Cruising at Art Basel Miami Beach

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Who Is All This For? A Miami Art Week Recap

You know that weird feeling of panic you experience in a big-box store in the suburbs? When you look around a Walmart or Target and realize the sheer amount of stuff that exists in the world?

I often have that experience at the Miami Beach Convention Center, where I wonder just how many obscure Picassos or endless variations of a Damien Hirst edition we as a civilization really need. The upside of this massive art-shopping maze is that discovering things you actually like can feel like a gulp of faith-in-art-restoring oxygen after holding your breath underwater. Interestingly, Art Basel Miami Beach is starting to offer sliding-scale prices for younger galleries to pump some much-needed fresh blood into the general section and I’d say it’s working.

As usual, the curated sections of the fair and project booths stole the show from the secondary-market offerings, and even primary market galleries were a bit on the dry side. A new section focused on Pan-American dialogue, Meridians, has joined the fair under the curatorship of Museo Tamayo director Magalí Arriola. Nearly everyone in Miami is raving about it and its large-scale works.

I actually found this year’s Nova section to be a bit bland and safe, with the exception of Raúl de Nieves and Cajsa von Zeipel at Company, whose dreamlike, obsessively crafted installation felt like the fair’s showstopper. They would’ve done batter in the Positions section, which this year was super queer and super fun. I could’ve spent all day in just that handful of booths, where nearly every artist’s work is solid and engaging and Swiss Galerie Maria Bernheim has a booth dedicated to MICA alum Kyle Dunn’s dreamy, homoerotic paintings. Now that I think about it, Positions was so gay this year someone should’ve done a performance cruising in that little “park” in the middle.

Here are some highlights, notable things (either good or bad), and observations in no particular order:

Jack Pierson at Cheim & Reid. By this point, everyone should know better than to do shit like this at an art fair. I can’t believe the fair leadership hasn’t stepped in to ban moves like this yet.

Gagosian. I was a little surprised to see that Gagosian brought almost entirely secondary market offerings to the fair this year. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing necessarily. This is arguably one of the nicer Gagosian booths I’ve seen at a fair recently, even if it’s a bit of a predictable “who’s who” of reliable investments. I overheard someone at Gagosian say, “It’s a privilege to be able to hang both a Picasso and a Mary Weatherford in the same booth.”

Ron Terada, “You Have Left the American Sector” (2005/2011) at Catriona Jeffries. Ron Terada recreates signage from the American occupation of Berlin in languages and government signage standards of wherever he’s exhibiting. This work is a few years old, but feels timely for Mexico’s anxieties surrounding Trump’s imperialist overtones as of late, as well as the international vibe of Miami (especially during Art Week) that’s a world apart from most of Florida.

Minerva Cuevas at kurimanzutto. Speaking of Mexico and political anxieties, I couldn’t help but think of the controversial Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador when viewing some of the petroleum-centric pieces at Mexican gallery kurimanzutto’s booth. His brand of 1960s leftism leans heavily on hypothetical profits from oil exploitation at the expense of the country’s fragile, biodiverse, and already overstrained ecosystems. There’s a lot of greenwashing happening in Mexico (and the Miami art fairs!) where carbon-intensive “pro-growth” policies threaten economies that are, in actuality, very much dependent on tourism and their natural resources/beauty.

Abraham Cruzvillegas (sculpture) and Allora & Calzadilla (gorgeous palm tree print in background) at kurimanzutto.
Mexico City’s artist-run success story kurimanzutto’s booth also speaks to a commodification of tropicalia that feels relevant to both American imperialism in Latin America and the processes of reverse-colonialism in Miami—in which Latin America’s one-percenters increasingly park their wealth in both art and real estate holdings.

A 2018 edition of Tavares Strachan’s “In Broad Daylight” neon in Düsseldorf gallery Sies + Höke. A monumentally scaled version of this piece was installed on the facade of the Baltimore Museum of Art last year.

Thomas Grünfeld, “jene 3” (2019) at Berlin-based Wentrup. This year wall-mounted work that references shelving and retro interior design is popping up everywhere. And of course, they always include a houseplant (Whitney Kimball once said, “I think it’s safe to say by now plants are no longer a trend; they are a medium.”) But this upholstered beauty might be my favorite. It feels cozy and womb-like. Maybe I was just exhausted from walking around art fairs, but this made me imagine cozying up in a kinda dated-but-comfortable hotel room with this hanging over the bed. I mean that in a good way.

