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The Miami Report: Highlights from Basel and Beyond

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Is this a good year for galleries? That depends on who you ask.

Nearly every fair seemed a little quieter than usual on their opening days this year—with the exception of UNTITLED, which was buzzy as ever. A few gallerists I spoke with seemed to be having success with a strategy I’ve long advocated for: showing smaller, more accessibly priced works from artists at different stages of their careers, rather than relying on mega-sales of mural-sized canvases or flashy/gimmicky/monumental installations from the usual blue-chip provocateurs. At other VIP previews—when sales to serious collectors usually take place—I sensed a palpable uncertainty.

That’s despite the fact that so many galleries seem to be playing it painfully, disappointingly safe this year. Purely decorative “hotel art” abounds, but at the cavernous convention center, booths with challenging or innovative artworks are about as common as faces with intact buccal fat—they’re few and far between and take some effort to spot.

 

KDR's new space
Alejandro Piñeiro Bello at KDR (Katia David Rosenthal) Gallery
Erika Jaeggli at Voloshyn Gallery

Across the causeway, I’m happy to report there’s a bit more confidence, with major investments in new art spaces. In the years since the Rubell family re-opened their jaw-dropping collection in a cluster of former food warehouses in Allapattah, a slew of new galleries has followed their lead.

On Sunday, a progressive brunch inaugurated a few of these new digs—including the gorgeously renovated new home of KDR, founded by MICA grad Katia David Rosenthal, whose NADA booth showing Alejandro Piñeiro Bello was one of my highlights last year.

The painter’s solo show this year at Rosenthal’s new brick-and-mortar spot is just as lovely and coincides with a must-see exhibition at the nearby Rubell Museum, where massive canvasses take full advantage of the site’s industrial scale.

Down the block, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Voloshyn Gallery had opened a Miami outpost. I met the Ukrainian gallerists earlier this year at ARCO in Madrid, where they explained some of the works in their booth had been made while they sheltered in the gallery with one of their artists during a Russian air raid. Here, they’re showing these gorgeous mixed-media Erika Jaeggli encaustic pieces.

The artist starts off with images of caverns printed onto heavyweight cotton and builds up layers of wax and pigment, creating something that could be described as inverted landscapes. They’re dreamy and possess a sense of weight and depth. I joked to someone that the thermal/humidity shock involved in transporting fragile encaustic work from Kyiv to Miami must be an art handler/conservator’s worst nightmare, but it turns out Jaeggli is from Baltimore and now lives and works in Dallas (so she and her work are well acclimated to swampy outdoor heat and air conditioning). Small world!

 

Ana González Rojas at Galería La Cometa

Around the corner, Galería La Cometa is showing this Ana González Rojas, who also manipulates digitally printed imagery to remind the viewer of a photographic image’s materiality. She painstakingly plucked the warp from this canvas, leaving only the weft to bear a ghostly image of palm trees—perhaps as a commentary on the deterioration of tropical ecosystems due to resource extraction in Latin America and across the global south. That reading would be in keeping with the politically informed (if not a bit uneven) inaugural show for this Colombian gallery’s new Miami location.

 

Tylonn J. Sawyer at N'Namdi Contemporary Miami
Tylonn J. Sawyer at N'Namdi Contemporary Miami

On the topic of politically-charged, smart work, Tylonn J. Sawyer’s solo show at N’Namdi Contemporary Miami is one of the stand-out “must-see” exhibitions at a Miami brick-and-mortar.

Every series in the show is completely different yet flawlessly executed, from delicate lilac pen drawings celebrating queer Black resistance to text-based conceptual work and a triptych of oil portraits depicting victims of police violence as the “red shirts” trope from 1960s Star Trek—a reference to viewers’ expectations that the background actors wearing red uniforms usually met untimely deaths at the hands of alien space fascists or other nefarious powers-that-be.

I’d also like to point out that the Little-Haiti-based N’Namdi Contemporary really knows how to throw a party! Next year, if you have to triage your art week events, be sure to make time for their indoor-outdoor Miami hospitality.

Drew Leshko and PITR (painting), shown by Mortal Machine at SCOPE

Speaking of Little Haiti, I appreciate this tribute to the long-running and sorely missed local punk venue/dive bar Churchill’s, whose controversial closing set off an art scene scandal. It’s on view among other works celebrating the sleazy vernacular Miami in danger of being erased by rampant real estate speculation in Mortal Machine’s booth at SCOPE.

There’s a special place in my heart for PITR’s painting of Mac’s Club Deuce—the last South Beach bastion of “old Miami,” beloved by both art handlers and my family. (Maybe TMI: but my family loves this dive bar so much they literally scattered my brother’s ashes there!)

 

Morel Doucet, shown by Galerie Myrtis at SCOPE
Morel Doucet, shown by Galerie Myrtis at SCOPE

Also at SCOPE, Galerie Myrtis is showing some really lovely mixed-media paintings by the Haiti-born, Miami-based Marcel Doucet (read our review of his recent solo show here).

