Beauty and the Beach: Untitled Art Fair

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An Untitled Art Fair Conversation by Michael Anthony Farley and Cara Ober

Michael Anthony Farley: Untitled is such a gem. I’m eternally grateful that the curated fair annually marks the beginning of Miami Art Week because it’s one of those events that reminds me why I have faith in the goodness of art before the fatigue (and hangovers) of the other, more spectacle-driven fairs kicks in.

This year’s iteration, thanks to returning Artistic Director Omar López-Chahoud and artist-run curatorial platform AGUAS, feels especially, smart, timely-yet-playful, and seemingly more Pan-American than ever. (Indeed, my boyfriend visiting from Mexico City joked that half his hometown’s art scene had been transposed to the tent. It wasn’t until we left that we realized we barely spoke English the whole time we chatted with gallerists and artists).

Cara Ober: Michael and I talked to Untitled Artistic Director Omar López-Chahoud and he kindly answered our questions and, despite being completely hoarse, radiated nothing but enthusiasm for this year’s fair. When I asked why Untitled feels so artist-centric, he told us about several new initiatives, including working with AGUAS, an artist-based curatorial platform that works to bridge the gap between Europe and Latin America on three ‘special projects’ in three different spaces. They fostered a residency in Miami, to create more work in conjunction with Miami-based artists as well.

Another aspect of Untitled that is changing is an expanding emphasis on international, specifically contemporary Latin American and African artists. “I have always wanted a strong presence of Latin American galleries at Untitled, because of my own background as a Cuban American,” López-Chahoud said. “This year we have nine galleries showcasing contemporary African art – we have galleries from Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, and we also have a number of galleries from London and New York that focus on Contemporary African art. This year, Untitled is hosting galleries from 29 countries with over 500 artists.”

We talked about the curatorial aspects of this fair, which tends to feel spacious and museum-like, rather than a typical salon-style art fair, where every inch is calibrated to sell art. “I don’t mind salon style, when it’s part of the concept or installation process, but we work with exhibitors so that the spaces are not crowded or overhung,” he said. “Untitled fair owner Jeff Lawson is interested in bringing the outside into the fair, and this is why we have see through tents. The light comes through the roof and illuminates the space, we wanted our lounge and podcast area to be open to the ocean, and this gives the fair a pleasant feeling, too.”

Hector Madera (L) and Ana Segovia (R) at Mexico City’s Galeria Karen Huber

MAF: A couple trends and recurring themes that caught my attention: subversion of nationalistic/ patriotic imagery, Afro-centric reinterpretations of the European portraiture tradition, modernist architecture and domestic spaces made vaguely unsettling, and gestural homoerotic painting. Many of the artists and curators involved seemed intent on “queering” the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful alike.

CO: Untitled is my favorite and obviously I am biased because I am conducting  podcast interviews for Untitled Radio, but I think it’s the fair with the highest quality art that is still available to an emerging collector. I see Untitled as a network of established (but not blue chip or secondary market) galleries who are serious about artists’ careers that are on the rise. I think it’s the best fair to scout out new talent and to invest in the art of our time, including a few editioned print series by more established artists you would see at Basel.

I ran into an art critic friend the other night at Untitled’s preview and we argued a little bit about the fair, which I enjoyed. I said that I love this fair’s emphasis on a certain kind of aesthetic, one that recognizes the importance of the objects and not just the artist’s ideas. Basically I said I appreciated how pretty the fair is, with high ceilings, great light, sweeping views, enough space for art, a view of the ocean…. And that the art, to me, reflects this emphasis on beauty as well. My friend said he thought it was a little “too beautiful,” that he wanted to be challenged more, that the beauty felt a little too easy to him, which I think is interesting and also shows the bias the art world sometimes carries against itself. I think that beauty, within the context of the contemporary art market, is a point of access for an audience that is more broad than just the art world, and that it can be challenging in itself. I supposed I am old fashioned, but I appreciate a well crafted object and idea, fused into an integrated piece.

