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.