I think this is the first time in many years that I can honestly say SCOPE is worth a visit! The fair seems to have flexed some curatorial muscle this year, and there’s a lot of quality booths taking over floorspace from the “bedazzled AK47” schlock I used to avoid like bedbugs at Paris+ par Art Basel.

 

Moira Holohan, shown by Emerson Dorsch at UNTIITLED
Oil paintings by Shirley Irons and sculptures by Daniella Dooling, shown by Bill Arning Exhibitions at UNTITLED
Alejandro Leonhardt, shown by L21 Gallery at UNTITLED

A few blocks up the beach, it almost goes without saying that UNTITLED is (predictably) one of the strongest fairs in town. The show is jam-packed with great examples of just about every kind of art object.

This year, I found myself gravitating to booths with unexpected material experimentation. Moira Holohan at Emerson Dorsch, for example, creates hybrid painting/tapestries using stills from performances for digital video. The piece above is formally lovely, but I appreciate it even more knowing its source material was a video of the artist headbanging.

L21 Gallery is showing a piece by Alejandro Leonhardt comprising different-colored paint chips arranged in a grid—perhaps a riff on those Damien Hirst “Spot Paintings” everyone loved to hate a few years back?

Bill Arning Exhibitions features some truly bizarre sculptures from Daniella Dooling, who began collaborating with a taxidermist who lives by an exotic bird farm in Italy. The taxidermist collects the birds who die of natural causes and preserves them. Dooling then freezes them in resin, like “dino-DNA!” in amber from Jurassic Park. They’re displayed in hardware that has an almost medical vibe.

“La naturaleza muerta” (the term for a still life, literally: “dead nature”) is one of those phrases that always comes to me in Spanish before English for some reason, and I found myself thinking about that in Arning’s booth.

Dooling’s sculptures are surrounded by delicate, washy, sketchy paintings of cut flowers by Shirley Irons and graphic, bold paintings featuring skulls and harlequin tablecloths by Meghan Gerety. There couldn’t be three more formally distinct series that work so well together conceptually.

 

Hana Ward, presented by OCHI Gallery at NADA
Dabin Ahn, presented by OCHI Gallery at NADA

I also always look forward to NADA, and this year did not disappoint. OCHI Gallery has another one of those booths with very aesthetically different paintings that are bound together by smart curation. (And, coincidentally, a lot of their artists have biographical similarities: coming from artistic families with histories of non-painting based creative practices ranging from architecture and activism to cinema and sculpture.)

There’s something oddly captivating about this Dabin Ahn oil painting of a vase, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It turns out Ahn is partially colorblind, and works from a meticulous process of planning with digital images. The end result is a painting that looks simultaneously flat and hyper-detailed.

 

Laura Footes⁠, shown by SHRINE at NADA
Minami Kobayashi, shown by Et. al at NADA
If the camera obscura revolutionized drawing and perspective in the Western canon, maybe newer-model iPhones and Google Pixels are doing the same for painting now?
Michael Anthony Farley

At NADA, I started to think seriously about something I had been noticing all day: a proliferation of paintings with the kind of cool/acerbic color combinations one might observe at sunset, or when neon lights start to flicker on at dusk. Or trying to take a selfie in “bisexual lighting” in a dark bar.

I’ve seen probably hundreds of oil paintings this week where layers of Prussian and cobalt blues build up to that elusive almost-black translucency of a newly-nighttime sky, with unexpected pops of cadmiums suggesting a warm light source just out-of-frame. There are abstract paintings evocative of sunsets, figurative paintings of backlit insomniacs, and so very much scumbled periwinkle (that oddly doesn’t come across as desaturated) everywhere.

It occurred to me that almost all of these paintings depicting (or potentially inspired by) tricky lighting were made in the past year. I wonder how much of this zeitgeist has to do with the algorithmic power of newer generation cameraphones. Historically, it was a challenge for even a skilled colorist to frantically mix a palette in the fleeting, changing light of “the blue hour,” dusk, or sunrise—looking both up at the subject and down at one’s own necessarily artificially-lit pigments.

For so much of human history, wondrously mutable oil paint was really the only technology available to faithfully depict light on a 2D surface. Suddenly, we all have the power to capture backlit reference photos that are more-or-less true to life with devices trained to replicate how the human eye perceives color.  If the camera obscura revolutionized drawing and perspective in the Western canon, maybe newer-model iPhones and Google Pixels are doing the same for painting now?

I was so preoccupied with this thesis while exiting NADA that I almost missed this very charming booth from Brackett Creek Exhibitions. Thankfully, the gallerist noticed my distracted glance and waved me in for a closer look. Turns out these make-believe domestic spaces are by Mia Ardito, another MICA grad! (Again, small world… full of even smaller doll-house sized lipsticks and brushes and other beauty accoutrements).

