High Fiber Mixed Media Maximalism: Art Basel Miami Beach 2021

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Cara Ober: After taking a virtual year in 2020 for the pandemic, Art Basel was back in person at the Miami Convention Center December 1-4, just as overwhelming in scale and saturation as it ever was. The 2021 iteration of Miami’s biggest and most important fair featured noticeably more galleries owned by women and people of color, as well as a few more South and Central American galleries than ever before, which is great, in terms of the market correcting itself to include a more accurate selection of art and artists.

While it’s exciting to view works of art available by some of my favorite artists and imagine just how much better they will look in museums rather than a convention center booth, I prefer to discover new names whenever possible, and this year’s big fair provided a lot of exciting artists and gallery programs to follow.

First of all, almost everything was mixed media and maximal, as if artists have been cooped up for the past two years with a studio full of crap hoarded indefinitely and found it a now-or-never moment to use these materials to varied and experimental results. Although a few contemporary booths confided that museums tend to buy paintings instead of textiles because it’s more complicated to care for, there was a profusion of woven and fiber-based works, running the gamut from digitally printed cloth, some hand embellished with beadwork, embroidery, and collage, to handwoven, jacquard, and loom-based pieces, quilts, rugs, with installation combinations of all of them. I love any kind of textile for the way it offers a traditionally feminine sense of comfort and also rebellious flirtation with decorative arts, so I really enjoyed this aspect of the fair.

I noticed a lot of neon sculpture and signs, typical for art fairs where it helps to have an attention-grabbing medium. I also saw mirrors used in a variety of ways, from painting and printing on them like canvasses to crushing them up as a painting medium. There was a ton of figurative and portrait painting, specifically depicting Black and brown people, much of it employing mixed-media collage and textual elements. Also, a surprising number of glass phalluses and vaginas, so apparently genitalia-inspired art is having a moment? I can only assume that glass genetalia sculpture, and penis and vagina art in general, is on trend because of our national reckoning around abortion restrictions and the conservative desire to transform America into a patriarchal autocracy?

Michael Anthony Farley: Yes to all of the above! Cara, I don’t think you made it all the way through the gauntlet of all of the little pop-up satellite fairs, but I’d like to mention that any fans of genitalia-centric artwork should probably check out the unfortunately-named ArtGaysel next year. It is definitely one of the kitschiest hotel-takeover art fairs (think wall-to-wall dicks in everything from embroidery to polaroids) but had quite a few highlights in the, uh… niche genre of penis paintings. I mention this because it was one of a handful of more informmal events that reminded me that the “online viewing rooms” of 2020 could never replicate the experience of walking in to a hotel room and finding artwork hung from a sex sling. 

Overall, I got the impression that the main fair was less saturated with casual tourists and more saturated with riskier media than in years past—a welcome development—but if I never have to hear the acronym “NFT” ever again in my life it will be too soon.


The lounge where patrons charged their phones and sipped expensive coffee!

CO: I will admit that I had more than one conversation about NFTs in Miami last week and I still don’t get it. One other trend that I will complain about is not a critique of artists but of galleries that provided zero printed wall text with the artists’ names with the work. I saw a number of galleries that simply scrawled the artists’ names in pen on the wall, mostly illegible and hard to find, and some didn’t list the artists’ names at all. Perhaps the galleries thought it was cool to present the work with a devil-may-care insouciance? Or maybe the work was already sold to collectors that they have a relationship with, but in that case, why bring the art to the fair at all? 

When a gallery spends upwards of $100k to place work into a marketplace, I cannot understand why they wouldn’t bother to print out wall labels or at least print a list or cards with the artists’ names. As an arts writer and even as a casual passerby posting to social media, it’s kinda important to be able to name the artist and the gallery (and they will give me hell if I spell their names wrong as they should), so the wall scribbles were not cutting it for me and indicated a level of faux slackerism or disorganization. 

