Is Art Basel the most important contemporary art fair in the world? Yes. Does its December home in Miami Beach morph it into one big art party: Yes, and yes again. Now in its 11th year, Art Basel Miami Beach fuses institutional–grade artworks and projects with a joie de vivre which only a vibrant, tropical setting like the Magic City can offer. However, this year’s fair possessed a vibe less frantic and less flamboyant than in years past, with dealers and critics noting how collectors carefully sifted through over 300 galleries to seek out works which held intellectual and investment value versus manufactured hype.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what Miami and Hong Kong will bring in terms of significant changes to contemporary art,” said Art Basel Hong Kong director Magnus Renfrew, “it’s interesting seeing what’s coming out of the local communities as well as the larger galleries.”
Presentations from large galleries were racked with star power and brain benders. Victoria Miro Gallery’s giant colourful Yayoi Kusama flowerpot, Lisson Gallery’s saturated blue Anish Kapoor concave sculpture, a strangely tribal–looking yellow sculpture from Aaron Curry via David Kordansky Gallery and a hypnotic pastel from Pietro Roccasalva at ZERO Gallery Milan were all visual and psychological feats. More emerging programs such as Galleria Fonti, RaeberVonStenglin, mother’s tankstation, and Spinello Projects (all within the Art Positions sector) engaged their viewers with finely tuned solo projects from artists Christian Flamm, Ivan Seal, Atsushi Kaga and Agustina Woodgate, respectively. “I’m absolutely overwhelmed at the response we’ve been getting,” Miami–based Spinello reported, “It’s a unique time for us.”
A satellite art fair channels crowds gathering for the main event, drawing them into experiences that are less expensive, less intellectually accessible and/or (though not always) less pretentious. The newest presence helmed by Miami–based curator Omar Lopez–Chahoud, Untitled, quickly became the word on the lips of those frequenting the Swiss juggernaut asking that perennial question, ‘what else is good here?’ Its most impressive project was the New York–based collaborative called The Skull Sessions (founded by Andrea Galvani and Tim Hyde). Visitors discovered Alice Miceli’s buried and resurrected rayographs from Chernobyl; Saul Melman’s performances (one, photographs previously taken of his gilding MoMa PS1’s subterranean furnace, and the other arranging horse skin parchment bricks live within the gallery’s booth); Galvani’s clandestine habitation of a rocky area on the island of Corsica; and Hyde’s manipulated photographs of a person seemingly shifting the sky into moveable panels above a parking lot. The capabilities and semantics of organic bodies, and how time inhibits or facilitates their potential was the key.
The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) stationed at the 1950’s landmark Deauville Hotel had, this year, celebrated a decade of brute, hipster–esque force. In all of their bespectacled glory, gallerists catered to international curators and critics scouring South Beach for the next contemporary art superstars. Chances are, NADA sent them home happy. Between three ballrooms, standout programs included Nicole Klagsbrun with a hauntingly painted diptych by Cameron, cryptically Warhol–like reappropriations of Cartier watch advertisements by Jason Kalgiros of Queen’s Nails and Candice Lin’s disturbed, apocalyptic animal farm courtesy of François Ghebaly.
Honourable mentions include Miami–based Bhakti Baxter’s inspired installation for Federica Schiavo Gallery and Yelena Popova’s array of gentle, geometric canvases from COLE London. Non–profit foundation Artadia awarded New Yorker Margaret Lee a $4,000 US prize as the fair’s breakout artist; her works presented as telephones surrounded by, or made from, food items. Exceeding all expectations, the works at NADA were engagingly fun and well–informed without being aggressive towards the potential art world–newcomer.
While cash wasn’t flying out of pockets as quickly as, say, four or even three years ago, galleries reported sales of important artists (motivated by intelligent financial and aesthetic decisions rather than achieving wannabe–celebrity status collector). The verdict? Brains triumphs over the obnoxiously bombastic.
Shana Beth Mason is an art consultant and critic based in Miami. Mason is the Miami editor of Whitehot Magazine (New York) and has contributed to HOUSE Magazine, FlashArt (Online), ArtPulse Magazine, ArtVoices (Los Angeles), Miami Art Guide, Sculpture, TheWanderlister+ Asia and Whitewall Magazine. Mason holds a Master’s degree in the History of Art & Connoisseurship (Modern & Contemporary Art) from Christie’s Education London.