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Art Basel Miami Beach at Twenty: Bmore Galleries Shine, Madonna Celebrates “Sex” on the Beach, and Hotel Sleaze Makes a Comeback

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Last week, Art Basel Miami Beach turned twenty. It’s hard to overstate how extremely the once-unlikely Floridian spinoff of the highbrow Swiss art fair has transformed both the global art market and its host city. In the past two decades, countless satellite fairs, pop-ups, and new art stars have come and gone–or thrived, and become institutions in their own right.

Most have been forgottenlike so many blurry nights at the divey cheap hotel bars that used to line Collins Avenue before the arrival of foreign capital power-washed most of Miami Beach’s charming sleaze away along with so much mildew from glitter stucco. But even Russian punk royalty Pussy Riot now appear to be a fixture, orbiting in the fair’s ever-heavier cultural gravity well. 

This year’s ABMB was the largest to date, with nearly 300 booths spread across the labyrinthine convention center, and an estimated economic footprint twelve times that of its inaugural edition back in 2002.

Is a larger fair necessarily a better fair? I am typically skeptical of that logic, but this year I found myself so thoroughly impressed that I twice lost track of time wandering its profane/hallowed halls.

There’s a kind of Miami FOMO panic that hits annually when it becomes evident it’s quite literally impossible to see it all. At one point, I realized I had breezed by a perfectly lovely later-career Picasso while power-walking past the secondary market booths to check out the curated sections. I turned around and realized my sisters were actually taking time to really look at the painting and felt a twinge of sadness that it hadn’t occurred to me to do so. The mandate to cover as much territory as possible had overridden aesthetic pleasure—a cruel irony in the art world’s most hedonistic week. 

 

Diedrick Brackens at Jack Shainman's ABMB booth
Eric N. Mack at Galleria Franco Noero
Doron Langberg at the Rubell Family Collection

On my dense convention center “must-see” list were works by an old MICA buddy, Eric N. Mack, whose drapey mixed-media fabric assemblages were being shown by not one but three galleries. I was pleasantly un-surprised to see his quietly poetic work being shown seemingly everywhere this year, along with that of other rising young art stars such as Devan Shimoyama and Doron Langberg.

 

Langberg even opened a solo show at the Rubell Museum, where his larger-than-life, gorgeously washy paintings of Fire Island were the talk of the annual Rubell party that kicks off Art Week. They generated considerable buzz at Victoria Miro’s booth as well, capturing both the dunes’ scrubby landscapes and scruffy lovers in shocking acerbic colors.

 

MSCHF at Perrotin, ABMB

The biggest crowd-pleaser at ABMB was hands-down an interactive installation from the appropriately-named collective MSCHF—which could be pronounced “mischief” or “Ms. Swiss Franc” and works either way.

At Perrotin’s booth, MSCHF had an ATM that recorded and ranked the checking account balances of users. When we swung by the opening, the #1 spot was dominated by a guy in a pink t-shirt with under $3 million in his account. I suspected the “seriously” wealthy weren’t participating (the 1% tend to value discretion, as the CHF’s enduring stability suggests, after all). But maybe the nouveau riche are up for a bit more fun? Music producer Diplo (who many a Bmore artist might hazily-remember partying with back in the heyday of the warehouse scene) later claimed and held on to the top spot until being supplanted in the 11th hour.

Friendly competition aside, one thing everyone agreed on was that this artwork should’ve been installed in Mac’s Club Deuce to get a real reading of ABMB bank accounts—the legendary cash-only South Beach dive bar where everyone from blue-chip gallerists and their art stars to freelance art handlers annually end up cursing the fickle ATM at 3 in the morning.

 

Shinya Azuma's "Black Hole Watcher" at Kyoto's COHJU Contemporary. Probably one of my personal favorites of the week.
Just one of Juan Uribe's many stinging-because-they're true text-based paintings at Bogotá-based SGR Galería's booth at UNTITLED

Speaking of buzzy 11th hour mischief, frenetic shows by queer reggaeton duo Niña bookended many a visitor’s Art Week. Liz Ferrer and Bow Ty kicked off the UNTITLED exhibitor’s party with an over-the-top set lampooning machismo and conspicuous consumption, blasting gyrating go-go dancers and audience members with fake $100 bills and glitter on the beachfront deck of the VIP area which was curated with playful artworks from legendary NYC gallery/hangout Beverly’s. 

