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Hunting for the Highlights at Miami Art Week – 2011
by Collin James Munn

It is widely believed, and continually re-asserted by both art world insiders and observers, that the Miami Art Week is the biggest and most important conglomeration of art fairs to take place in the United States. This year was no exception, even amidst a devastating recession. America’s southern party-capital lived up to its reputation for transforming into the playground of the international art-eratti and their discerning clients, and for five days became the country’s biggest and most lavish art exhibition and marketplace. While all of the glitter and commitment to opulent lavishness can be distracting, there was a surprisingly vast body of amazing work by artists from a variety of stages in their careers that provided moments (dare I say hours?) of uninterrupted wonder, awe, disturbance and desire.

For the Wednesday, November 30th press and VIP preview at At Basel Miami Beach, the ambiance of the fair was subdued. I did a quick run-through, veering away from the more blue chip galleries which tended to focus on Baldessari, Motherwell and Basquiat, and looked at artists with whom I was a little less familiar. Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of work by Ai Weiwei, likely related to the huge increase in his mainstream media exposure due to his imprisonment in China. It was exciting to find video stills from Tacita Dean at Niels Borch Jensen Gallery (Dean's current Unilever exhibition at the Tate Modern thas been gaining a lot of positive critical attention), and I was intrigued by the exciting new work coming from Brazilian galleries. Luciano Brito Galeria from São Paulo had a really tightly curated yet visually arresting display, with my personal highlight being Leonardo Elrich’s La Vitrina_Cloud Collection, 2011, a quiet and simple sculptural work made to look like some antiquated collector’s case, but instead of exotic animals or other curiosities, there are cubes of stacked glass that resemble small captured clouds on display.

Jesus Soto, "Ecriture Verticale Jaune" DANGaleria; Photo by Collin Munn

My favorite gallery from Brazil was DANGaleria, which had a whole slew of minimalist sculptural work that was very reminiscent of Latin American conceptual work from the 1960’s and 70’s, but with a fresh aesthetic and an engagement with new materials. Jesus Soto’s Ecriture Verticale Jaune was especially striking with its complex architectural mapping of space within the contained field of two parallel planks of wood jutting out from the wall.

Later that evening at the Aqua Art Miami opening I got a chance to see a lot of work by artists that I was not intimately aware of, since most the big-names were absent from this smaller boutique fair. Especially interesting was the geometric installation by Will Wilson for Eileen Braziel, which occupied a large space of the hotel’s courtyard. The wall sculpture by Francesca Pastine, titled ArtForum 31, Unsolicited Collaboration with Jurgen Teller, had a playful quality and a strong aesthetic presence with its blending of collage, sculpture, and painting. Another strong presentation at Aqua was in Galleri Urbane Marfa + Dallas’ room, with an especially arresting work by Michael Berman, titled Skinned Snake, which consisted of a beautiful large black-and-white photograph printed on a grid of 12" x 12" aluminum plates that provided the image with a geometric materiality combined with a photographic aesthetic.

The following day I decided to do double fair day with visits to Pulse and NADA, the fairs that tend to be the most satisfying for me. As usual, Pulse proved to be an exciting and amazing mixture of artists and galleries from very different career stages and geographic origins. I enjoyed Jim Campbell’s Exploded View, 2011 at Hosfelt Gallery, a large-scale installation of suspended objects in space creating a luminescent indoor constellation.

Unfortunately, I found NADA to be much more underwhelming contrary to many of the raves I had heard. There seemed to be too much focus on branding and “coolness” factor rather than the quality of the work. That does not mean that it was without highlights, however, with a really beautiful display at New York’s Foxy Production and a captivating piece by Andrew Schoultz at Miami’s Locust Projects. Schoultz's piece, a large grid of American flags made in China out of gold with titles like “handcrafted with pride in China,” mapped lines of power between nationalism, production, and economic exchange.

Nathaniel Donnett, "Sweeten the Deal",  2011; Courtesy of Jenkins-Johnson Gallery and the artist

Friday became my big Wynwood day with a visit to the Miami staple - Art Miami - as well as excursions to the grittier and hipper fairs of Seven and Fountain. Art Miami this year had a plethora of solid, interesting work, like the mirrored-room installation by Andrew Erdos at Claire Oliver Gallery in which one viewer at a time entered an entirely mirrored room filled with biomorphic glass and mirrored sculptures that manipulated and magnified one's field of vision in unsettling yet beautiful ways. A very strong gallery show came from San Francisco-New York-based Jenkins-Johnson Gallery, which blended an interesting selection of both international and domestic artists working with an array of challenging mediums and subject matter. I was particularly drawn to the large-scale works by emerging artist Nathaniel Donnett, whose racially provocative pieces painted on paper bags have an undeniably commanding visual presence. Also very noteworthy in the Jenkins-Johnson’s booth were the large photographs by Moroccan photographer Lalla Essayadi, whose portraits of Moroccan women covered in Arabic script and custom fabrics mimicking North African tile patterns were poignant explorations of Islamic feminist issues.

A short walk from Art Miami, the Seven fair ("7") presented its innovative model of seven galleries intermingling their work into one large group show. The format is definitely intriguing, and works to remove some of the commercial aspects prevalent at the other fairs. My two absolute favorites from the fair were Rico Gatson from Ronald Friedman Fine Art, who recently had a very well-regarded exhibition at Exit Art in New York, and David Diao from Postmasters.

Two blocks further was the Fountain Art Fair, arguably the grittiest, hippest, and least commercial of the Miami art fairs. Fountain has a very strong focus on street art and many booths sported a heavy-handed curatorial approach to salon-style hanging. With an explosion of many artists on almost every wall, I often found it difficult to ascertain who the artists were among all the stimuli. Finally I just gave up and let it happen. I ended up spending time with an installation by Miguel Ovale (which also was quite well-labeled), a beautiful cacophony of metallic objects that inhabited this dark closet-like space in a really interesting way.

My final highlights from the Miami Art Week came from my return to Basel on the last day of the fairs. Within my first minutes at the fair, I happened across Bangalore-based GallerySKE, which was probably the most visually commanding of the booths I explored. Krishnaraj Chonat, Srinvasa Prasad, and Avinash Veeraraghavan, who are all represented by GallerySKE, had absolutely stunning work that was truly hard to stop looking at. Of special interest was the glimpse into the contemporary Indian art scene, which can be difficult to find in New York. I was quite smitten.

As the Miami Art Week drew to a close, I most definitely felt some serious visual fatigue but left the city feeling invigorated nonetheless. The new work coming out of Brazil and India were definite highlights and it is exactly these kinds of discoveries that make the stress and hustle of the Miami Art Week worth it, and it is what continues to bring to me back.

~Collin James Munn

(Image at top: View of Fountain Art Fair;  Courtesy of Collin Munn)

Posted by Collin James Munn on 12/7/11 | tags: digital photography art fairs mixed-media installation

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