As Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 is about to open its doors to the public, Nancy Nesvet files this report on the pre-opening buzz surrounding this year’s show as well as the surrounding Miami Art Fairs. She did not attend the fair.
By Nancy Nesvet
Although artists and gallerists could not know the results of the recent United States presidential election, nor Cubans of the death of Fidel Castro, a fear of the unknown of what will come next WILL permeate the Art Basel Miami Beach 2016 and Miami Art Fairs. Major galleries’ shows of artists’ earlier work and newer abstract and non-political recent work seems a safe place to be for artists and gallerists in this show, with exceptions, of course. Brin Boucher reported in ArtNews online on November 22, 2016, “The months leading up to the fairs have been in the shadow of the Zika virus, which has led to travel alerts to Miami this year.”
In June, at Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, I noted artists’ emphasis on threats to our environment, probably due to global warming, and documents attesting to the plight of refugees both threatening the world’s people. Add to that new threats of Zika, encouraged by global warming expanding the season for mosquitoes’ presence, the United Kingdom’s exit from Brexit lessening European Union cooperation, and most recently, Donald Trump’s election with his mandate for non-cooperation or inclusion with the rest of the world in trade andother areas and his denial of global warming leading to lack of cooperation with global efforts to limit emissions leading to climate change.
This determines my assessment of the theme of Art Basel Miami 2016, which is FEAR. Fear of what the world is becoming. Fear of what confronts us in issues of health, wealth and welfare. Many artist, gallerists and clients are not attending this year’s Art Basel Miami exhibition. Fear of Zika is keeping away not only those women of child-bearing age, but men of all ages, due not only to possible infection by mosquitoes but of passing it on to their partners, and opportunistic neurological infections. This seems not to matter much to the serious buyers, as media makes available first looks at art they consider, with visits to the artist or gallery for more serious consideration. Of course, the impact of virtual work is not as great as the real work confronted, but FEAR is a great impetus to staying away from Miami.
Some flimsy excuses are being made, as artists will often not admit to FEAR (of a tiny mosquito!) but it is important to ask who is not coming to Miami, as I suspect that the artists whose work is most sought after do not need to come and assume risk, whereas those whose reputation is still to be made are willing to confront the risk. Additionally, they do not need to stand by their new work; which viewers are interested in. The work speaks for itself. This opens up the discussion on whether artists become their work, and whether they need to be there at all. And several have answered that they do not need to be there, only sending their work. To extend that discussion, as journalists send images and videos of the work experienced at Art Basel, do the patrons and clients need to attend? And again, several have answered that they do not.
Among those not attending, but sending work that continues their emphasis on protection of the earth and social justice and the use of art to further or at least make the audience aware of their concerns, are William Kentridge, Shadow Figures series (2016) , Marian Goodman Gallery; Sigmar Polke’s “Untitled (Uraniaum Green), 1992, KickenGallery, Berlin; Carlos Motta’s photograph, “Untitled (America Latina), 2016, Henrique Faria Fine Art; and Wolfgang Tillmans, always concerned with contemporary issues and beautifully expressing them in Transient 3, (2015), Galerie Buchholz.
Sam Durant, who last June at ArtBasel constructed, with prisoners’ help, a maze of iron fencing that asks how do we escape, this year made an electric sign proclaiming “End White Supremacy” entitled Occupation, Lies, Illegal, Respect, Supremacy, Freedom? (2016) shown by Blum and Poe, whose associate director, Sarvia Jasso, told ArtNet, “We want to present something that’s representative of the state of the world today.” Good thinking, especially since the artist, El Sexto was arrested in Cuba, while heading to the airport en route to the fair. His paintings, however, are represented at the Art Concept Miami Fair and in “La Libertad Artistica,” a group show of 13 Cuban artists.
There will be an emphasis on digital, non-tactile work, and where there are words within the work, love prevails. But loving touch is absent, as The Mural in Wynwood “Is the answer love” asks. Abstract work by known artists is well-represented, at least at the main fair in the Convention Center, with work by Larry Bell (Elin XXX (1981) at White Cube Gallery, and of sculptor Joel Shapiro (Untitled, 2015) and the light works of Leo Villareal at Pace Gallery and of Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery, whose work recalls that displayed in the early 2000s at the Hirschhorn Museum; Beauty here is “Untitled” (Green), 2015 Regen Projects, rather than the red of years ago. Not only is the anger of red not called for presently, but the green of concern with the environment is welcome. These tried and true artists are always a good investment and that may be influencing the galleries’ decisions in these uncertain economic times to come.
There will also be humor present in these shows. From Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain, 2016, (Gladstone Gallery) that Crayola colored stack of artificial rock that has become the entrance piece to the fair, to Mel Bochner’s blatantly humorous, HaHa (2016) that asks who is laughing and at what?
There is a great advantage to those young artists in Miami who have not yet been recognized, including the mural artists in Wynwood, and those showcased in Untitled on the beach, including non-profit galleries, schools and artist-run exhibits.
The dynamic becomes one of showcasing new artists and their work, and allowing them to network and introduce themselves to gallerists and art patrons. Probably this is a good thing. Rather than a staid art fair, it becomes a dynamic showing of new and very interesting work, incorporating new and untried ideas, much more exciting and reminiscent of such exhibitions as Documenta and Parcours at Art Basel last June.
Although some artists will be missed by those that attend, it gives opportunity to the untried and brave. And that is a good thing. We may be unsure of the future of the world at this time of upheaval, but we do know that artists will react with their work, whether they are personally there or not.