MIAMI — This morning, the mother of all Miami art fairs, Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), opened its doors for a press and VIP preview. Although it was pretty crowded for a preview day, the fair also felt calm and subdued. And the art matched the tone: much of what was on view seemed safe, emphasizing tried and true artists whose work might amuse, arouse, or provoke, but not offend.
As I wandered around, though, I remembered that quiet isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it can create a space for humor or contemplation. And scattered throughout the fair I found a good number of artworks that embraced that space by way of domesticity.
My first hint in that direction, and one of the first displays that I thoroughly enjoyed, was an installation of pan paintings by B. Wurtz. Wurtz had a mini-retrospective at Metro Pictures last year, and despite Roberta Smith’s adoring review in the New York Times, I couldn’t connect with the work. But at ABMB, Metro Pictures has installed two walls with wonderfully colorful tin pans painted by the artist, and their playfulness — their embrace of the kitchen, traditionally the forced province of women, the way they poke fun at geometric abstraction by undermining it with the most basic everyday objects — delighted me.
Wurtz isn’t the only one at the fair bringing domestic, everyday objects into art: Tanya Bonakdar is exhibiting a staid, powerful shelf assemblage by Haim Steinbach. Steinbach’s “mandarin red 2″ (2008/12) features a plastic cauldron, a metal and wood cart core, and five dog chew toys on one of his signature bi-colored wedge shelves. As always, the artist seems to have imbued the banal items with a powerful, enchanting force by virtue of his arrangement.
There were also artists working in media more traditionally associated with craft than art — not a novel practice, as that artificial barrier has been tenuous and tested by artists for a long time, but enjoyable nonetheless. Grayson Perry, who is best known for subverting the craft/art divide with his vases, is showing a tapestry at Victoria Miro’s booth, titled “Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close” (2012). The scene is a domestic drama elevated to a play on classical Adam and Eve expulsion paintings, and its incredibly intricacy and texture heighten the absurdity of the scene. Over at Anton Kern Gallery, meanwhile, Laura Schnitger has a work made of of quilted and bleached cotton and linen. “We Are Sexy” (2012) conflates two of women’s traditional roles — as homemakers and sex objects — into a patterned play.
More examples dotted my walk through the fair: a piece by Ghada Amer, who embroiders her paintings, at Tina Kim’s booth; threaded canvases by Nicholas Hlobo at Stevenson gallery; Florian Pumhösl’s worn and stained lace cloth splayed out on a black background at Galerie Buccholz; fantastically surreal works by Pedro Reyes at Galeria Luisa Strina, for which Reyes printed digital photos onto canvas and then made “interventions,” including overlays of wavy, wild string. And all that craft and domesticity reached their apotheosis at the booth of Mother’s Tankstation, where Japanese artist Atsushi Kaga and his mother are handcrafting bags and laptop cases, as my co-editor Kyle Chayka detailed here.
Despite their connecting threads, these works are different, as they engage with domesticity in varying ways: elevating the everyday, rethinking beauty, and blurring the line between art and craft. But I was drawn to all of them, perhaps because I’m drawn to art where the viewer can see evidence of both the artist’s ideas and his or her hands. And at a fair that illustrates quite well the disconnect between the art and real worlds, the injection of bits and pieces of everyday life feels like a small, quiet subversion.
Art Basel Miami Beach (Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach) is open through Sunday, December 9.