I also enjoy Untitled’s emphasis on performance and programming, from Hank Willis Thomas signing books at Aperture to Sheldon Scott performing “Lifelong Affirmations During Childhood Acts of Faggotry” at Connersmith’s booth, and of course, the radio station which includes podcast interviews, music, sound art, and a range of curated options.

One of our favorites: Clay Apenouvon (L) and Zohra Opoku at Mariane Ibrahim

MAF: Agreed! I think discussions like this have to do with the fact that there are now so many damn art fairs, all year, everywhere that we forget the art fair is not the default art-viewing experience and shouldn’t be expected to perform every function of an art ecosystem (although for a lot of people, like my family who live here, it is! Especially as more and brick-and-mortar galleries close and the blue chip survivors and museums become more indistinguishable from each other… but that’s a whole other conversation). Anyway, art fairs exist to sell art. Let’s stop pretending the pretty, salable object is an inherently problematic thing? Whether we like the market or not, it’s the reality we live in. But we should applaud fairs such as Untitled, which has worked to incorporate an actual artist-centric discourse into a market-based construct.

Untitled Lounge! This is where we sat, with a view of the ocean, and wrote about the fair.

Juan Capistran at Guadalajara’s CURRO

MAF: This flag by Juan Capistran was the first thing we saw entering the fair, and was kinda funny because I had a few days earlier been trying to explain the concept of libertarians to my Mexican friends (“kinda like anarchists but right-wing?” It’s one of those weird corners of American political thinking that doesn’t really exist on the rest of the continent). The movement’s Gadsden flag is famously related to Benjamin Franklin’s Revolution-era “Join or Die” flag, here pictured with an eagle attacking it, like the imagery of the Mexican flag. Is this about NAFTA’s disastrous effects on workers’ rights in both countries? A politically increasingly divided North America? A parody of the rising tide of nationalism in both countries despite their cultural interdependence? Maybe all of the above. I love it.

Tristram Lansdowne at Galerie Nicolas Robert

MAF: These watercolors (!?!) by Tristram Lansdowne are my absolute favorites of the myriad paintings of modernist homes at Untitled. Lansdowne’s photorealistic mastery of such an unforgiving medium is in itself impressive. But these unsettle beyond the realization that they’re produced by hand—the perspective and spatial logic of the drawing doesn’t make sense.

Tristram Lansdown

It’s a really effective bait-and-switch after seducing the viewer with the “believability” of the image. They also allude to this very pervasive generational preoccupation with the elusiveness of domestic perfection…. These are the tastefully mid-century modern homes ripped from the pages of “Dwell”, unattainable to all but the most privileged of millennials. Lansdowne’s lack of “penetrable” perspectival space sort of places these scenes of desire farther back from the picture plane, as if these dream homes were retreating even deeper into a glossy magazine image, away from the viewer.

Luis de Jesus Los Angeles

MAF: Luis de Jesus Los Angeles is such a good, smart gallery (see my “48 Hours in L.A. Art Guide” guide) and this booth is so memorable.I love the celosías by Edra Soto, which are embedded with peephole/viewfinders, each with a tiny image. It’s a beautiful strategy to play with scale and cram a lot of content in to a booth without it being overwhelming or cluttered. This fair, the gallerists are focusing on artists of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. I love the story of Jim Adams, who is actually the father of the gallerists’ friend (I also love how often they tend to have these personal relationships to the artists they show!). Anyway, Adams wasn’t really “discovered” until his daughter showed them his work and they realized how damn good his paintings are! Now he’s found tons of collectors as a painter in his 70s. Message to the kids: don’t give up. 

Wilmer Wilson IV at Washington’s Connersmith (these are staples covering the surfaces!)  More painterly dream houses, above by Brian Rideout at MKG127 and below (R) by Hulda Guzman at Dio Horia Maja Djordjevic (L) and Hilda Guzman (R) at Dio Horia Hilda Guzman at Dio Horia
David Shrobe at Jenkins Johnson Gallery  Jenna Gribbon at Fredericks & FreiserJeffrey Cheung at New Image Art. Cheung also made great “Trans Rights are Human Rights” newsprints that were free to take with his signature hairy, nonbinary figures.
One of many Jeremy Kost pieces comprising expired Polaroids of hot dudes with paint splatter. (💦?) at ACRIA: Artists Ending AIDS.

