I might as well just get this over with now: Art Basel is the best fair I have seen in Miami. I have some guilt in saying so, since it feels a little like supporting Microsoft, but what can you do? The show looks really good, there’s a lot to see, and it’s well organized. You have to give credit where credit is due.
The question then, is who amongst the 14(ish) remaining fairs gets second prize? Most predicted that the runner up would be awarded to either Nada or Aqua, which is indeed correct, but the race is a lot closer than I would have expected. Even after our discussion about how the hotel room as an exhibition space is no longer a detriment to the viewing experience, I still prefer the traditional booth format at Nada to having to navigate an Aqua bed to look at some art. Surprisingly however, I enjoyed Aqua better. I can no longer judge if it is because the fair as a whole was superior – this is the last day of the fairs, I’ve seen a lot, and frankly, the two fairs are so close in quality it could go either way. Personally, I liked Aqua more because as a whole it seemed more laid back, and the most “Miami” of all the fairs (thank you blue and white exterior hotel walls.)
Now, chances are by the time I publish this, Miami readers won’t be able to see either fair, but since there has to be some evaluation of performance, there is always reason to record a few thoughts. And so with that said, let the synopses begin.
By and large the galleries in this fair put together strong rooms. Amongst those who stood out in this crowd, Matthew Cusick’s Chasing the Dragon at Lisa Dent is at the top of my list. Given my review map lover Darlene Charnello’s yesterday, Cusick’s use of text, maps and paint, may seem like an obvious pick for me, and to be quite honest, I recognize that there are a lot of similarities. Both artists concern themselves with surface, fictionalized landscapes, and beauty. But I find I am slightly suspicious of the beauty in Charnello’s work whereas I don’t question this as much with Cusick (of course you’d have to see both works in person, because in the jpeg comparison above Charnello wins hands down.) It’s possible Cusick has an additional edge with AFC because his work employs text, (which we tend to like) but I ultimately believe the appeal has more to do with more complex compositional choices since the artist’s choice of words in these works is essentially random.
Jennifer Dalton, Wish You Were Here, 2006
Assuming there is some truth to the statement above visa vie our likes and dislikes, it follows that Jennifer Dalton’s work at Winkleman/Plus Ultra Gallery is extremely pleasing to us. “Wish You Were Here“, offers a small souvenir for collectors to buy at pro-rated prices that correspond to your spending habits in Miami. Spending over $10,000 on art this month? Great. You are an Art Benefactor and as such will pay $500 for your souvenir. Only buying this one piece? That’s fine too. You are an Art Lover (scenester), so your price is $350. There are 2 to 3 other levels of giving that Dalton lays out. Dealer Edward Winkleman informed me that avid collectors were quite up front about their Art Benefactor status. I’m not sure if I see this as a predictable the-art-world-is-small-and-you-can’t-fool-anyone response, refreshingly honest, or annoyingly ostentatious. Whatever the case though, I find the fact that all three options are reasonable interpretations of collector habits to interesting in and of itself.
Image via: Kim Dorland
Other galleries that peaked my attention are Howard House, who featured two works by the underrated Canadian painter Kim Dorland. Campsite and Big Foot both exhibit his signature chunky painting style. Aesthetically they have a lot on common with painter Andre Ethier, Nicole Eisenman and Canada Gallery’s Michael Williams. Earlier in the year I had identified these works as having been derived from Dana Schutz’s Frank paintings, promising a follow up post that never arrived explaining the connection. Part of this has to do with the fact that these artists have far more in common with each other than they do Schutz, so the link seemed a little more tenious than I had first thought.
On a less painterly note, a gallery with a name I thought was “restrooms”, but in retrospect was probably just art I mistook for something else, featured a video documentation of a performance in Second Life titled Alone in the Wilderness by Anne Mathern and Chad Wentzel. Having spent a lot of time covering the art scene in Second Life, I was naturally very interested in the project, though in the end it was because it is the first bad art I’ve seen come out of that system. The performance is a soundless piece featuring two avatars dancing in the wilderness naked. Sometimes they swim. I’m not sure what this piece is supposed to be about past exploring the cliches of performance art, and since most of us aren’t interested in that, whatever content the work has is lost to its audience.
First the disclaimer. All Nada pictures are stuck on my camera, and may not be able to be retrived until later on this week. If they weren’t on my camera you’d be looking at a portrait by Judith Eisler at the Cohan & Leslie. More importantly you’d be looking at Joe Bradley titled Simian Run, at Canada Gallery. As some readers may remember, last year I discussed a jpeg from Bradley’s solo show at Canada, and expressed some skepticism about the work. I never thought I’d be saying this about the half man made out of flat painted colored canvases, but the piece is really great. The piece deceptively appears to be minimalist (what with the blank colored canvases), but is much closer to a genre of art that has no name that I know of. It sounds like an oxymoron to call Simian Run of the successful ironic hipster movement of art, but this pretty much describes it. It’s a really funny piece, that only translates in person. Why is this canvas person with only half a leg? Would it be too much trouble to add it? Obviously not, and that’s the point. I also like that this piece uses the most basic construction methods in traditional media to represent the most basic of early computer imagery.
In addition to Canada Gallery’s strong performance at Nada this year, Bellwether also put together a strong booth displaying, among other things selected photographs from Trevor Paglan’s recent exhibition. The works are dark in mood, suggesting something both sinister and alluring in the secret operations of the American military. In contrast to this, a Marc Swanson video loops continuously, and irritatingly if you know that the original score (made just last year by Vitalic) appropriated, also began with a video that is by far superior to Swansons remake. I know it sounds crazy, but I prefer dogs jumping through lazers to some dude masterbating before he sets off for a disco. You too I’m sure would come to the same conclusion if you could view the two videos, but of course, Bellwether’s new website doesn’t include quicktime capabilities so you’re stuck with the better version.
And this unfortunately is where I am going to have to leave things. There is more to say on both fairs, Miami, and the endless events here this past week, but I am forced to cut this short. Camera maintenance calls, and I’m once again short of time.