MAF: It’s those damn QR codes! Everyone from curators to restaurant managers has suddenly embraced the QR code as THE prescribed catholicon for printed matter. One hilarious side effect of this panacea seemed to be everyone’s HD camera phones dying within an hour of the vernissage, as constantly having cameras running, connecting to a URL, and then having to be carried with the screen lit to read drained batteries. Every available outlet in the fair was so cluttered with a rat’s nest of chargers they started to look like cyberpunk installations in their own right.

CO: I am a new convert to QR codes, but my phone could not keep up. She got tired. Even though electricity and failing phone batteries appeared to be as much of a pressing issue as the global pandemic and Miami is still Florida, this year I have to admit how much enjoyed seeing so much good art from across the globe all in one place in person.

So much Art Basel coverage is self-congratulatory marketing, and this serves a purpose, but it’s not objective or thoughtful journalism, which might not be as important to galleries as selling out their booths, but it serves as a lasting archive for the future. As an arts writer I am always curious about new global trends and analyzing and documenting the inclusive, wild, maximalist approach that is the current art world modus operandi and zeitgeist. 

For artists, patrons, and curators, Art Basel offers a roadmap for museum collection acquisition announcements in the next year or two and there are a few trends I am still mulling over. I look forward to reading all those museum press releases about the poignant relevance of their new acquisitions in 2022, while recalling the palm trees, champagne, and expensive perfume smells through my mask, as I encountered these works for the first time.


Highlights and sightings from Cara Ober and Michael Anthony Farley from Art Basel 2021:


Handwoven wool gobelin tapestries that look like reciepts by Gabriel Kuri at Kurimanzutto (CDMX)
Christopher Wool-inspired weavings by Jonathan Monk at Casey Kaplan gallery with works by Sarah Crowner, Kevin Beasley, Jordan Casteel, and others.

It was interesting to see a lot of woven fiber works designed to look like other materials, deliberately elevating or diminishing the subject matter, like these two hand-woven wool gobelin tapestries that look like reciepts by Gabriel Kuri at Kurimanzutto (CDMX) and the large woven tapestries inspired by Christopher Wool text paintings by Jonathan Monk at Casey Kaplan. Perhaps wool is a pun in this case?

A favorite artist I have admired from the internet for many years, it was great to see Erin M. Riley’s handwoven tapestries, which explore and critique feminism, digital culture, and the self seamlessly in her chosen medium. (CO)

Pandemic-inspired weaving by Erin M. Riley at PPOW Gallery in the middle
Weavings by Qualeasha Wood at Gallery Kendra Jayne Patrick

Qualeasha Wood’s solo booth in the Nova section with Gallery Kendra Jayne Patrick included two separate fiber-based bodies of work. One series, recently featured on the cover of Art in America, of machine-woven jacquard tapestries with intense photoshopped layers and hand embellished beadwork, convert social media, and specifically a Twitter beef, into iconic narrative portraits. The other series of hand-tufted weavings feature caricatures and cartoons present blackness as an experience, and are both poignant and funny.

Bonus for us: BmoreArt’s longtime columnist A.F. Oehmke was working at the booth and gave us a tour! Both Oehmke and Wood are recent Cranbrook MFA graduates and, with gallerist Kendra Jayne Patrick, all are making a mark on the contemporary art world.

Wood reported via her Instagram that one of her tapestries was acquired at Basel for the esteemed Dean Collection, owned by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats. Sorry I am doing that market hype thing I was just complaining about, but it is thrilling to see such a young artist, a Black woman artist and recent MFA graduate, killing it at her first Basel. (CO)

