Left: Artist Joan Jonas wearing Carla Fernandez, Photography Ramiro Chavez. Right: Drawing by Pedro Reyes courtesy of the artist. 

what went down at miami art week

Queer art, crafts and environmental imagination dominate this year’s festivities — but wait, why are we here again?

by Benoit Loiseau
13 December 2018, 8:36pm

Left: Artist Joan Jonas wearing Carla Fernandez, Photography Ramiro Chavez. Right: Drawing by Pedro Reyes courtesy of the artist. 

Oh, Miami. How every December, a reluctant international art crowd is lured into a week of cultural extravaganza, intoxicated with the promise of shinier Jeff Koons’s dog balloons, sleeker pool parties, and wackier happenings. Like the ex-boyfriend you vowed to never text again, until the season turns and you wake up in his bed, nursing an empty bottle of sparkling rosé.

And yes, last week, Miami fulfilled all these promises. Art was seen, champagne was drank, and fun was had — even breaking attendance and sales records across the nearly 20 fairs that sprang up throughout the city. But what was most memorable at this freshly-consumed Miami Art Week were the timely trends and preoccupations — ranging from identity politics to craft and sustainability, in and outside of the fairs.

It was business as usual at the 17th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach — the beating heart of the week’s festivities. This year again, there’s more Anish Kapoors and Damien Hirsts than anyone can bare to see, but a number of incredible solo presentations made it worth the visit. LA-based gallery Anat Ebgi showed historical yet overlooked works by American-Paraguayan artist Faith Wilding -- a co-founder of the 1970s radical Woman’s Building in LA -- including a rarely-seen woven, knotted red sculpture from 1969. A stone’s throw away, at Walden Gallery’s booth, colorful tapestries are hanging, covered in naïve-like motifs of shrimps and tigers and tropical plants à la Henri Rousseau. They’re the works of another Paraguayan artist: the late Feliciano Centurión—a central figure of the 1990s Buenos Aires art scene, where he lived. He was known for addressing gender and sexual politics through his work, until he succumbed to HIV-related illnesses.

Still in the Design District, the ICA Miami had a small solo show by Mexican queer artist Manuel Solano, spanning painting, photography and video—a nice follow up to their notable participation this year’s New Museum Triennial. And while an existential narrative imbued Solano’s art with a new depth, I missed the raw, camp, expressionist qualities so distinctive of their earlier works. Up on the second floor, everyone rushed for the opening of ‘Judy Chicago: A Reckoning.’ The excellent retrospective highlights the grande-dame of feminist art’s iconographic transition from abstraction to figuration. It features some large abstract sculptures alongside more iconic vagina-shape ceramics and incredible works on paper.

Manuel Solano, Claudia, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Efrain Lopez Gallery Chicago.

Meanwhile, the art world’s favorite independent fair NADA returned to Ice Palace Studios for its 16th edition, bringing together 125 galleries. Queer works dominated the fair this year—a timely response to 45’s persistent attempts to roll back LGBTQ rights. Mrs. Gallery, from Queens, shared a solo presentation of new large-scale wooden sculptures and vibrant watercolors by the artist Chris Bogia, a founder of the Fire Island Artist Residency. Fierman and Situations showed works by Jimmy Wright, known for his figurative paintings depicting the sexual culture of the 1970s, and later the floral still lives he made during the height of the AIDS crisis. And at the New York gallery Gordon Robichaux, naïve works by the drag queen-turned-painter Tabboo! were shown alongside works by trans artist Florence Derive and self-taught artist Otis Houston Jr.

But there’s more to Miami Art Week than just art. Design too, was in the spotlight—this year celebrating ever-more cross-disciplinary conversations between traditional crafts and contemporary practices. At the Bass Museum, in Miami Beach, LA-based artists-cum-designers the Haas Brothers opened their first solo institutional show. Titled ‘Ferngully,’ it incorporates furniture, sculpture and objets d’art in the shape of their signature fantasy creatures, crafted from Icelandic sheepskin, curly cow fur and carved ebony. But in the last room, beading dominates some of the more recent collections—a craft the twins, Niki and Simon, were introduced to by a collective of female Xhosa beadworkers in South Africa. Now informally known as the ‘Haas Sisters’, the women’s collective has become a satellite of the Californian studio, receiving a retained salary, credits and 20 per cent of joint sales. “It’s not a fabricator situation,” the pair told me, pointing to the frequent, abusive dynamics of the industry.

The same concerns are central to the work of Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernández who this year, with artist husband Pedro Reyes, received the annual Design Miami/ Visionary Award. Just a short stroll away from the Bass Museum, at the convention center, the design fair launched its 14th edition with a collaborative retrospective of sorts, ranging from textiles to furniture and graphic design. “I’m sick of fashion being the second most polluting industry in the world, with only a few people getting rich,” said Fernández, who is known for her sustainability-focused work with indigenous communities across the country. “We truly believe this is the only way to make fashion.”

Like in previous years, I failed to make it to the other 17 fairs — burdened by a self-inflected, persisting hangover (does anyone actually goes to all of them?). But I hear that Untitled was strong, and I would have loved to see more of Devan Shimoyama’s queer pop paintings at Gallery Debuck’s booth (the Pittsburgh-based artist currently has an excellent solo show at the Andy Warhol Museum too.) And party-wise, well, the cherry on the top was Masego’s performance at the Perez Art Museum’s Louboutin party -- though speaking of cherries, Neneh performed for for the White Cube party at Soho Beach House and that was pretty special too. (Don’t bother with Prada — Twist gay club is the only way to end the night in style.)

The week ended with a moment of reflection on the oceanfront with Argentinian environmental artist Tomas Saraceno, who’d installed his new project ‘Albedo,’ in collaboration with Audemars Piguet. The sustainable, site-specific installation consisted of 40 reflective, out-turned umbrellas which powered a floating sculpture, daily cooking activities and a soundsystem. The project helps to “imagine together a future free of borders and free of fossil fuels,” said the Berlin-based artist. In light of the coinciding 24th annual climate talks in Poland, the offer felt at once urgent and somewhat ironic, in the context of Miami Art Week—possibly the art world’s most wasteful annual gathering, with carbon emissions going through the roof to fly thousands of art professionals while shipping tons of non-recyclable packaging.

Critic Jerry Saltz famously refuses to cross water for art fairs—a “system that no one likes but can’t get out of”, he says—and I wondered whether that might be a more impactful gesture. Let’s reflect on it for a moment, until the season turns again, and we’re back here, nursing that same bottle of sparkling rosé.

queer art