Thoughts on the Miami Art Fairs 2011

My wife and I just returned from our first visit to Art Basel Miami Beach and the surrounding art fair week.  I won’t be able to write about everything we saw as it was just too much for this part-time blogger to cover as I’ve got paintings to work on (others will do this job admirably, I’m sure).  Instead, I’d like to share a few thoughts, a few highlights, and a few tips for future visitors to Miami’s art fair scene.

We made it to a total of (I think) eight art fairs & exhibitions:  The Rubell Family Collection, Art Miami, Scope, Pulse, Red Dot, INK, Art Basel, and NADA.  We found work to like in each of these and overall I was happy with the state of the art world.  It seemed that there was a high “quality” level to the things on the wall, even when the work was something I didn’t like.  There was a lot of painting and less of the head-scratching “what the heck is that?” than I’ve seen at many recent New York art fairs (though there was still some of that).  There was a mix of abstraction and representation (not much realism, though) and art at all ends of the price spectrum (though not much that would fall into the “very inexpensive” range).

One quote by Jeffrey Deitch in The Art Newspaper (the daily that covers these sorts of events) caught my attention: “There is a tremendous energy in painting right now, particularly abstract.”

Every year there are a few artists whose work seems to turn up everywhere.  This year, to my eye at least, the two were John Miller and Carlos Cruz-Diez.  I saw John Miller’s faux gold leaf coated assemblages everywhere (dozens of objects glommed together and coated in gold).  Unless you want to go up close and really decipher what you’re looking at, though, these tend to all look the same from afar (“Oh, look, there’s another one!”).

Cruz-Diez’s interactive wall pieces are fun and interactive.  The first time I remember seeing his work was in 2007 at The Grey Art Gallery’s excellent exhibition of Latin American Geometric Abstraction.  In Miami, it seemed to be all over the place.  Each piece consists of several dozen vertical slats that jut out a few millimeters from the support; the background and each side of the slat can be colored differently.  As you move from left to right, your eye sees more or less of the sides of the slats and more or less of the background color and so the piece appears to change color as your eye integrates the colors of the work differently.

At Art Miami, I liked the spacious environs for the show — each gallery had room to breathe — and thought that throughout the show there was a very high level of work that looked good on the walls.  One gem was Nathan Slate Joseph‘s “Orange Step” from Sundaram Tagore Gallery (I found myself wondering where we could put it; unfortunately it was beyond my budget…); Joseph welds together galvanized steel plates fused with colorful pigments and this particular piece’s three dimensional, sculptural aspects were particularly eye-catching.  Other familiar work included a John Zinsser painting and several of his drawings after Warhol at (the newly re-titled) Graham.

Red Dot across the street from Art Miami

Scope felt like an extension of Art Miami — that’s a good thing — with a lot of eye catching fare.  Red Dot, unfortunately, was a bit of a disappointment; a few highs but much of the time I was thinking, “Need to keep moving”.

Aqua‘s opening reception had a relaxed, casual atmosphere.  Some  work from a gallery I visit regularly, McKenzie Fine Art, made one of the gallerized hotel rooms look familiar.  I’m kicking myself for forgetting to visit the room where Joanne Mattera‘s work was featured — I had hoped to see it in person (her blog is a very helpful resource of tips for artists as well as for reports on Art Basel).

We looked

We really enjoyed Pulse, partially because we had a pass for the opening brunch but mostly because it was a nice-sized fair with a variety of work, much of which we thought was creative and fun.  One artist whose work caught our eye was Karin Waskiewicz at Shroeder, Romero & Shredder gallery.  She carves out wonderfully complex, overlapping patterns into layers and layers of acrylic paint, revealing swarms of colors at multiple levels.

INK was definitely worth a visit for the diversity of prints and works on paper that are (mostly, but not always) in the lower price ranges.  One nifty piece was a Lichtenstein painting on blue “rowlux”, a highly reflective, brightly colored “multi-lensed” film.

NADA was also fun and worth a visit; the location up north right on the beach was a nice change of pace from the other venues.  This definitely had the most “contemporary” feel of the fairs we visited, which I mean mostly in a good way, but some of it was of the head-scratching sort.

Beach View From the Back of NADA

The biggest fair, of course, was Art Basel.  It is, indeed, massive.  Unfortunately, both times we made it into the convention center (for the Vernissage and to explore more thoroughly a few days later) we had to wait on long lines for entry or ticketing.  But once in, there was quite a lot to behold, from the very blue chip to the much more edgy.  Also, since we waited until Friday to tour the entire show, by that point we had seen so much art at the other fairs that our brains were a bit frazzled.  A few great Gerhard Richter paintings stand out in my memory (especially a triptych).

Stormtroopers and Mr. Potato Head, having a party

One problem with trying to get through so many fairs in such a short amount of time is that you really can’t spend much time with any particular artwork.  I’m glad that I did this once, but in the future I think I’d try to slow down a bit so that I could take in more than just the pure optics of the artwork I’m walking past.


Found Art? (outside the convention center)

Tips For Art Basel Miami Beach Visitors

If you can plan out what day you’re going to attend Art Basel Miami, I would definitely recommend getting your tickets ahead of time.  Although you’ll have to pay the obnoxious Ticketmaster fee (assuming you don’t have a free pass of some kind), it’s worth it to avoid waiting in the long box office lines.  You’d think that with all of the money flowing around, the fair organizers could hire a few more people to run the box office.  The last thing you want to do is wait on line for 45 minutes (or more) before walking around the tremendously huge art fair: doing so does not put you in the right frame of mind to enjoy art!

Also, don’t count on the free shuttles to get you between the convention center on Miami Beach and the art fairs in downtown Miami.  They don’t run on a published schedule and so you might wait a *long* time for the next shuttle to arrive.  Most of the time we ended up taking a cab after getting frustrated by the wait for a shuttle.  The shuttles to and from NADA were much better!  Kudos to the organizers and the company that ran the NADA shuttles: they were frequent, they were on time, and the drivers were very professional and knowledgeable.

Wear comfortable shoes!  I brought two pairs of shoes that I knew from previous experience were good for walking long distances and that made a big difference.

Confirm your reservations ahead of time!  Although I used the Basel-approved travel agent to book my hotel, when we arrived the hotel had no record of our reservation!  It was a good thing that (a) they had rooms available, and (b) that I had a printout of my reservation from the travel agency.  Even in this digital world where these things ought not to be necessary, next time I will call ahead to confirm!

We had a lot of decent food, none that was bad, but a few places were memorable.  For a quick bite near Art Miami / Scope / Red Dot, we enjoyed the Cuban diner, Enriqueta’s (con sabor).  Large plates of simple but tasty food at great prices hit the spot.  For a more creative menu, we had an excellent lunch at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill a few blocks away (try the not-so-traditional hamburger — yumm!); nice, spacious, bustling restaurant with friendly staff.  For an expensive but beautiful and very tasty pan-Asian meal, try The Restaurant at The Setai (the food was great, though this restaurant, bar, and hotel was also worth it for the people-watching and the gorgeous cocktail lounge).

Collins Park had some impressive looking trees,which I liked more than the sculpture


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