It was a fitting inauguration for this edition of UNTITLED, which this year felt a bit more maximalist than prior iterations. I would hesitate to describe UNTITLED as “overhung,” because almost all of the work was great, if not a dizzying technicolor mélange of saturated paintings, neon, glitter, and clashing patterns. Attempting to focus on any one artwork was a bit like trying to have a serious talk with one of those fabulous older collector doyennes draped in many a playful, storied scarf and one-of-a-kind art jewelry—any one of which might lead down a rabbit hole of anecdotes and gossip.

 

Painting by Fátima de Juan Carlos with ceramics by Mira Makai and I-beam benches by Richard Woods at Barcelona/Mallorca-based gallery L21's UNTITLED booth
Cruz Ortiz Olivia's painting of Hispanic American socialites at Bill Arning Exhbitions' UNTITLED booth
"I like to imagine someone having this in their luxury condo, trying to do a line of cocaine off of it, and having an existential crisis as they gaze into the abyss."
Michael Anthony Farley repeating an overheard quote at ABMB 2022

Highlights included a massive booth by Spanish gallery L21, which was dominated by a painting from Mallorcan artist Fátima de Juan Carlos. It depicts a witchy woman with a fierce-looking neon green manicure, who seemed to be casting a spell over an installation of ceramics by Mira Makai and I-beam benches by Richard Woods.

L21 is one of the surprisingly few good galleries with a brick-and-mortar locale in Barcelona, where I’ve been spending a lot of time this year. I have no idea why this is, but nails, nail art, and art about nails are sort of the defining trend in the Catalan capital right now. In the past few months wandering Barcelona, I’ve seen tons of drawings of nails, giant graffiti murals of nails, multiple nail-themed parties, and more vaguely terrifying ceramic manicure hands than one can shake a cuticle stick at. I am not complaining. Hell, I have even shamelessly gotten in on the trend!

 

Roxanne Jackson at Room57 Gallery
Jude Hughes (installation) and Yam Shalev (painting) at New York's Room57 Gallery

Scary ceramic hands—this time from Roxanne Jackson—also got a thumb’s up at Room57 Gallery, whose booth was another one of my personal favs. An installation by Jude Hughes played off of hard and soft surfaces, occupying the majority of the floorspace, while seductive paintings of picnic spreads by Yam Shelev tempted passers-by.

Who in the art world doesn’t love Aperol Spritz? I think it’s the perfect detail/drink for our weird little subculture of people drawn to visual appeal and things that tread the fine line between glamor and accessibility. 

But it’s a funny thing how allusions to conspicuous consumption or pop sensibilities can go so wrong. Case and point: the many, many fairs I tend to skip unless there’s a specific hometown artist or gallery I really want to see. The jam-packed Art Miami and its sister fair CONTEXT, for example, consistently attract some of Baltimore’s best galleries, and I can’t tell if the fact that said galleries are of a much higher caliber than the other participants in the fairs is doing them any favors or not.

When there were dozens of overhung booths with a nearly indistinguishable mix of schlocky pop-influenced decor that could’ve just rolled off the assembly lines of a Spencer’s Gifts sweatshop (think neon Snoopy, laser-cut topographical busts of Marilyn Monroe, and way too many references to franchises from Star Wars to McDonalds with nothing new to say) it made finding and enjoying actually worthwhile art both a frustrating challenge and a reward akin to discovering a pearl in a Red Lobster mystery-meat seafood salad.

 

Delita Martin at Galerie Myrtis' booth at CONTEXT.
Felandus Thames at Galerie Myrtis' CONTEXT booth

Galerie Myrtis had by far the strongest booth at CONTEXT, showing Tawny Chatmon, Morel Doucet, Monica Ikegwu, Megan Lewis, Delita Martin, and Felandus Thames. The latter’s assemblage of hair brushes spelling out “YOU CAN’T UNSEE VIOLENCE” spoke to generational trauma and beauty rituals through a loaded use of unconventional materials.