Nevin Aladag at Wentrup. Wentrup is actually showing a few pieces that play with architecture and decor—like this painted waterjet-cut aluminum mashrabiya room divider. These are so gorgeous and fun, and probably a smart move for an art fair—work that evokes the domestic is inviting in the sterility of the convention center, and even a novice collector could see these pieces living happily in their home.

Kader Attia, “Kinuna l’Algéroise (Kinuna from Algiers)” (2000/2018) at German gallery Nagel Draxler. I was pleasantly surprised to spot this Kader Attia at the fair! He’s long been one of my absolute favorite artists, but I haven’t seen him around as much as I used to. This piece is from an older series I have always loved called “La Piste d’atterrissage” (The Landing Strip), a reference to the slang term for the Parisian périphérique (the beltway-like boulevard separating the inner arrondissements from the working-class suburbs). Sections of the périphérique are infamous for cruising, especially among truck drivers. Attia spent time with trans sex workers who immigrated (often illegally) to France from Muslim countries and documented their tight-knit community. He’s always been fascinated by notions of isolation and otherness, and resilience in the face of the multiple levels of cultural displacement experienced by queer migrants from homophobic cultural backgrounds is an inspiring condition.

Mark Dion, “Extinction Laundry List” and Christine Wang, “Fistbite,” both from this year at Nagel Draxler (the whole booth is fucking genious). I’ve been thinking a lot about the hypocrisy of the art fairs’ newfound performative environmentalism (see my review of Untitled) and these two pieces collectively hit that uncomfortable nail right on the head. A friend who works for the fair texted me to inform me that Leonardo DiCaprio arrived just as I was leaving, and I told him to send him here.

Rachel Harrison (foreground) and Sayre Gomez (background) at Nagel Draxler. Even the less-explicitly political works at Nagel Draxler feel relevant because they’re just so good. Rachel Harrison’s hilariously titled sculpture “Frank Stella #2” features a Hanson mirror I like to imagine came from the artist’s tweenage bedroom and is now at Art Basel. Amazing.

Brian Belott at LA-based Morán Morán. Of all the furnishing-referencing wall-mounted work at fairs, these assemblages from Brian Belott might be both the weirdest and most “functional”—they include working fans.

This totally bonkers installation from Raúl de Nieves and Cajsa von Zeipel at Company gallery might be the most seductive booth at the fair. Of all the fussy figuration that’s haunting Nova this year, this is the only example I can think of off the top of my head that didn’t feel safe and predictable.

Amalia Ulman at Buenos Aires gallery Barro. A few booths down, Amalia Ulman’s digitally printed garments and video humorously deal with the communication challenges and feelings of cultural displacement (a recurring motif this year) that come with being a latinx in China. The video is a mix of Ulman talking on the phone in Spanish to someone about her experiences and Chinese streetscapes. It’s subtitled in an almost-absurd number of languages at the same time, to the point that I would imagine a non-Spanish-speaker would have a hard time following it because it’s just so distracting.

Rose B. Simpson (sculpture) and Isaac Julien (photo) at San Francisco’s Jessica Silverman Gallery. Rose B. Simpson’s figurative sculptures are mostly ceramic and incorporate upcycled leather and bike parts. They walk this really strange aesthetic line between feeling kinda steampunk and afropunk and kinky and androgynous.

Manal AlDowayan at Madrid’s Sabrina Amrani. The forms in Manal AlDowayan’s paintings and sculptures could be an erotic jumble of legs or a mountainous landscape. But beyond that play of representation, there’s just a super charming quality to her craftsmanship and apparent materials and hand.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya at Document. Last year, when compiling a list of art fair trends, I mused, “I think it is safe to add Paul Mpagi Sepuya to this list because maybe he is no longer a human artist, but an unstoppable force of nature.” So I’m not surprised that Chicago gallery Document has given him a whole solo booth in the very well-curated Positions section of the fair. His work is so good it hurts and I will probably never get tired of his ubiquity.

Other highlights from the Positions section of the fair:

Mexico City’s Augustina Ferreya Gallery showing Dalton Gata’s wild, queer Caribbean paradise, which is fenced off with two giant metal penises

MICA grad Kyle Dunn at Zurich’s Maria Burnheim. His acrylic-on-board and relief paintings using carved foam and resin are so, so gorgeous. The homoerotic compositions feel immediate and sketch-like at first, but it soon becomes apparent that so much planning and layering of processes goes into these. Interestingly, Dunn’s paintings grew out of a sculpture practice. I was happy to see that this was one of the buzziest booths in the section.

Aaron Fowler at Los Angeles’ M+B gallery

Wu Chen at Beijing-based Magician Space

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