Each year as Art Basel takes over Miami, so does spectacle. The frenzy of fairs that temporarily inhabits Miami reflects the glitz and glam of the city itself, and the coinciding agenda of parties and events. Despite Miley Cyrus’s display at the Jeffrey Deitch party, this year fairgoers are treated to refined, thoughtful presentations that trade flash and bang for fresh young artists and dynamic paintings—and based on the bustling vernissage crowds, high energy within the fairs, and the buzz around strong sales, it seems that this change is good.
At Art Basel in Miami Beach, gallerists were in high spirits by day two; Salon 94 attested to doing “very well,” David Nolan Gallery reported the best opening day sales in recent years, and Brussels and London-based gallery Almine Rech told Artsy that after the vernissage they “had to rehang the booth almost entirely.” Jessica Witkin, director of Salon 94, said the gallery is presenting a “more conservative” booth this year; “we’re still taking risks but taking different kinds of risks,” she told Artsy. Meanwhile, NADA Miami Beach’s Thursday morning opening was flooded with fairgoers, leaving galleries with nearly sold out booths, only two hours into the fair. As we joined the crowds at Art Basel, NADA, PULSE Miami Beach, and Design Miami/, consistent themes emerged across fairs, from the strong showing of Young Male Painters (hereby known as YMPs) to the influx of Brazilian galleries and Latin American artists at Basel, to inventive booth transformations that invite an immersive experience.
Brazil has an especially strong presence at Art Basel Miami Beach this year—representing 17 galleries in the fair alone, compared with 17 across all of the Miami fairs in 2011—as does Latin America more broadly. With its proximity to the South and its richly diverse Latin demographics, the Miami fairs have always had a greater pull for the region, but this year Brazil plants an even larger stake on the international art stage, mirroring the growing institutional focus on South American artists around the world. São Paolo doyenne Luisa Strina showcases exquisite works by Fernanda Gomes, Pedro Reyes, Clarissa Tossin, and Anna Maria Maiolino, with a surrealist, conceptual bent. Another São Paolo gallery, Mendes Wood DM boasts one of the noisiest booths, an immersive installation by the artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos. Luciano Brito presents a booth of Tiago Tebet’s elegant paintings and Tobias Putrih’s utilitarian cardboard furnishings, including a playful custom-made cardboard desk for the gallery’s dealers. In the NOVA and POSITIONS sections, too, the Brazilians shine, with smart presentations from Galerie Leme and Anita Shwartz; and solo booths dedicated to Maria Laet and Nino Cais at Galeria Marilia Razuk and Central Galeria de Arte, respectively. Elsewhere, established Latin American artists also make their mark: Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca’s cryptic mind maps and paintings of imaginary, spare domestic interiors are highlighted at Sperone Westwater; Joaquin Torres-Garcia, the underrecognized Uruguayan modernist whose work is receiving increasing attention in the lead up to his MoMA exhibition, gets a fabulous showcase of his legacy at the Cecilia de Torres booth; and Liliana Porter’s compact solo booth from the the Argentine gallery Ruth Benzacar captivates with eclectic figurines and installations.
Across all three art fairs, collectors are on the hunt for young blood, especially YMPs, whose presence is strongly felt across Miami, showing that the interest in contemporary abstract painting has not died down, though it’s still largely the men holding the brushes. At Art Basel in Miami Beach, Almine Rech is the destination for collectors looking for young talent—including Kadar Brock, Erik Lindman, Matthias Bitzer, and Gregor Hildebrandt. The result has been strong sales for the gallery, including having to replace nearly all the works in the booth on the official opening day of the fair. At Xavier Hufkens, a new Harold Ancart work is presented—the first work by the artist on canvas—and Victoria Miro is showing a new painting by Secundino Hernandez, a gestural gouche, acrylic, and oil on canvas work shown alongside one of Kusama’s glittery pumpkins (Hernandez’s work was also on view at Galerie Bärbel Grässlin). “A lot of collectors are looking for younger artists,” George Newall at David Nolan Gallery told us, whose booth features oil on paper works by 37-year-old American painter Wardell Milan—two large works selling at the $15k mark. And Eddie Martinez’s boldly colored, playful paintings make an appearance at Timothy Taylor Gallery’s booth, as well as Kohn Gallery. Further north, NADA Miami Beach is brimming with YMPs (and a strong set of YFPs, notably Despina Stokou, Math Bass, Kika Karadi, Jacqueline Saccoccio, and Jess Fuller). At Jessica Silverman, three large-scale works by 31-year-old Dashiell Manley, watercolor pencil on canvas that appropriates text from New York Times articles, take over one whole wall at the booth; The Journal Gallery’s booth includes Chris Succo’s minimalist oil and lacquer paintings; Rod Barton features Bas van den Hurk’s gestural marks on shimmering fabric; and at Shane Campbell Gallery, Zak Prekop’s swooping lines, delicate paint application, and raw canvas. The Hole gallery even recreates the painter’s space, reconstructing a painting studio as the booth—including works by Kasper Sonne, KATSU, Matthew Stone, and Rose Eken—complete with cans of paint, an easel, and even a haphazardly placed broom. (The Hole director Kathy Grayson is no stranger to such displays: her debut booth at NADA was an artist-designed living room, and last year, she presented all of her artists’ works in individual crates.)
In a similar vein, during Frieze London in October, Helly Nahmad’s restaging of an imaginary Parisian collector’s apartment circa 1968 affirmed the art fair crowd’s appetite for immersive and playful presentations—ones that invite viewers to explore, interact, or imagine themselves in a new environment. At Art Basel, São Paulo’s Mendes Wood DM Gallery lured visitors through a pair of curtains into the Vena Palace Resort Hotel, Brazilian artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos’ performative installation that offered lounging and dancing among blow up couches, pool toys, and neon signs. Nearby at Kavi Gupta, Mickalene Thomas developed a fully furnished living room featuring cast bronze articles of clothing, jewelry, and a TV playing her documentary, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman. In similar suit, Winkleman Gallery tucked a pseudo real estate office into the corner of PULSE, filled with works by Jennifer Dalton: among them, photographs of the same location from 2004 and 2014 and the ubiquitous office prop, the classic gumball machine. And finally, at Design Miami/, a RO/LU-designed booth presented by Patrick Parrish Gallery featured the duo’s classic gridded designs among gridded walls and carpet, and even gallery attendants decked in gridded garb—providing the perfect spot for Instagramming (fashion blogger @PariDust even brought a cohort of ‘grammers for a private viewing pre-fair). The endless photo ops at all booths and Basel week events filtered the frenzy of the fairs to social media feeds, so that its ripple effects can be felt across the art world near and far.
—Marina Cashdan, Molly Gottschalk, Casey Lesser, and Tess Thackara