Delita Martin’s ghostly mixed-media embroidered portraits of Black women—rendered in restricted, though saturated, color palettes—might’ve been the most understated, delicate “paintings” in the fair. 

 

Se Jong Cho at Catalyst Contemporary's Art Miami booth
Sculpture by Alberto Cavalieri and painting by Damen Arhos at Catalyst Contemporary
Marble sculpture by Sebastian Martorana at Catalyst Contemporary

Likewise, Catalyst Contemporary was one of the star outliers at Art Miami, showing Damon Arhos, Christopher Batten, Alberto Cavalieri, Se Jong Cho, William S. Dutterer, Sebastian Martorana, and Kate Norris. Se Jong Cho’s deceptively candy-colored, dystopian paintings of fragmented landscapes touched on issues of environmental devastation, eerily recalling the surreal, seemingly endlessly gridded expanse of South Florida most visitors see when arriving via plane—landscape subdivided into commodity.

The whole booth was great, but I couldn’t help but think how strong a two-person show of Cho’s work with just Alberto Cavalieri’s sculptures would’ve been in a fair like NADA or UNTITLED. The Venezualan-American artist also speaks to issues of resource extraction and speculation in a totally different visual vocabulary, and seeing their work side-by-side was a moment of epiphany. 

 

Sarah Margnetti and Kris Lemaslu at Margot Samel's NADA booth
Pablo Gómez Uribe at PROXYCO Gallery's NADA booth. Uribe juxtaposes articles about the Biden administration's funding for highways and private electric cars with recreations of dilapidated New York Subway stations.
Rolf Nowotny sculpture and Valentina Vaccarella's painting of the "Hollywood Madame" Heidi Fleiss listing her escort service on the Australian stock exchange at New York based No Gallery's NADA booth.

Indeed, this year I found myself wishing almost everything I liked could’ve just been at NADA, whose 2022 Miami edition might’ve been the fair’s strongest yet. The fair felt bigger—squeezing more galleries into the annex tent that in the past I recall just housed publications—but was definitely better for it.

It was the perfect balance of familiar and fresh faces, with some trendier work that “looked like NADA art” but plenty of surprises and curveballs. I honestly can’t recall a better art viewing outing in recent memory. 

 

Joe Zaldivar at Tierra del Sol Gallery's NADA booth

I was totally blown away by Tierra del Sol Gallery—a Los Angeles-based art space that supports and exhibits artists with developmental disabilities—and their solo presentation of drawings by Joe Zaldivar. Zaldivar created mostly new work for the show, Googling maps and images of Florida as references for his colorful marker drawings, Zaldivar faithfully recreated streetscapes from the iconic to banal with a stylized realism that managed to capture the most salient details while still feeling graphic. They were one of multiple booths at NADA with accessible prices, and the fair felt richer for their inclusion. 

 

Katia Rosenthal poses with paintings by Alejandro Piñeiro Bello in her booth at NADA

A few booths down, MICA grad and Miami native Katia David Rosenthal’s eponymous gallery KDR305 had a solo show of paintings by Alejandro Piñeiro Bello that were a total show-stopper. Piñeiro Bello’s dreamy oils work at any scale—from lush, nearly mural-sized landscapes to intimate still lives, capturing a swirling tropicalia with surfaces that are a riot of colors, textures, and pigment densities my eyes could’ve wandered for hours. 

 

Monsieur Zohore at Jupiter Contemporary's NADA booth.

KDR305’s brick-and-mortar space in Little Havana also opened a solo show from Monsieur Zohore that I’m kicking myself for missing.

Thankfully, Zohore’s strangely seductive mixed-media paper towel paintings were also on view at NADA in Jupiter Contemporary’s booth. His collaged pop-culture detritus and tie-dye like abstractions play so well with their medium—paper towels speak to labor, fragility, ubiquity, stains, and consumption. I imagine a future conservator at whatever art museum that’s bound to acquire one of these some day both cursing his process even as they wonder at it.

Speaking of paper towels, the reason I missed Zohore’s opening at KDR305 was an invitation to  an event I couldn’t refuse—the reception for Yves Saint Laurent’s reissuing of Madonna’s controversial, innovative book Sex to mark its 30th anniversary.