Ira Lombardia (L) and François Boucher (R) at the politically-charged Alcaron Criado booth.Performance by Girls Club
More Hulda Guzman at Mexico City’s Machete Galeria Emmanuel Van der Auwera at Harlan Levey Projects

MAF: This video work by Emmanuel Van der Auwera is one of the creepiest pieces at the fair. The hacked LCD screen appears blank until you stand in front of a Plexiglas disc, revealing imagery and audio from drone strikes. The participatory action of positioning oneself to look through the “scope” makes the viewer feel eerily complicit… which I guess we all are. 😥 Sheldon Scott at Connersmith

MAF: I just want to say that these glittery footballs are the one thing I didn’t absolutely love in Sheldon Scott’s “I’m a Fag and I’m Proud” (#same) booth at Connersmith. Maybe they give me PTSD flashbacks to all the glittery sculptures at fairs like Scope and Context?

CO: I love them in context with Scott’s performances and the wall pieces !

Juan Pablo Langlois Vicuña at New York’s Cindy Rucker GalleryFederico Solmi at ADN Galeria

MAF: Photos don’t do justice to Federico Solmi’s weird-ass animations of imaginary historical events and patriotic parades. They were one of several pieces at Barcelona’s ADN Galeria that played with nationalism and the current crisis of the nation-state. By chance, I tried to photograph Kendell Geers mirror piece and ended up with an image of my Mexican boyfriend and I on opposite sides of graphic barbed wire… hitting a little too close to home after a stressful few months of visa applications, anxiously watching the news with Trump’s threats of border closures, detainment camps, etc… probably one of the few times #selfie art at a fair was #relevant?

Kendell Geers at ADN Galeria

Zinelle Muholi at Yancy Richardson Gallery

CO: I am always amazed at the way this artist looks absolutely regal, and attended a talk where they explained that all of their costumes are made from ordinary things around the house. In this piece they are wearing a purse like a hat! Like – a mesh grocery bag? Absolutely stunning.

Nicolas Grospierre’s “George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum Oval Offices” at Sevilla’s Alarcon Criado

Gorgeous fiber works by Teresa Lanceta at Galeria Espacio Minimo

Justin Hibbs at Mexico City’s Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo

MAF: I mainly like this sculpture by Justin Hibbs because it’s basically and IRL version of a digital project I once commissioned from Berlin-based Canadian artist (and one-time Baltimorean!) David Hanes… who photoshopped all the art out of Frieze New York and made a surreal art fair architectural hellscape.

Mickalene Thomas at Yancey Richardson

Paul Mpagi Sepuya at Yancey Richardson (His work was at a lot of different fairs this year, as it was last year… Curious to see what his new work looks like?)

 Devan Shimoyama in the flesh, next to one of his mixed media paintings at De Buck Gallery

Carolyn Case at Asya Geisberg

CO: A shout out to Baltimore-based Carolyn Case for her sensual abstract paintings! The Asya Geisberg booth is also showing soft sculpture by Trish Tillman and paintings by Melanie Daniel.

    Jacopo Miliani at Valencia’s Rosa Santos. Miliani not only made this wall of jeans, but published a really nice zine about the queerness of blue jeans and their history as pop/subcultural  sex symbols.

MAF: Can we all agree that everyone needs to stop trying to make QR code art happen? Also, I am shocked this is in a fair like Untitled in 2018…. isn’t this a thing the novelty wore off of in Obama’s first term?

Lima, Peru’s Ginsberg Galeria with fabric works by Monika Bravo and sculpture by Arturo Kameya. Kameya’s works reference anthropology museums, where once-sacred objects related to death are banished and lose significance out of their religious contexts.

Clothing, art jewelry (these necklaces are made out of caution tape), and performance from Girls Club!

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