Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Miami/Basel 08 Overview

I'm just back from this year's edition of Miami/Basel and its galaxy of satellite fairs. I was really torn whether to go again this year. The fact that I really don't like the Art Basel brand (as evidenced by my rant this time last year), combined with the tanking economy made me think twice. I decided on a resolutely unglamorous approach to the whole thing; I avoided all opening nights and went to none of the parties or bling fests. I have to say the whole thing went down much easier by missing all that social climbing fluff. I got to concentrate on the art and I cut down on my antacid intake.

As usual, my oases of art pleasure were at the Margulies Warehouse and the warehouse that Pierogi/Feldman/Hales rents in Wynnwood. I have nothing really new to report from either venue, but anyone who misses either on a trip to Miami/Basel is missing an essential core of satisfying art.

I spent very little time in the belly of the beast at the convention center. I don't know why I have such a visceral reaction to the mood of this fair, but I do hate it. So this year, I just gave up and left. The only thing I'll say is to complain about their petty, ineffective ban of cameras at the entrance. If you are unlucky enough to confess that you have a camera with you, you are forced to leave it at the coat check. Of course, once inside, EVERYONE has a camera. There are camera phones, IPod cameras, credit card sized cameras, cameras, cameras, cameras. What on earth is management enforcing by inconveniencing the few folks who get caught? Gallery Owners: Is this really such a great fair? You get charged big, big numbers to come to a place where we all get treated badly. I don't have schadenfreude for the galleries doing badly in this economy, but I wish Art Basel would feel more of the pain. Of course, they get their money up front.

All right. Enough rant. On a positive note, the Art Positions in the containers on the beach were really good this year. Renwick Gallery presented Jose Davila's transformation of one of the containers into a Donald Judd-inspired stack. Smart and beautiful:

Gallery Iris Kadel had a wonderfully integrated, visually engaging container devoted to Mathias Bitzer with work inspired by Joseph Conrad.

Salvador Diaz Gallery had "jewelry" by Teresa Margolles that had been crafted from the shards of glass left after revenge shootings between rival gangs. Bling Nature Morte.

My favorite was a Sean Raspet video being shown in the container of Daniel Reich Gallery. The video was great (though defying my descriptive powers), but what made it most remarkable was the presentation. The container was structured so that you were forced to watch the video one person at a time. YES! It has been a peeve of mine for the longest time that video presentation in an unstructured environment does a disservice to the viewer and to the artist. Finally an artist has seized the control of this experience and mandated that you will see it beginning to end, in a private space, with no distractions. It was wonderful. I was happy to wait 15 minutes for this privilege. More artists should do the same.

At Photo Miami, Bruce Silverstein had the most compelling Aaron Siskind installation I've seen. On 2 facing walls he had sets of 9 photographs. One set was found abstractions from walls and the other had a set from "Pleasure and Terrors of Levitation". The wall separating them had four photographs showing a transition from the figurative to the abstract in Siskind's work. It was a persuasive argument. Though I have been a Siskind fan for years, I had not seen his work grouped this way before and I found it illuminating. Robert Mann had a similar set of "Pleasures and Terrors" in his booth at Pulse, but it lacked the curatorial stamp of this larger tableau:

Wilde Gallery from Berlin was at Art Miami and had more of the great spraypaint on cardboard works by EVOL I commented on from Berliner Liste a few months ago. Art Miami was overall a very strong fair once again with a strong showing of South American Op-Art sculpture.

TZR Gallery from Düsseldorf
had the constructed/staged work of Jasper de Beijer at Photo Miami. I was quite taken with his work. On display were examples from his series "The Riveted Kingdom" which deals with slavery and colonization. Like many other artists who make staged work, Mr. de Beijer creates that which is unavailable to be photographed. But his visual syntax is unlike anyone's that I've seen. His portraits especially are haunting masks of people we can't meet. Here are two views which give a glimpse of his working method:

Detail of same shot:

I'm curious why I'm so drawn to his work when I'm so uninspired by similar work by Sarah Anne Johnson and others of this ilk. Perhaps it's because his subject matter is more universal or perhaps because he maintains his visual style rather than artificially moving back and forth between the staged and simple photographs. I don't know. More thought required but I encourage you to go to the TZR website and look at other work. I don't think it's been seen much in the US.

Overall, Scope was the least interesting fair to me. One exception (there were others) was at Invisible Exports. I was excited to see the work of Mickey Smith who has photographed bound magazine runs in public libraries. The embossed titles on leather-bound volumes were playful yet full of layered intention. One could respond to the work as a typology, as an archive of an archive, as a nostalgic peek at bygone titles, or perhaps even a riff on repeated words in a linguistic circle. There was in any case plenty to find in the work to merit a second look. I'd love to see more.

More to come from Miami.....

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