A.F. Oehmke with weavings by Qualeasha Wood at Gallery Kendra Jayne Patrick
Weaving (detail) by Qualeasha Wood at Gallery Kendra Jayne Patrick
Synthetic hair tapestry by Lauren Halsey, wooden mixed media sculpture by Huma Bhabha, and Deana Lawson photo at David Kordansky
Diedrick Brackens woven works at Various Small Fires (Nova Section)
Weaving by Christina Forrer at Luring Augustine
Fiber work by Anthony Akinbola at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna
Fiber works by Dindga McCannon at Fridman Gallery
Gees Bend Quilt (detail) at Nichelle Bouchene
Sheila Hicks fiber tapestry at Sikkema Jenkins
"All In: Jack of Diamonds," a photograph by Matt Lipps at Jessica Silverman which captures the mixed media narrative aesthetic at Basel this year
Alley-Oop by Nari Ward at Galleria Continua with Michelangelo Postoletto in background
Rirkrit Tiravanija, "Untitled (a hurricane in a drop of cum) (two maps, 1965)," 2020, Diptych of hand-tufted rugs at Galerie Chantal Crousel
Rirkrit Tiravanija, "Untitled 2016 (freedom cannot be simulated, south china morning post, september 26_27_28_29_30, 2014)," 2016, Oil and newspaper on linen and "Untitled 2011 (turtle for michel), 2011 marble at neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Two very different Rirkrit Tiravanijas hung within eyeshot of one another, the first a diptych of hand-tufted rugs at Galerie Chantal Crousel, titled “Untitled (a hurricane in a drop of cum) (two maps, 1965),” 2020. The second is a more traditional Tiravanija where political text is layered over a collaged newspaper background, titled “Untitled 2016 (freedom cannot be simulated, south china morning post, september 26-27-28-29-30, 2014),” 2016, made of oil and newspaper on linen and “Untitled 2011 (turtle for michel),” 2011 marble at neugerriemschneider, Berlin.

There were a number of text-based works in addition to Tiravanija, some hand-formed like these Gene Beery signs at Parker Los Angeles in the Survey section of the fair. (MAF)

Gene Beery at Parker Los Angeles
Tschabalala Self at Victoria Miro
Maria Nepomuceno at Eva Presenhuber (MAF)

“Red Legs on Red Milk Crate,” 2017-2021 by Tschabalala Self (who recently had a solo show at the BMA) looks so good with Maria Nepomuceno’s untitled mixed-media piece from 2013 on the floor in the background I hope they end up in the same collection! The former is at Eva Presenhuber’s booth, and the latter is being shown by Victoria Miro. Both have a playful nod to industrial materials and processes as well as more typically “feminine” craft-based practices and forms. (MAF)


"Citational Ethics (Toni Morrison, 1987)" 2021 by Ja'Tovia Gary with the Paula Cooper gallery
Robert Rauschenberg combine, 1985, at Thaddaeus Ropac

In addition to a diversity of weavings and mixed-media fiber works at almost every booth, an art fair wouldn’t be complete without neon signs. Perhaps the most photographed work of art at the fair, “Citational Ethics (Toni Morrison, 1987)” 2021 by Ja’Tovia Gary with Paula Cooper gallery, features an excerpt from the famous Toni Morrison quote from the novel Beloved: “Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world but white folks.” The sign also references the neon sign outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Marin Luther King Jr. was murdered.

Gary’s monumental neon work in glowing red and turquoise addresses America’s history of white supremacy and its’ central location in the fair is perfect, situated next to a huge Robert Rauschenberg combine from 1985 on exhibit with Thaddaeus Ropac. The Rauschenberg, a silkscreen with ink and fabric on canvas, serves as a marker for the innovative mixed media fiber-based collage works of a gay white male artist, a revolutionary argument for diversity and representation in the art world in its’ time. Together with Gary’s neon sign, the Rauschenberg succinctly book-ends our current obsession with maximalism, juxtaposition, material culture, and inclusivity, and up close it’s dazzling. (CO)


Mixed media installation Ebony Patterson at Monique Meloche
A comprehensive installation booth by lange + put from Auvernier, Zurich - I love the neon "woodworker" sign in the background!

