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NADA and Untitled Bring Reflection and Relaxation to Miami’s Spectacle and Hustle

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Art Basel Miami Beach week is often a daunting art overload. Thankfully, there are a handful of go-to fairs that open earlier in the week before the craziness begins that reliably provide a nice mix of familiar faces and emerging artists with exciting work. Two of my personal favorites are Untitled, which takes place right on the beach in a spectacularly lit and well curated tent, and NADA (the New Art Dealers Alliance) which has settled into the Ice Palace Film Studios just across the causeways from Miami Beach. These two fairs are the perfect entry point into ABMB week, annually reminding us why we love art and artists before the inevitable “fair fatigue” sets in. 

This year though, my eyeballs started needing a rest long before my feet and liver started protesting. Untitled always has its fingers on the pulse of what artists are interested in globally, and maximalism has been trending big-time. Hyper-saturated works assembled with techniques from collage to traditional fiber crafts abound. In general, this development is welcome, but when dozens of booths are jam-packed with collages of clashing patterns from dayglo Kente cloth to acerbic tropical prints and mixed-media canvases dripping with detail I found myself needing frequent breaks to recalibrate my vision on the sunny beachfront lounges. 

Therein lies part of the appeal of these two fairs in particular—both Untitled and NADA are the rare commercial endeavors that go above and beyond to provide spaces for discourse, relaxation, and reflection alongside the spectacle and hustle. Perhaps due to COVID fears, this was a slightly less hectic year, and the extra time and space for collectors to spend time with art and artists apparently paid off—plenty of galleries reported sold-out booths at both fairs, placing works in major collections, and even clearing back catalogues of unsold pieces from previous exhibitions. 

Lounging next to the beach, I thought about what less-crowded fairs and more-crowded artworks might signify after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic. The term horror vacui, or “fear of the vacuum,” remained stuck in my head… could this new maximalism be a reflection of the claustrophobia of lockdown life and fear of loss? Where a negative space of apparent materials or solid blocks of trendy colors might once have established a figure-ground relationship, nearly every centimeter of every painting this year is jam-packed with pattern, texture, or collaged materials from modeling paste relief and crochet to decoupage. Or maybe artists have just had more time on their hands to get weird and experiment with elaborate surfaces—giving this ABMB Week, but especially Untitled, a decidedly neon churrigueresque. 

 

Untitled Art Miami Beach 2021

 

Amy Ellingson at Eli Ridgway Gallery, of Bozeman, Montana
Kate Pincus-Whitney at Fredericks & Freiser
Claudia Hart at bitforms gallery of New York

Even these lovely, subtle digital paintings printed on birch panels by Claudia Hart at New York’s bitforms gallery were hung on a hyper-saturated pattern inspired by Matisse cut-outs. The horror vacui of 2021 is undeniable. These pieces are also available as NFTs, but I so much prefer the strategy of printing digital images onto natural materials with unique textures as a way of making them “singular objects” with both the capacity to be monetized and a sense of their “aura.” 

 

Andy Dixon "Floral Painting" and "Hermès Blouse" with paintings by Aaron Johnson at Over the Influence, of Los Angeles and Hong Kong

A few years ago, our colleague Paddy Johnson identified oversized clothing as an up-and-coming art fair trend. I’m happy to report it’s still (inexplicably but delightfully) a thing, and can coexist with the all-over-print, detail-packed new maximalism. 

 

Alan Prazniak (L) and Sun You (R and foreground)

Sun You seems to have found a happy medium between crafty processes you can enjoy like comfort food during lockdown life and the desire for a bit of visual breathing room in artworks. You models intuitive/abstract Sculpey forms and later affixes them to panels in playful but minimalist compositions. It’s a novel approach to image-making that looks like it’s a lot of fun to execute—an overlooked quality in so much art.

 

Rebecca Morgan at New York's Aysa Geisberg Gallery
Preetika Rajgariah and Jean-Paul Mallozzi at Bill Arning Exhibitions, a queer-centric gallery from Houston, Texas

Preetika Rajgariah collages lesbian imagery in bright fabric prints onto yoga mats, inspired by both her Indian-American heritage and career as an OnlyFans model. South Florida local Jean-Paul Mallozzi has one of the more unexpected takes on the applique trend sweeping the painting world. He uses glittery sand as a stand-in for wisps of smoke, steam, or breath around his portraits’ orifices. Much to the artist’s chagrin, most fair-goers apparently assumed this was cocaine instead of sand. 

 

Eden Airlines, featuring paintings by Kevin Sabo (L) and Samuel Richardson (R)

My friends had the booth across the aisle from Richmond-based Eden Airlines, and they couldn’t stop gushing about what good fair neighbors they were. The gallery was manned by a revolving cast of attendants in clashing head-to-toe pink outfits that vibe well with the Untitled aesthetic. Mostly though, I appreciate that this is the rare art fair booth where every single art object sparks joy… in some cases, perhaps literally. (See below.)

 

Dylan Languell (foreground) and paintings by Kevin Sabo at Eden Airlines

When I was a bad teenager, my friend and I found this semi-forgotten room in the creepy abandoned wing of our Catholic high school that used to house the terrifying nuns. It was empty save for an old microwave. We entertained ourselves for hours by stealing bags of Fritos or Snickers bars from the vending machine with a wire hanger and then microwaving them with the foil wrappers on. This produced electrical arcs and sparks and then almost instantly shrunk the foil packaging into a miniature version of itself with a satisfying “poof” noise… a joyful moment of magical alchemy accidentally born of disposable late-capitalist junk convenience culture that inexplicably made us laugh hysterically every time.

