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art miami

Post #188 • January 13, 2004, 7:05 AM • 1 Comment

You'll notice I didn't write much about Art Basel Miami Beach. Frankly, I didn't enjoy reading about it, and couldn't figure out how to write anything different from the one article I kept seeing over and over again from different writers: "Gosh! What a great surfeit of artistic stimulation! How can we stand it all? Doing justice to this veritable cornucopia of visual ya-yas would be inconceivable, so here's a big list of stuff that I liked..." Yawn. It was everything that's bad about travel writing, applied to art. But like I said, I couldn't figure out any way around it, and I figure that if I'm boring myself, I'm going to bore you too. And I refuse to bore you, dear reader.

Yet, here we are at the end of Art Miami, and as Tom Lerher said, even though the prospect sickens, brother, here we go again. I put off seeing it until Sunday, and before then conducted an informal poll of people who had seen it: What did you think? The results:

  • Okay: 1
  • Terrible: 5
  • Complete fucking piece of shit: 1

By the time I got my press pass I wasn't exactly amped up to see everything. But nobody ever died from looking at art, so I took a breath and started walking around, using the Taoist looking technique I discovered at Art Basel.

I'd say that half of it was terrible - the kind of hotel-grade art that we've come to expect from the fair that got its toes stepped on by the Swiss boots. What did jump out at me was guilty pleasure art - stuff that bowled me over back when I was an illustration major at RISD fifteen years ago. Let's take Arcadia Gallery, for instance, who represents Malcolm Liepke. Back in the day, Liepke was going by "Skip," and he was an illustrator's illustrator. The guy was, and is, collossally skillful, and he has been able to cross over into fine art and drop his childhood nickname. He has a great shtick. He paints womens' shoulderblades better than anyone alive, although he tends to give everyone the same lips. I love this stuff, in sort of the same way I love Jackie Chan movies. I'm not saying it's great art, just enjoyable. And look at this Ron Hicks guy - those flickering surfaces, those soulful expressions. I don't care if his work is treacly enough to promote tooth decay. I like it.

One of the more pleasurable stops at Art Miami was 21st Photography, which produces beautifully hand-bound editions of photography monographs. Bookbinding is really easy to do badly. I have screwed up a half dozen books in one way or another. These things were exquisitely executed in hand-laid calfskin, hand-marbling, handmade paper, and palladium prints. They were going for about twelve grand a pop. I thumbed through a collection of Sheila Metzner photographs interspersed between letterpressed verses by Walt Whitman that I would have loved to spend a couple of hours with.

Jide was right - those Jet-te Rannings at Gallerie Egelund were luminous, quirky, and charming. Along the same lines, Frank Piasta at Galerie Lausberg had created meditative abstractions out of smeared layers of colored silicone. The reproductions at the link do them little justice.

Claire Oliver Fine Art stole the show. Oliver not only had a few of Judith Schaecter's stained glass pieces - she whose show at the Bass Museum must be seen - but also sponsored a group of Israeli artists working as A E S & F Group who pitched a big, colorful bedouin tent, with cloth walls that were emblazoned with bold Islamic designs and cleverly retouched photographs of famous Occidental-world monuments redone as Arab-world statements: the Statue of Liberty with a burqua, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with onion-domed spires. I'm always impressed to see political art succeed since so little does, and this did, conveying a jolt of humorous discomfort.

The question on everyone's mind, I suppose, is whether Art Miami should just give up in light of Art Basel Miami Beach. My feeling at the moment is that it shouldn't. It was quite a bit better than the utter dreck it was last year, even if a bunch of goofy stuff still got in. Their strategy to make it smaller and more selective seems to be working, and needs to be applied with greater force. But honestly, Miami could probably have one of these big fairs every two months and I would still go to see it. Like our fearless leader says, bring it on.




January 14, 2004, 4:04 AM

Franklin, maybe I've been drinking too much Cuban coffee (and I don't mean thimblefuls) but maybe you need to eat some meat once in a while. You're too placid and genteel, and Elisa Turner already has that angle covered. Her exceedingly positive Herald pieces on Art Miami were not at all how I saw the sorry business.

Even allowing for AM not being a top-tier operation, and cutting major slack to the more contemporary galleries, 40% of all galleries were still flat-out ghastly, strictly mall or street fair material. This induces unease and discomfort, making everything look suspect (contaminating it, so to speak). The much-touted "stricter" selection criteria were evidently pretty toothless.

The blue-chip galleries, of course, have all flown the coop, either going to Basel or the Palm Beach fair. The latter, next to AM, looked as good as Basel, though it had much less contemporary work. A single gallery at Palm Beach had better stuff than all of AM put together: a Giacometti bust, Morandi, Sisley, Pissarro, Vlaminck, Dubuffet, early Lam, Picasso, Ler, and an exquisitely beautiful, serenely sensual Bonnard still life on paper that, by itself, was worth the trip to West Palm--it may sound trite, but it's the sort of work that truly affirms life.

Art Miami struck me as neither fish nor fowl. Either they're trying to have their cake and eat it (i.e., mixing ostensibly serious work with overt schlock), or they don't know what they want to be. Regardless, words like floundering come to mind. I think they're in serious trouble.

P.S. The, er, less-than-outstanding quality of work you cite as AM highlights is very indicative of the problem. Liepke is like a syrupy, gooey version of Toulouse-Lautrec designed for Wal-Mart, and Hicks looks like a watered down and tired Sargent. Ranning was pleasant enough, if rather slight, and Piasta was literally synthetic. However, given the slimness of the pickings, I can see how they could stand out.



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