Anselm Kiefer installation at the Margulies Warehouse that had it opened the new Whitney it would have put the museum for ever on the international map. Thankfully, all remain up through the winter so stay tuned …


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