 

Jacob Todd Broussard, shown by Towards Gallery at NADA
Mia Ardito, shown by Brackett Creek Exhibitions at NADA
Lauren Halsey at the Rubell Museum
Alfonso Gonzalez Jr. at the Rubell Museum
I stand by my earlier statement that gallerists went with safe, decorative choices this year rather than swinging for the fences—to the point that it often took me a minute to figure out if a booth was primary or secondary market fare.
Michael Anthony Farley

From NADA, I went straight to the Rubell’s annual party—the event so many think of as the unofficial kick-off for Miami Art Week festivities. One of the several, excellent shows up right now is Singular Views: Los Angeles.

If you like art featuring tiny beauty supplies, you’re going to love a show dominated by really giant references to beauty supplies. Lauren Halsey celebrates Black beauty supply stores, Alfonso Gonzalez Jr. faithfully recreates a dilapidated hair salon facade, and Mario Ayala depicts a life-size bail bond advertising car that’s lipstick themed—a dark reminder that “glamour” is used to market the absolutely most unglamorous horrible things.

Mario Ayala at the Rubell Museum

Really, everything in the Rubell collection is so fantastic I can’t recommend this museum enough, especially now that it’s surrounded by so many galleries to make it worth the trip. (Pro tip: there’s actually a train directly to the airport a few blocks away, so Allapattah makes a really good stop if you’re looking to cram a bit more art-viewing into your last Miami day, no airport traffic stress involved.) Mostly, a visit to the Rubell Museum always restores my faith in the goodness of art.

Unfortunately, some restorative art-viewing might be in order for a lot of visitors this year. Because—weirdly—the main fair is pretty lackluster compared to both past iterations and its strongest satellites. I am not sure if that’s down to some economic jitters on the part of many gallerists, but even the curated sections of the convention center felt a bit stale this year. Perhaps it’s also an unintended consequence of an art week whose beginning inches ever earlier.

When you’ve already seen so much work at other fairs, galleries, and institutions by the time Art Basel even opens, it’s a bit like jumping into Christmas dinner when you’re still full from Thanksgiving. I stand by my earlier statement that gallerists went with safe, decorative choices this year rather than swinging for the fences—to the point that it often took me a minute to figure out if a booth was primary or secondary market fare.

That being said, quite a few things did catch my eye.

 

Mariana G Gomes (L), Erwin Wurm (sculpture), and João Onofre (R) shown by Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art at Art Basel
João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira, shown by Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art at Art Basel
Cajsa von Zeipel, shown by Company Gallery at Art Basel

Company Gallery, as always, has a strong booth headlined by the above cyberpunk/ seductive/slimy/gross Cajsa von Zeipel sculpture. Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art has—quietly—one of the most solid group shows in the fair. Every artist’s work is unique but smartly dialogues with one another.

I love how Erwin Wurm’s playful walking purse compliments the colors in Mariana G Gomes’s painting, and almost echoes the gestures in João Onofre’s. It’s a shame this photo collage from João Pedro Vale and Nuno Alexandre Ferreira, a pantheon of queer icons, is tucked away on an inward-facing wall, because it’s one of my favorite pieces at Art Basel.

Eric N. Mack, shown by Paula Cooper, Morán Morán, and Franco Noero in the Meridians section of Art Basel

Eric N. Mack continues his streak of utter Basel domination with this enormous, slowly rotating installation of draped fabric. At times the mobile-like forms align so as to suggest a tall ship’s sails or even dancers, and at other moments read as purely abstract or theatrical curtains. It’s really the only piece in the curated Meridians section this year that feels like it deserves the massive footprint it receives.

 

Matt Bolinger, shown by mother's tankstation in the Art Basel Nova section

The dusky painting trend is in full swing at Art Basel as well. There are plenty of zesty, lovely, sunset-evocative works scattered around, but the dominant color this year is purple. It’s probably most notable in all the figurative “blue hour” paintings, but shades of periwinkle glazed over aubergine, sherbert oranges, or really any color or surface possible feature in so many media in so many booths it’s confusing.

I am starting to suspect my theory about the layered color mixing made possible by both translucent oil paints and modern, algorithm-assisted digital photography on backlit screens might hold water—and this glowing purple zeitgeist is spreading to sculpture, video, garments, etcetera.

I saw the two paintings below in quick succession, and they read a bit like an illustration of that idea. The Cyrielle Gulacsy at Mignoni’s booth is an acrylic painting from a couple years ago. The gradient is actually a pointillist surface of many densly-packed dots—not unlike how a photo of a sunset taken with a point-and-shoot camera would’ve looked in the aughts.

The Britta Thie painting at Wentrup is an oil from 2023, and while its color doesn’t quite “glow” naturalistically the way some of the more painterly purple works here do (is that titanium white I spy in there??) it does quite obviously reference contemporary digital photography.

Never have I ever felt more like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada talking about the trickle-down cerulean “bargain bin” sweater, but I guess we’re soon going to have periwinkle on everything from IKEA slipcovers to those dreaded rhinestone-bedazzled gun sculptures come ABMB 2024.

 

Cyrielle Gulacsy, shown by Mignoni at Art Basel
Britta Thie, shown by Wentrup at Art Basel
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