Art Basel Miami Beach, 2009
Post #1443 • January 13, 2010, 11:28 AM • 58 Comments
[I learned yesterday that my Art Basel Miami Beach piece for The New Criterion was cut due to space constraints. Such is life in the world of print publishing. Since it's no longer timely, and I wrote it specifically for TNC readers, I doubt it would be worth trying to turn it around to another publication, so here it is. - F.]
During the first week of every December, Art Basel Miami Beach takes over a goodly portion of the Miami Beach Convention Center, divvies up the space into booths, and rents them to galleries from all over the world. A number of satellite art fairs spring up around the main one; 2009 saw fourteen of them, give or take a few depending on your standards for inclusion. You would have to possess a frighteningly intense commitment to art, plus the endurance of a marathoner, to see all of them. This is to say nothing of the harm that would be done to your sensibilities as you encountered a dozen eye-injuring inanities for every work worth looking at.
Nevertheless, one can see good art there. Having cemented its role as the Fair of Record, Art Basel Miami Beach reliably attracts an impressive if variable roster of galleries. Presentations, despite taking place in glorified cubicles, typically reflect the gallery's effort to bring its top game. True, that game may be a social one in many cases; several galleries dedicated their entire space to a single, enormous, attention-getting conceptualist work. But the fair provided plenty of solid efforts by a range of modern and contemporary worthies.
Art Basel Miami Beach 2009, in addition to the regularly exhibiting galleries, featured three subsections: Art Nova, Art Positions, and Art Kabinett. Art Nova, by thematic diktat, presented recent works by up to three artists in each booth, and was described by the fair guide as an "ideal place to spot the newest tendencies in artistic production." Art Positions, again quoth the guide, "showcas[ed] both cutting-edge projects by single artists and conceptually driven group shows." As you'd expect from copy like this, most of it rehashed spent nihilist themes from 1971, but there were notable exceptions. Galerist, hailing from Istanbul, showed Haluk Akakçe, whose paintings harkened back to California hard-edge abstraction as they riffed on silhouetted architectural plans. Andrew Edlin Gallery exhibited Brent Green's sculptures, which have served as set pieces for maudlin animated films that simultaneously evoke Edward Gorey and Edvard Munch. Neopolitan gallery T293 filled its space with paintings by the Lisbon-born, Boston-based Sonia Almeida, in which she applied color fields with a tentative touch to hinged triptychs of rough wood.
For the Art Kabinett installments, located throughout the fair, ABMB organizers asked galleries to create a display of a single artist or single theme. This introduces a much-needed curatorial aspect into what threatens every year to degenerate into a wholly mercantile experience. Coincidentally, two Art Kabinett exhibits featured the work of Jack Tworkov. Mitchell-Inness & Nash showed the authoratative, muscular abstractions we usually associate with his oeuvre, while Valerie Carberry Gallery, coming from Chicago, exhibited his energetic figurative work from the late '40s, executed practically next to de Kooning in their Fourth Avenue studios as both of them struggled through Cubism and the female form. Haas & Fuchs, from Berlin, put up a handsome suite of George Grosz drawings. Tom Wesselmann works on paper, appearing courtesy Maxwell Davidson, evinced warm handicraft, a reverence for Degas, and other virtues not visible in his chilly cut-steel cheesecake.
Jacobson Howard stood out among the main galleries by showing large-scale works from the early 1980s by Norman Bluhm. By that date, Bluhm had largely abandoned the flinging of paint, in favor of looping shapes with an attractive sweet-and-sour palette. Considering the tendency of 1980s painting to over-emote, these should be better known by virtue of combined expressiveness and sophistication. Yun-Fei Ji, whose delicately painted critiques of the Cultural Revolution make him an able scion of Grosz, appeared at both Nitsch/Paragon and James Cohan. Works by John McLaughlin, the veritable Zen master of west coast modernism, graced the galleries of Michael Kohn of Los Angeles and Greenberg Van Doren, who had an exquisite little piece from 1962, brought to satisfying completion using only vertical bands of blue, bone, and black. El Anatsui, who is making some of the most effective art from found materials since Kurt Schwitters, showed his sprawling, polyrhythmic tapestries of shredded cans at Jack Shainman. Judy Pfaff likewise deserves a mention for some long horizontal boxes charmingly filled with silk flowers and colored paper at Ameringer McEnery Yohe.
Allan Stone brought abstract works from the '50s by Alfred Leslie, one of which, Four Panel Green, was fourteen feet across. This presentation, combined with Stone's Art Kabinett exhibit of Wayne Thiebaud, was a museum-quality effort. But if allowed to choose from everything on offer, it would have been hard not to take home Fairfield Porter's Anemone and Daffodil from 1965, painted in oil on Masonite with his characteristic sumptuousness. It leaned temporarily against a wall in Michael Rosenfeld's space, dominating the room even from its position on the floor. Serendipitous encounters like that one make the schlep through the Miami fairs worthwhile.