Basil |ˈbāzəl, ˈbazəl| an aromatic annual herb of the mint family, native to tropical Asia.
A common faux pas often occurs this time of year, specifically concerning a certain Miami based art fair referred to as Art Basil. Without flinching or correcting this herbal error, I’ve been asked about the fair and usually answer unflinchingly. That being said, this year Art Basel Miami Beach, had an attendance of 73,000 visitors. The presence of all these extra bodies was felt on the opening day as the Press Conference came to a close and rather than enjoy a segment of time in the fair in quiet observation, upon exiting the Collector’s Lounge, I was shocked to find the Convention Center already full for the First Choice and Preview. Collectors buzzed around happily and a barely audible murmur lingered in the air , circulating in whispers and polite leans. Rapper P. Diddy was in the house with a small entourage as was Leonardo DiCaprio, both known to collect. When entering the Convention Center from the Washington Avenue side, the first galleries that visitors approach house works from artists such as Picasso (who captured the eye of P. Diddy) and Frank Stella (an interest to DiCaprio). Further inside the fair, contemporary art reigns and galleries, an astonishing 267, are amassed in rows and rows of white booths. Every year galleries are upgraded and downgraded in location and some are known for jumping ship (or being pushed out) and moving to other fairs. New comers to Art Basel Miami Beach this year from the US include, Clifton Benevento (NY), Freedman Fitzpatrick (LA), Honor Fraser (LA), Garth Greenan Gallery (NY), Michael Jon (Miami), Menconi + Schoelkopf (NY) and Simone Subal (NY). New global galleries exhibiting include Central Galeria de Arte from Brazil, SlyZmud from Argentina, Take Ninagawa from Japan and others. Overall there are 31 countries represented in Art Basel alone. Most of the big sales happen early during First Choice and upon additional visits, it will be evident as galleries switch out work that has been sold for another piece by the same or other work from their stable.
A new sector for 2014 called Survey was dedicated to, from the press release, precise art-historical projects ranging from solo shows to thematic exhibitions. Particularly of interest, was a new work by the 83-year-old Fluxus artist Alison Knowles showing with New York based gallery James Fuentes. Titled “The Boat Book”, 2014, the mixed media installation was a sculpture that one could crawl through, conceptually turning pages, through physical movement. Another sector that is not new but rather focused on solo practice is Positions. Here Constant Dullaart, showing with Carroll/Fletcher from London, presented a rather science fiction (sci-fi) but forthright scenario regarding the concept of online identity and the lack of true privacy. In the booth were blurred photographs behind shaped glass of CEO’s from companies who sell this privatized information along with a video about hacking in the form of an advertisement, hacking, Dullaart’s medium of choice.
Whether new to the fair, or a returning favorite, this year Art Basel Miami Beach did as many people were saying both sincerely and ironically; killed it. As usual, paintings were in abundance, as were photographs. This year seemed to have less video and neon installations but better overall use of the designated booth space, with some galleries preferring a minimal installation while others utilized wall space, floor space and had a grate overhead for hanging works. Two such gallery booths who did this were Sadie Coles, London with plaster rain drops and bronze sculptures by Urs Fischer along with Galerie neugerriemschneider, Berlin showing the likes of Pae White, Pawel Althamer, and Isa Genzken in a huge corner space, divided into an “x” with four outward facing sections and two central areas to walk through. In both cases, a metal grid had been installed above the booth allowing for works to be hung in the space giving the visitor an option for a 360 degree view. All in all the quality of the work, as was to be expected, was top notch. For collectors along with museum staff and journalists doing research, the fair offered much for contemplation and acquisition. The organizers did a fantastic job at merging the old with the new and the result was a well-rounded if overwhelming experience.
In addition to the massive interior, Public: 26 Works by International Artists, a series of public sculptural installation and performances was at Collins Park near the Bass Museum. Opening night included performances by Ryan Gander, Dawn Frasch, and others. Sculptures, visible for the entire week were by various artists including Lynda Benglis, Yinka Shonibare MBE, and others including an audio sculpture with motorized arms, by Jose Carlos Martinat “Manifestos”, 2014 represented by the Revolver Galeria. The latter I came across on my way to the Bass Museum right before the sky opened up and it started pouring. It broadcasts a dialogue, spinning and balancing between a megaphone on one side and a spinning bicycle wheel –sans rubber- on the other. A windmill effect is created and the robotic voice exuding out of the megaphones is not unlike Stephen Hawking, ruminating on art and theory. The piece functioned well outside as the movement of the structure and the subsequent movement of the sound mimics our own movement in an urban environment. To listen, one must truly pause, then shift to follow the direction of the projected voice. In its fourth consecutive year, this extension of Art Basel succeeded in adding yet another layer outside the context of the booth.
Beyond Public, New York based Performa teamed with Art Basel to present ME3M 4 Miami: A Story Ballet About the Internet, by artist RyanMcNamara. Held at the Miami Grand Theater at Castle Beach Resort, the performance, created for the 2013 Performa Biennial took a new shape in the context of Miami. A love affair (reactionary) to the Internet, audience members sat facing the stage as dance music commenced. Dancers in colorful leggings and crop tops gyrated and leapt across the stage. We were the audience; they were conceptually inside of a monitor, behind an invisible screen while an unnamed browser generated the action. At first, McNamara was nowhere to be seen, and then he pounced onto the stage, dancing with those already present. Movements were specific, choreographed. A visual interruption, included a line of individuals dressed in a deep maroon, who emerged from stage left pushing a strange device on wheels. They approached a girl in the back row of the first section, slipped the device underneath her chair, tipped her back, and off she went. Cheeks blazing red, they wheeled her onto the stage amongst the performers. All of a sudden, she faced us and was immediately followed by her seated neighbor. It went on like this until the row was empty and had been completely moved to the stage, which resulted in some stone cold faces, but most showing evidence of nervous laughter. I felt myself tense up with excitement in my seat, wondering (hoping) if they would venture to my section on the second tier, as well. Sure enough, these maroon clad individuals acted as either glitches in the system or free will, not sure which. They snuck up behind each chair in the theater and with a swift tilt, rolled –also in a choreographed fashion those present, onto the stage, into a side hallway, to a central circle and a brightly lit section in the back of the theater. Each designated stop was pointed at a series of performers, dancing in tandem.
Movement around the venue was intoxicating as chairs were lifted, moved and placed back down. The ballet, being interactive, functioned in a way that allowed for mystery and curiosity, satisfaction, boredom, and sheer joy. Beyond my sense of self in the mobile presence, other audience members, now active participants, had no say in the matter and confusion along with a displeased shake of the head was evident in a small minority. I on the other side of the spectrum would have to make a conscious effort to not grin . As bodies rotated a pattern formed and several chairs ended up in the same sequence of movement. McNamara broke out of the preconceived notion of performance whereas the audience is just that; captive, engaged, entertained. Here, we were enveloped in movement, as sculptural objects, windows of the browser that opened and closed, crashed, were hacked. We sat passively involved. Viewers but also participants, actively engaged in the same way that pop-up windows interrupt virtual space.
Top Picks from ETTD Additional gallery booths and artworks chosen by Katy Diamond Hamer are below. Art Basel Miami Beach was open from December 3rd (VIP) until December 7th, 2014.