I appreciate a fully thought out booth that feels like an installation. Ebony Patterson created a gorgeous mixed media installation that filled the center of Monique Meloche’s booth and the silver foil booth, full of neon and clothing as well as wall works, by lange + put from Auvernier, Zurich was an attention-grabber. Another booth that felt like a complete exhibition rather than a trade show, work by NY artist Helena Anrather on display as part of the City of Miami Beach Legacy Purchase Program Shortlist. (CO)


NY artist Helena Anrather booth
Mixed Media Sculpture by Isa Genzken and painting by Jutta Koether at Galerie Buchholz
Mixed media collage portrait by Deborah Roberts and Melvin Edwards sculpture at Stephen Fridman Gallery

More mixed media wall works and sculpture, including a life-sized Isa Genzken sculpture at Galerie Buchholz and the mixed media portrait, “Little Debbie,” by Deborah Roberts, next to a Melvin Edwards sculpture at Stephen Fridman Gallery.

Some of the sculptural assemblage included glass, beaded, and ceramic elements, often combined with fiber, like the three stunning figures by Vanessa German at Kasmin Gallery and totemic glass sculpture by Pascale Marthine Tayou at Galleria Continua. (CO)


Mixed Media sculpture by Vanessa German at Kasmin Gallery
Mixed Media Glass Sculptures by Pascale Marthine Tayou at Galleria Continua
Ai Weiwei's 2014 Colored Vases at Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Brave move on the part of Mitchell-Innes & Nash to bring Ai Weiwei’s 2014 “Colored Vases” to Miami and put them in a high-traffic area… was this a subtle invitation for local performance artist Maximo Caminero to recreate his infamous 2014 Ai Weiwei vase-smashing protest at the PAMM? (MAF)


Glass penis! "Perpetual," 2021 by Monica Bonvicini (handblown glass, wood micro) at Galerie Krinzinger Vienna
"Untitled (display case)" by Mona Hatoum at White Cube

I took a few more photos of glass genetalia sculpture, actually at all the fairs I went to, not because I loved them but because they’re so oddly specific and were ubiquitous. Two examples at Basel are considered sculptural works that include their cases: “Perpetual,” 2021 by Monica Bonvicini (handblown glass, wood micro) at Galerie Krinzinger Vienna and Untitled (display case) by Mona Hatoum at White Cube.

In addition to works made with glass, there were a number of mirror pieces–some used as a canvas like these two silkscreen on super mirrors (stainless steel) by Michelangelo Pistoletto at Galleria Continua, others used as a medium like Edward Arceneaux with his painting made of silver nitrate (mirror bits?) at Vielmetter. (CO)


Two silkscreen on super mirrors (stainless steel) by Michelangelo Pistoletto at Galleria Continua
Edward Arceneaux and Creative Capital's Christine Kuan with his painting made of silver nitrate at Vielmetter
Titus Kaphar at Jack Shainman
Devan Shimoyama, "Transformation Sequence I," 2021, Oil, colored pencil, glitter, rhinestones, collage, and acrylic at Kavi Gupta
Jeffrey Gibson and Deana Lawson at Sikkema Jenkins & Co

A majority of gallery booths incorporated fiber and beadwork with portraits, mostly of Black and brown individuals. I loved the juxtapositions and contrast between Jeffrey Gibson and Deana Lawson at Sikkema Jenkins & Co and it was such a pleasure to experience so many deliciously large figure paintings, some exclusively in traditional painting media like a monumental multi-figure painting by Derek Fordjour at David Kordansky Gallery and another by David Antonio Cruz at Monique Meloche. (CO)


Derek Fordjour at David Kordansky Gallery
David Antonio Cruz at Monique Meloche
Jerrell Gibbs and ruby onyinyechi amaze at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery
Conrad Egyir at Jessica Silverman Gallery - yes that is a pencil!

Figurative portraiture by Jerrell Gibbs and mixed media collage by ruby onyinyechi amaze at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery provided a solid balance of figuration and abstraction and this intimate portrait, “Habakkuk’s Mud and Sun,” 2021 by Conrad Egyir at Jessica Silverman Gallery, incorporated a shaped canvas and drafting pencil for contrasting detail.