I mention paper towels, because at the decadent event I noticed the black marble port-a-potties on the beach had real hand towels that were a higher thread count than any linens I’ve ever slept on in my life. Watching the other attendees toss them in a trashcan on their way out of the bathrooms, I had a sudden urge to stuff them in my bag and spend my coming champagne hangover doing laundry.

 

YSL's decadent reception for Madonna's "Sex" book relaunch. There were more candles than spots on the guestlist.

It was one of those A-lister-studded events that would’ve been dangerously overcrowded a decade ago. But this year, I wondered about the “spread too thin” (or perhaps just unevenly) phenomenon of a season’s worth of art, culture, and nightlife squeezed into one ever-longer week like a Costco tube of toothpaste on a travel-sized brush.

For most of the evening, it seemed like the ratio of staff to attendees was about 7-to-1. That might’ve been the result of an overzealous gatekeeping squadron of “girls-with-iPads” at the beach entrance so intimidating in their bureaucratic devotion to order they could’ve inspired a Hannah Arendt essay. But I suspect the truth lies in the fact that there simply aren’t enough art people to fill this many events—even with the art scene’s at-times-resigned bedfellowship with the wealthy denizens from the worlds of fashion, cryptocurrency (yuck), and celebrity now firmly cemented.

 

The Satellite Art Show's new digs in Miami Beach

There was just too much to do! A few years ago, I would’ve prioritized trying to see everything at the scrappy Satellite Art Show, long my favorite fair.

This year, however, it continually got bumped down my triage list as I repeatedly confronted the realization that most of the performances I wanted to see (really the lifeblood of Satellite) would be nearly-ending by the time I made it up the infuriating traffic slog of Collins Avenue. When I finally did make it through the gridlock gauntlet of hundreds of Ubers depositing single riders along the chain of the same five hotels literally in a straight line (take the damn trolley, people!) I had only enough time to breeze through the fair’s beachfront shipping containers before turning around for the commute back south to a dinner obligation.

 

Rebekah Campbell McIlwain's solo cargo container at the Satellite Art Show
Rebekah Campbell McIlwain's solo cargo container at the Satellite Art Show

That’s a shame, because I think Satellite and its DIY spirit offer something unique. The fair is pretty nimble and distinct in each iteration, and this year was a mixed bag. There were some truly great exhibitions, such as Rebekah Campbell McIlwain’s installation exploring midwestern identity and politics through objects such as custom cowboy boots and tense paintings featuring details like screen captures of Slack meetings about community development, policing, and racial justice. 

I wondered, though, how the ever-morphing Satellite—whose real appeal has often been an anarchic, Burning-Man-like energy driven by performances and immersive installations—can maintain a critical mass of commodifiable visual artists of a consistent-enough caliber to attract collectors or institutional attention while remaining accessible and fun. 

Erick Medina at Art Gaysel
Zain Curtis at Art Gaysel

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but the unfortunately-named queer fair Art Gaysel might’ve been well on its way to working that out this year! The fair, which is annually hosted by the Hotel Gaythering, usually flies just under my radar.

In the past it’s been characterized mostly by a somewhat niche subject matter: dicks. There have always been a lot of paintings of dicks, photos of dicks, performances about dicks, embroideries of dicks, sculptures of dicks, and newer genres of dicks in mixed media (dimensions variable). This year there was still quite a lot of phallic art, but it felt more “mature” in the other sense of the word. 

 

Painting by Adam Chuck above metalwork by Guelmo Rosa at Art Gaysel
Darnell Lamont Walker at Art Gaysel

A narrative installation from Darnell Lamont Walker recreated a dark room, smartly referencing double identities and personal “development.” Pop-up cabarets in hotel rooms hosted performances after dark. Photographer Jeremy Lucido’s confessional, intimate Polaroids and prints offered a voyeuristic peak into the artist’s sexual adventures. And there were many, many figurative painters selling works as skilled as most at the convention center at a fraction of the cost. 

