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Notes from ABMB etc. 2008

Sophie Matisse The Staircase Group (2001), shown at Art Basel Miami Beach, courtesy of Francis M. Naumann Fine Art.
Sophie Matisse The Staircase Group (2001), shown at Art Basel Miami Beach, courtesy of Francis M. Naumann Fine Art.

Two and a half days and I managed to attend five fairs and two private collections with museum-like spaces open to the public (three Miami private collections are currently run as private museums open to the public and a fourth has just been announced). I say attend, because to actually see most of the work in the main fair (Art Basel Miami Beach or ABMB) might take three entire days (and at least a day for the other sizable fairs), and one would have seen it all but had time to appreciate nothing. So the visit and my remarks are necessarily random. I still apologize to myself for seeing so much art at a walking pace but ceased being embarrassed before the dealers if I didn’t even stop in front of their booths.

At ABMB I concentrated on the periphery of the hall, termed Art Nova: dealers could show only new work by no more than three artists. Still my eyes wandered to Francis Nauman’s booth which had a museum-quality exhibition of Duchamp’s multiples as well as work by artists responding to the old prankster. I did a double take before Sophie Matisse’s The Staircase Group (2001): Charles Wilson Peal’s tromp l’oeil staircase (with his sons ascending, at the PMA, before which George Washington famously – or apocryphally – waved to the boys) only without the sons: the full-scale doorway and projecting steps and a void. Matisse, Henri’s great- granddaughter, has done a series after well-known paintings from which she excised the figures. She managed to turn the actual doorway and step into a readymade that referenced Duchamp (Fresh Widow) as well as Peale. I think the piece would be perfect at the PMA, and Francis said Michael Taylor had been by and seen it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Alex Buldakov still from Sex Lissitzsky (2008). Buldakov animates Lissitzsky’s forms in a tongue-in-cheek homage to the first Russian modernists.

That was merely the first hint that a lot of the art would take art as its subject. XL Gallery of Moscow showed videos by Alex Buldakov including Sex Lissitsky and XXX Malevich, both animations in which Buldakov freed the geometric forms to move about. In the case of the Malevich the movement had a decidedly sexual rhythm (hence the triple-X rating, I suppose). Since one goal of the Suprematists was to find a broadly-comprehensible meaning in abstract forms the animations were something more than a one-line joke. I asked the dealer whether people were actually buying art in Moscow. Yes she replied. Russians, I asked? No, not Russians. Jon Kessler’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence (pt. 2) (2008) at Deitch situated one of Edward Hopper’s laconic women before a window which revealed a moving, psychedelic landscape (via video). Hard to know how she remained so cool.

In the Newsstand area of NADA Paul Cowan of Proximity/Golden Age publications (Chicago) was temporarily manning the booth of Capricious (Brooklyn), publisher of a journal and artists’ editions.

One of the revelations of the fairs I attended were the number of art publications, mostly full-color and fairly slick, which I’d never heard of; I thought all art journalism was going virtual. At ABMB there was Art & Deal, Arte Al Limite, Bidoun, Canvas, Lapiz, Plages, Spot, Uovo and Yishu. At Nada I discovered ANP Quarterly, APT Insight, FIFI Projects, X-Tra, Heeb Magazine, MAG Magazine, MAP Magazine and Beautiful Decay. And at Pulse, the glossiest of the glossiest: the inaugural issue (Fall 2008) of TAR whose contributors include Matthew Barney, Ryan McGinley, Shirin Neshat, Jack Pierson and Julian Schnabel. Hard to know whether TAR will survive any longer than the many upscale retailers who are its advertisers.


Inaugural issue of
TAR which was being given out at Pulse.

Another surprise, tucked among various booths of art book publishers (Tatschen, D.A.P.) and distributors (Art Metropole) were a group of charming, black-clad women from Dubai representing the H.H. Sheika Manal Art Exchange Program. The new program is intended to aid women of the Emirates in their art careers by exposing them to international art at a serious level; the first project sent fourteen artists to the most recent Art Basel. It was exciting to hear of Sheika Manal’s broadly-humanistic optimism that such exchanges will encourage relationships and collaborations, and broaden the horizons for women. I encouraged them to investigate Moore College of Art, the only women’s art school in the U.S.; I certainly hope they do.

Guests in the courtyard of CIFO enjoying music and a lingering breakfast. The warehouse space was rehabed by Rene Gonzalez who designed the façade which is covered in a tiled mural with designs of bamboo.

I made my inaugural visit to CIFO (the Ella Fontanels-Cisneros Collection) where the breakfast announced for 9 to noon was running on Latin time (at least an hour late). The exhibition The Prisoner’s Dilemma, curated by Leanne Mella, consisted of mostly photographic and video work by Francis Alys, Stan Douglas, Jenny Holzer, Laurie Simmons and others.

Julian Rosefeldt still from The Perfectionist (Trilogy of Failure – Part III) (2005).

I wish I’d had more time for Julian Rosefeldt’s visually-stunning video triptych The Perfectionist (Trilogy of Failure – Part III) (2005), which records a series of Buster Keaton-like failed attempts to fly. These sadly-humorous vignettes are presented in fully-realized environments and projected on enormous, wall-sized screens which immerse the viewer in the action.

One of my favorite fairs last year,Fountain, returned in another particularly raw industrial space. Perfect for a group of dealers mostly from Williamsberg, Brooklyn as well as a few artists who set up their own work. Among the later Greg Haberny’s installation, The Wanker’s Ball, stood out for its mis-en-scene and detailed execution: an angry deconstruction of America tottering off the edge of political and commercial world dominance. The installation would look right at home in Space 1026. All the work at Fountain wasn’t so seat-of-the pants. Glowlab was showing some rather elegant paintings and three-dimensional work by Beka Goedde. And someone had a sense of humor: a hand-labeled sign designated a grunge-y corner of the warehouse with an old couch and a bar with beer the “VIP Lounge”. Those lounges at the other fairs were so exclusive that even my press pass couldn’t get me in. Needless to say, Fountain’s VIP room required no identification to enter.

Greg Haberny The Wanker’s Ball at Fountain.

Detail of The Wanker’s Ball. Each of the elements was for sale individually; some of the tiny, colored drawings were almost lyrically Expressionist.

Installation of Beka Goedde‘s untitled village of houses strung up like marionettes at Glowlab’s space at Fountain.

Further Notes from Miami to Follow