By Chloe Helton-Gallagher
For the past 12 years a single week in December has seen the population of Miami swell by over 50,000 people. Drawn by the glittering allure of the self-described “most prestigious art show in the Americas,” attendants of Art Basel Miami Beach pack a surprisingly high proportion of unpractical shoes to tramp around the more than 260 galleries which show in Basel proper alone, not including the dozens of satellite fairs and hotel shows.
Basel is one long catwalk for the fashionable and the hiply unfashionable. (Sunday morning as the fair wound down, a woman in a head-to-toe felt dinosaur costume was seen roaming the streets despite the 80 degree temperatures). But, setting aside the stories of pool parties, fashion faux pas, and people falling down, the experience of Art Basel Miami yielded a breathtaking exposure to the pulse of contemporary art around the world: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The namesake fair, the largest and most high-end of the fairs, is held in the Miami Beach Convention Center. It is gargantuan, and more than one day could easily be spent roaming its halls. Top galleries from around the world, from Gagosian to Haunch of Venison, show here, exhibiting name brand artists like John Baldessari and Tracey Emin.
Ivan Navarro’s incredible installations at Paul Kasmin gallery were a major highlight. Looking for all the world like the Piranha Plant pipes from Mario Brothers these large pieces made from wood, neon and one way mirror were portals to another dimension. Looking down into them a viewer sees what appears to be a ladder leading down into infinity with neon words like “SCREAM” and “MOUTH” echoing endlessly into the depths. Both terrifying and electrifying they exemplified the small percentage of art at the fair that transcended the realm of purely consumable objects.
Each fair in Miami had its own kind of flavor. SCOPE Miami created the most successful atmosphere for viewing art, carefully avoiding the aesthetic pitfalls that made other fairs feel like a cattle call. Local hero Hamiltonian Gallery from D.C. had a fantastic booth, with work from Washington-based Matthew Mann and Baltimore-based Milana Braslavsky and Amy Boone-McCreesh. Nada at the Deauville Beach Resort is on the younger side, exhibiting new art dealers like CANADA Gallery and Shoot the Lobster. Highlights included Owen Kydd’s digital tableaux vivants and the clever installation by Devon Dikeou entitled “Not Quite Mrs. de Menil’s Liquor Closet,” an interpretation of renowned collector Dominique de Menil’s real-life, art congested liquor cabinet.
Among the shining stars there were utter duds as well. Fountain Art Fair was so bad it was worthy of a refund. Most, if not all, of the art was so shockingly kitschy, poorly rendered, and downright tacky it was starting to feel like a cruel joke. An abandoned balloon animal found discarded in the courtyard was by far the best piece in the show.
Exhausting and at times disheartening in its base capitalism, Art Basel Miami still provides a valuable opportunity to survey the most current works of artists from all over the globe. Incredible art is still being made and the conversation surrounding its power is still being held with impassioned voices. It was a celebration, devolving at times into a shit show, of all that art has to offer. As they say in Miami, “Basel Tov!”