I think Art Gaysel represented a Miami Art Week experience I’ve been nostalgic for: the accessibly-scaled (and priced) hotel fair walking distance from the Convention Center. Smartly, the fair opened daily from 5 pm to midnight, so the participating artists and galleries had time to see other fairs before opening their rooms to the public, just as South Beach’s post-fair circuit of dinners and nightlife began, and still had time to party and sleep off their hangovers. The timing, price-points, and intimacy of the setting gave the fair the kind of festive, “anything is possible,” low-stress vibe I used to love about the activities swirling in the fringes of ABMB’s orbit. And at a time when queer spaces are coming under attack, it also felt sharply relevant.

 

********************************

Below, a few more highlights from ABMB week—starting with examples of my new favorite art world trend. 

 

Sara Suppan at Friends Indeed Gallery at NADA
Martine Syms at Sadie Coles HQ's Art Basel Miami Beach booth
Jonathas de Andrade's installation in Art Basel: Meridians (featuring butt of unknown person posing for a photo)
Wolfgang Tillmans at Galerie Buchholz' ABMB booth
Hank Willis Thomas at Jack Shainman's ABMB booth
Leslie Martinez at And Now's Art Basel: Positions booth

A few years ago, in our post-ABMB trend report, I noticed something peculiar and declared that “pants are the new plants,” as pants had seemingly supplanted once-ubiquitous houseplants as the new “it” accessory for artworks.

It’s a phenomenon that’s only accelerated since. This year, these surrogate allusions to the body had become so mainstream they were prominently featured in several of Art Basel’s (very excellently) curated sections. Leslie Martinez’s massive abstractions in the “Positions” section of the fair might look like impasto paint from a distance. But up close, I noticed much of their texture came from pants appliqued to the canvas!

But pants aren’t just an #aesthetic preference: some artists have been employing them to conceptual ends from the serious to the playful. Hank Willis Thomas at Jack Shainman, for example, sewed prison uniforms together to form a flag-like vortex evoking a swastika, alluding to the endless cycle of incarcerated labor. Meanwhile, Jonathas de Andrade’s charming installation in the “Meridians” section of the fair comprised sculptures the artist made to fit swim trunks salvaged from changing rooms’ lost-and-found boxes in his native Brazil. 

 

Also in "Meridians," one of the curated highlights of Art Basel, Nengi Omuku's installation "Eden" was easily the most seductive artwork in the fair.
Reginald O'Neal at Spinello Projects in the "NOVA" section of Art Basel Miami Beach

Every year, Miami gallerist and curator Anthony Spinello presents at least one project that sticks with me. I’ve literally cried in his exhibitions! And I almost never cry!

This year, I didn’t tear-up looking at Reginald O’Neal’s gorgeous oil paintings that confront racist legacies with a deceptively beautiful hand, but I wouldn’t blame anyone who did. O’Neal’s delicate, buttery renderings of cotton might’ve been the most skilled work on view all week, raising all sorts of associations about labor and the very material (canvas) upon which the canon of Western art are supported.

 

Installation by Gerardo Rosales, with paintings by Cruz Ortiz at Bill Arning Exhibitions' booth at UNTITLED.

Unjust “labor” also figured into Gerardo Rosales’ monument to the overworked and underpaid army of domestic workers who raise the children of Venezuela’s small ruling class. The installation was really hard to photograph, because each rainboot (typical footwear for the women who cook and scrub the floors of the wealthy) was a lovingly detailed component of a larger whole, implying a monument to fallen soldiers in a class war. 

 

Didier Viodé (L) and Shagha Ariannia at Parisian SEPTIEME Gallery's booth at UNTITLED
Chul Hyun Ahn at C. Grimaldis Gallery's Art Miami booth

C. Grimaldis Gallery presented a Chul Hyun Ahn that surprised me way beyond the “whoa, trippy” effect of so much op-art. Installed on the floor of the fair, photos cannot do justice to this vertigo-inducing sculpture’s vaguely sinister capacity to terrify—implying some impossibly deep subterranean well, with associations of nefarious hidden infrastructure like missile silos, bunkers, or coal mines. I mentioned it later to a friend who remarked, “I like to imagine someone having this in their luxury condo, trying to do a line of cocaine off of it, and having an existential crisis as they gaze into the abyss.”

 

That might’ve been the absolute best quote to describe twenty years of Art Basel in Miami Beach I’ve ever heard.

 

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