PULSE Miami Beach, 2015. Courtesy of BFA and PULSE.
On Thursday morning, as the Miami art week crowd rose groggily with the sun, fairgoers strolled into PULSE’s two long beachside tents—which mark a significant increase in real estate since last year’s edition, now with a sprawling 60,000-square-foot setup. As the 11-year-strong fair opened its doors, an eclectic group of over 80 galleries readied for what had the potential to be their biggest day yet. With Art Basel in Miami Beach’s opening (a well-known distraction from satellite fair traffic) out of the way, promising predictions of increased sales abounded amongst this strong (and, in some cases, downright cheeky) coterie of booths.
Kicking off PULSE’s south tent was RYAN LEE gallery’s installation of works by the young performance artist Martín Gutierrez and 1970s photomontage master Sandy Skoglund. Couched in one of the fair’s 26 “Conversations” booths—which show two artists placed in dialogue—the pair set the bar high. The smart presentation looks at how we construct self (in Gutierrez’s case) and our surroundings (in Skoglund’s). While the gallery’s associate director Derek Piech reported sales coming in at a slow build, both artists’ works are a steal, priced at $3,750 and $5,000 for Gutierrez and $8,500–$12,500 for Skoglund. Keep an eye on Gutierrez’s practice, which sees the gender-ambiguous artist exploring female tropes using the artist’s own body as a canvas. The result: alluringly cinematic staged portraits, videos, and performances.
Next door, James Harris Gallery approached the theme from a different, equally cohesive angle, pairing two contemporaries, Squeak Carnwath and Roy Dowell, who are both California-based artists-cum-educators. Dowell’s complexly patterned paintings layer decorative motifs drawn from the sundry cultures that mingle on the West Coast. For her part, Carnwath combines text with a language of symbols pulled from pop culture—records, love note-laden lined paper, sinking ships—to tell probing stories about human existence. The booth reads like a miniature museum show, and while Harris reported sales of smaller pieces, as of Thursday, large-scale masterworks by the painters (Dowell’s going for $28,000 and Carnwath’s for $46,000) were still up for grabs.
Down the aisle, CES Gallery’s refreshingly sparse, striking installation shows three semi-abstract paintings rendered in a sumptuous Matisse-inspired palette by New Mexico-based artist Scott Anderson. Gallery owner Carl E. Smith recently rediscovered Anderson, who previously showed with Kavi Gupta. “We’ve had lots of great interest, especially the first day, but no sales yet,” Smith reported. “But regardless, we’ve had a really radical response so far.”
Works by the delightfully surprising pairing of septuagenarian Jacques Flechemuller and fiftysomething Cathy Ward were moving quickly at L.A.’s Good Luck Gallery, reflecting current proclivities for playful figuration and delicate abstraction, respectively. Flechemuller, whose work recently entered the Whitney Museum of American Art’s permanent collection, includes vintage French magazine covers sporting idyllic couples interrupted by painterly interventions. In his humorous, all-inclusive reimaginings, relationships of all persuasions are celebrated (even, in one case, between monkey and man).
Over at Leipzig’s Galerie Kleindienst, the much-talked-about “return to figuration” spread across the booth, with the work of two artists of the New Leipzig School generation: tiny paintings by Corinne von Lebusa and Tilo Baumgärtel, hung salon-style and selling like hotcakes. Von Lebusa pokes fun at erotica with jewel-toned watercolors, while darker, dystopian fantasies play out in Baumgärtel’s paintings. Another standout installation that featured figurative works and strong sales was New York’s Thierry Goldberg, showing twentysomething Grace Weaver—a name to keep on your radar. As of Thursday afternoon, collectors had already nabbed three of her larger paintings, Match Point (2015), The Parlor Game (2015), and the juicers (2015), which visualize lifestyle trends like juicing and Lululemon-decorated exercise, with The Armchair (2014) and Panhandle Dreaming (2015) on reserve. The paintings are priced between $6,000 and $10,000.
In the north tent, sales were also ramping up with a focus on figuration, but laced with some surprises. At Charlie James Gallery, works by Ramiro Gomez, which draw from the young L.A.-based painter’s urban surroundings—and boast a bright, Hockney-inspired palette—were the highlight. The brilliant Paul Smith Store, Los Angeles (2015), hanging on the outer wall of the booth, sold pre-fair to L.A. mega-collector Dean Valentine for $25,000, with several of Gomez’s smaller-scale works selling by the fair’s third day. A crowd favorite was the booth’s Guy Richard Smit installation of 40 watercolor paintings of skulls, annotated with satirical, sometimes hilarious sayings, such as “Crippled with Empathy” and “Never Stops Trying.”
PULSE founding galleries Mixed Greens and Yancey Richardson Gallery, both New York-based, reported steady sales. At the latter, birds-eye-view photos of beaches and bright cerulean water by Olivo Barbieri were a salve for eyes tired from fair-ogling. And at Tibor de Nagy’s booth, some of the smallest works at the fair were also the strongest. Kathy Butterly’s intimate, delicate, and in some cases delightfully corporeal clay vessels, priced at $18,000, were drawing interest. Down the aisle, Mindy Solomon Gallery’s table of Linda Lopez’s biomorphic sculptures, the strongest ones glazed in white and gold and resembling tangles of coral, offered another treasure trove for ceramics enthusiasts.
As the day rounded to a close and VIPs took a last tour around the fair with champagne flutes in hand, the energy was calm but buoyant. At San Francisco’s Gregory Lind Gallery, owner Lind, a PULSE veteran, leaned back in his chair and surveyed his (very strong) solo booth of Christian Maychack’s works, which toe the line between painting and sculpture—a rare-bird genre at this year’s fair. “They’re not everybody’s cup of tea,” said Lind of Maychack’s work, “but they do attract very adventurous, committed collectors, which I wish there were more of in the world.” And were those intrepid buyers coming out of the woodwork (quite literally, given the boardwalk environs)? Despite the pace of buying having slowed across this year’s fairs, it seemed so. When we spoke, two of Maycheck’s works had sold and one was on hold—and there are still two days to go.