What can one say about some 26 art fairs running concurrently in Miami last week? I only made it to fewer than a third of them, but what stood out overall was a sense that the organizers and participating galleries continue to make an effort to improve their facilities and offerings, and collectors continue to be responsive with purchases. While it hardly felt like the swarm of visitors and buying activity that made last year such a surreal experience, all of the fairs were busy and doing business. Both NADA and Pulse in particular came across as much improved in terms of content and visitor experience, and several of the boutique fairs, like INK, had some really impressive material as well. But by far the most gratifying fair for me was Design Miami, now in its 8th year, which has been a work in progress since its inception that at times seemed to struggle to keep up with Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), its operating partner. Now successfully staged adjacent to the main fair, Design Miami looked a lot less eclectic and uneven than past editions and has finally successfully embraced showing studio jewelry and non-production furniture alongside more commercial offerings. By way of example, New York’s R 20th Century Gallery had a really wonderful display of historical works by Wendell Castle, an American furniture maker whose more recent pieces have sought to be more conceptual and less functional, and in my opinion, unsuccessfully so. Here, however, he was represented by a selection of classic works from the 1960s and 1970s in both wood and plastic that exemplify the artist’s important contributions to his field in both traditional and experimental process, materials and forms. Around the corner, at Ornamentum’s stand, a very strong selection of contemporary studio jewelry from around the world was on display. Of particular note here was the work of Germany’s Gerd Rothmann, whose works in gold and silver use cast impressions from the body of the wearer or his/her friends or partners–fingerprints, belly buttons, a nose, etc.–to articulate and personalize the design of anything from cufflinks and earrings to bracelets, rings, and neckpieces. Another great stop for jewelry was at Belgium’s Caroline van Hoek Gallery, where a special installation of rarely seen brooches and neckpieces by Dutch designer Gijs Bakker was museum quality in both selection and presentation.
At the main fair, I always find things that I think are great, particularly in the hidden gems category as opposed to the things that leap out from across the room, which also means getting more by spending less. In the back of Rhona Hoffman’s stand was a beautiful installation of recent vinyl on canvas works by Carla Accardi. Born in 1924, Accardi came to prominence in Italy during the 1940s with an approach to abstract art that was informed by Marxist politics and aesthetics. She did not exhibit in the United States until 2001, with a show organized by MoMA P.S. 1. Now in her eighties, her lyrical, colorful “paintings” on display at the fair are as vibrant and youthful feeling as work made by artists half her age. and Hoffman’s installation offered viewers an opportunity to learn about her work in some depth (for an art fair) with roughly half a dozen medium scale pieces from 2011-2012.
Another handsome installation, this time by Francis Alÿs, could be found at David Zwirner Gallery. Hardly a discovery–the artist’s presentation at this year’s Documenta focused on painting, some of which were on view at the stand–, their small scale and conceptually charged content make for a very provocative and powerful mini-exhibition, again something not normally found at the stand of larger galleries at the fair. Berlin’s Esther Schipper had a wonderful presentation of objects and ephemera by the 1980s artists collective General Idea, including an exceptional small painting from 1987 shown here.
ABMB has always been a budding resource for current and historical works by South American artists, especially from Brazil, and this year was no disappointment. Galeria Fortes Vilaça from Sao Paolo had great new works by Janaina Tschäpe and Jac Leirner (left), both of whom continue to grow and evolve in interesting ways. With regard to historical material, there was an abundance of works on paper by Mira Schendel at several galleries, and she was also featured in the excellent Unsaid/Spoken exhibition at the Cisneros Foundation in downtown Miami (not to mention a wonderful show at MoMA in 2009 with Leon Ferrari). But the corner construction by Lygia Pape (right) at Galeria Graça Brandão from Lisbon was a show stopper. It was nearly invisible from a distance, materializing more clearly as on got closer until it completely resolved at the right distance. Rumor has it that The Drawing Center in New York is working on a show of hers a couple of years from now, and judging by some of the works on paper on the stand, it should be a very interesting show indeed.
There was more work that caught my eye which you can catch on the video report from the fair here. More soon.