Another standout group portrait is a large painting by Jordan Casteel at Casey Kaplan and at Yancey Richardson, an evolution of work by South African artist Zanele Muholi, who has moved into self portraits in painting and sculpture in addition to photos. (CO)


Jordan Casteel at Casey Kaplan
Zanele Muholi at Yancey Richardson
Ambrose Rhapsody Murray and Amani Lewis at Jeffrey Deitch

Portraits by Ambrose Rhapsody Murray and MICA graduate Amani Lewis at Jeffrey Deitch included fiber, glitter, and digital rendering to create a personal message and former Baltimorean Theresa Chromati’s large abstract diptych at Jessica Silverman also employed wild motion and color with moments of glitter to great impact. (CO)


Theresa Chromati diptych, paint and glitter, at Jessica Silverman gallery
Mary Lovelace O'Neal, Warhol Mao from 1973, and 1964 Philip Guston at Mnuchin Gallery

I’m not usually that excited by secondary market galleries, but there’s something really satisfying about how this Mary Lovelace O’Neal painting from the mid-late 1990s, an exceptionally lovely and painterly Warhol Mao from 1973, and this 1964 Philip Guston look together in Mnuchin Gallery’s booth. Maybe a reminder that oil paint with hints of flesh tones and evident traces of the artists’ hand will always be seductive?

That theory might hold true even for simulations of fleshy brush strokes, as this lovely Christopher Wool silkscreen from 2005 at Gagosian suggests. It’s hung opposite Andy Warhol’s 1984 portrait of Dolly Parton, which has proven to be quite the crowd-pleaser (predictably). I wish it weren’t hung above this Peter Marino, but together they make a nice altar, as if awaiting sacrifices from all the art gays. But speaking of printed simulacra and questionable install decisions… who the hell at Gagosian thought it was a good idea to cover up the Convention Center’s lovely polished concrete floors with this fake woodgrain laminate flooring that looks like it came out of a badly done house flip reality TV show? It was so distracting! (MAF)


Christopher Wool silkscreen from 2005 at Gagosian
Andy Warhol's 1984 portrait of Dolly Parton over Peter Marino sculpture at Gagosian
(L to R) Yinka Shonibare, Sadie Laska, and Conrad Evie in Meridians (MAF)
Maxwell Alexandre, "untitled (New Power Series)," 2021

From a distance, I thought this massive piece was a Meleko Mokgosi oil painting, but it’s made with humble materials such as Kraft paper, shoe polish latex, henna, and xerox transfer (among others) by the Brazilian artist Maxwell Alexandre. It’s hung in the curated Meridians section of the fair, which showcases large-scale works by artists mostly (but not exclusively) dealing with “otherness,” migration, and other political themes. The section was by far one of the highlights of the fair. One upshot of less crowds was being able to appreciate (and photograph) enormous artworks with the breathing room they demand. (MAF)


Jacqueline de Jong, "De achterkant van het bestaan" (The backside of existence), oil on sailcloth, 1992

Speaking of appreciating massive artworks with room to breathe, I was immediately struck by de Jong’s monumental painting on sailcloth, hung sculpturally in its own huge white cube of very valuable floorspace. By chance, I had just run into a friend from Amsterdam and we walked by this together. He explained that de Jong was a somewhat unsung hero for the Dutch avant-garde from the 1960s onward, and that today many of his artworld countrymen are making a concerted effort to get her work the critical attention it deserves (and probably would’ve, had she been a man in 1960s “New Amsterdam” as opposed to a woman in the “Old” one. (MAF)


"Animal" by Katherine Bernhardt at Canada
"Shoe Collector," 2021 by Cheyenne Julien at Chapter NY

And last, two giant, fun, maximal, yummy, juicy, over-the-top painting favorites that I wanted to take home and live with: a portrait of Animal from the Muppets by Katherine Bernhardt at Canada and “Shoe Collector,” 2021 by Cheyenne Julien at Chapter NY.

Until next year, best regards and air kisses through a hypoallergenic face mask. Thanks for keeping it real, Art Basel. (CO)


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