I had totally forgotten all about this minor transgressive (and probably dangerous) pastime until I saw these little guys by Dylan Languell, which look like kachina dolls made out of similarly miniaturized snack wrappers. When I shared a picture of his work along with this anecdote on Instagram, Languell replied and told me he produced these with exactly that same process of microwave alchemy! I like that the “magic” of shrinking foil wrappers relates to the ritualistic totem iconography. Great minds think alike, huh?

 

Michael C. Thorpe at LaiSun Keane of Boston

Michael C. Thorpe’s quilted/embroidered tapestries make me smile and serve as a nice example of two zeitgeists: the popularity of soft fibers works and the proliferation of the domestic mise-en-scène as subject matter. It’s easy to imagine so many artists snuggled up in quarantine with cozy materials on their laps, thinking about their homes as both places of comfort and confinement—two associations aided by the strange perspective that’s been surging forward from so many of the interior scenes we’ve seen this year. 

 

Ronald Rael at The Ant Project of Miami 

Ronald Rael showed both playful proposals and prototypes for interventions along the US-Mexico border. Here, Trump’s now infamously wasteful and ineffective border wall has been transformed into a see-saw for children who find themselves on either side of the fence to play together—which is both a lovely gesture and a nice visual metaphor for the obvious interdependence of the two countries. 

 

Roxanne Jackson at Ndr Nw Mgmt from New York
Justin Liam O'Brien at LA's Richard Heller Gallery 

I’m not sure how one would describe this soft-yet-geometric, illustration-like style with gradient-esque chiaroscuro that’s been so popular in queer figurative painting these days. A kind of contemporary Art Deco? Whatever you want to call it, this painting reminds me of the anonymous urban landscape The Ideal City at the Walters. If that’s a deliberate reference, maybe “the ideal city” is one that’s actually populated and a bit libertine. 

 

 

NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) 2021 at Ice Palace Film Studios

 

Monsieur Zohore

Speaking of abounding classical references made queer… arriving at NADA Thursday afternoon, the first thing I saw was what looked like a bro-y toga party on the lawn of the Ice Palace Studios. This was Monsieur Zohore’s brilliant performance, in which he asked a male modeling agency to send “frat boy types” to stay in character as they alternately wandered the fair and played beer pong on a slab resting atop inverted Corinthian columns, all in costume styled by the artist. Never have I ever experienced such a sensation of cultural displacement wherein I felt as though I had crashed a Hopkins party with a bunch of MICA friends as witnessing this in the surreal backdrop of Miami. 

 

Below, some more highlights from NADA: 

 

A painting by Carrie Rudd and sculptures by Matthew Dale Fischer at JAG Projects, one of many new-ish galleries from the Hudson River Valley popping up everywhere this year.

Matthew Dale Fischer’s stained-glass sculptures make me so damn nervous. They feel so precarious and fragile, and seem to reference details and forms from the pre-war architecture of the Northeastern United States. If you’ve ever been afraid of being gentrified out of Brownstone Brooklyn or Boston or concerned that a crumbling-but-elegant foreclosed Baltimore rowhouse might topple over on you, these portable bits of displaced architecture could be a mobile home for those anxieties. 

 

Sergio Miguel (oil paintings) and Sarah Zapata (mixed-media and process fibers sculptures) at Deli Gallery 
Robert Sandler at Kai Matsumiya of New York

Kai Matsumiya’s delightfully weird booth dedicated to Robert Sandler, whose clown alter-egos sing show tunes and experience a series of mini tragicomedies in collage, video, and photo documentation. 

 

Paul Rouphail at Smart Objects, of Los Angeles

Photos don’t do justice to how lovely Paul Rouphail’s expertly rendered oil still lives and interiors are. Subtle details, like a lens flare or precarious compositions just before the point of toppling, ground these in a contemporary dialogue with cinema just as much as the Dutch masters. 

 

Joel Gaitan at KDR305

KDR305, which is the Miami-local curatorial project of MICA alum Katia Rosenthal. These terracotta works by Joel Gaitan queer pre-Columbian vessels, inspired by the common Central American family roots both the artist and gallerist share. I love that all the female figures have enormous clits and they live in a Pepto Bismol-pink installation alongside bags of snacks, instant coffee, and horchata mix. 

 

Hanagama Amiri, "Still Life with Dressing Table" at Towards Gallery of Toronto

Hanagama Amiri’s “Still Life with Dressing Table” is probably one of my favorite figurative mixed-media fibers works—a genre that was booming at both NADA and Untitled this year.

 

Dianna Settles at Atlanta's Burnaway gallery

These are just a few of Dianna Settles’ many paintings that combine a surprising amount of paint application strategies, textures, and details in small surfaces loaded with quotidian narrative. They are all so charming and lovely. 

 

Constance Tenevik at Stockholm's Loyal Gallery

For a few years now I’ve been really excitedly following the career of Constance Tenevik, a Berlin-based Norwegian multimedia artist with a gesamtkunstwerk practice that spans painting, garment, performance, and installation. I always find myself drawn into her expressive queer world where affection, a libertine sensibility, and art historical references happily vibe in unexpected technicolor bliss. 

 

Mario Ayala at Stockholm's Loyal Gallery

Never has an art object in “landscape” orientation perfectly captured a city in all its wonderful and awful and weird vernacular as completely as Mario Ayala’s tribute to Los Angeles.

 

Megan Dominescu at Anca Poterasu Gallery, of Bucharest, Romania
Lauren Wy at Chicago-based Western Exhibitions
Betty Mulat at WAAP (Will Aballe Art Projects) of Vancouver

Photos by the author. Featured image: Untitled and NADA 2021 (images via Instagram)

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