MIAMI BEACH — Perhaps it’s because we’re near the tropics or in palm tree central, but whatever the reason, the galleries participating in this year’s Pulse Miami Beach fair are showing a generous selection of botany-focused works. As I moved from booth to booth, colorful abstract and geometric paintings were certainly aplenty and eye-catching, but more compelling were the many dedicated representations of plant species, which made both bold and delightfully unexpected appearances, bringing a welcome dose of the outdoors into the sleek space of the fair.
A visitor’s first encounter with visual treats of foliage may actually occur in Pulse’s most unremarkable space — its parking lot — inside a refurbished 1984 American Eagle RV. New York-based artist Marion Wilson has transformed the vehicle into a viewing station for moss, complete with an herbarium soaking in sun through the back window and moss samples in test tubes, inviting visitors to think about the properties and physical beauty of moss, a plant that grows on all continents but attracts little attention. Inside the Pulse tent, the woodland wonder continues at Frederieke Taylor Gallery‘s booth, where Wilson’s digital prints of individual moss types appear from afar as alien organs, making viewers take a closer look to decode the curious forms.
Just as peculiar is Johannes Domenig‘s large square of real tree bark hanging on Galerie Frey‘s booth walls, an apparent disruption of the man-made white cube aesthetic that fit more “naturally” into its curated space once I realized the bark is affixed to its distant relative, a thick layer of manufactured wood. More hints of the wild emerge at ROCKELMANN &, where Marnie Bettridge‘s suspended sculpture “Powerful forces shall move slowly” reveals small plants peaking out from its already organic, sand dollar-like layers — and they stand out even sandwiched between Megan Stroech‘s bold and at times cheesy mixed media collages, one of which incorporates a deflated pool float of a ghost. A series of miniature landscapes by the Canada-based artist Guy Laramée carved into books also flashes patches of green that led me to pore over his incredibly rendered topographies in the Jayne H Baum booth. Much, much less subdued at first sight, though, are the three (faux) orange trees planted by Gordon Holden and dressed in wacky garb that transform Florida’s common citrus plant into a trio of playful characters with distinct personalities.
Rather than focus on the subject of the plant, many other artists showing at Pulse instead use flora to evoke a broader sense of intrigue. In Klowden Mann‘s booth, Bangladeshi artist Srijon Chowdhury has transformed the architecture of the space with his fairytale oil paintings of arches, each offering an escape to a beautifully hazy, flower-filled world. The same sense of fantasy crops up in Henry Hudson‘s “Studies” of jungles, which are anything but faithful to reality: vividly colored and made of plasticine, the exotic vegetation immediately recalls the wild imaginings of childhood crafts. What feels distant, however, are Lisa Schulte‘s driftwood sculptures wrapped in slender neon tubes that illuminate the natural curves of the wood but made me realize I prefer my neon and nature separate.
Another neon work stands at the fair’s entrance, part of Pulse’s Projects series of large-scale sculptures, installations, and performances intended to engage the audience: “You are (on) an Island” by Alicia Eggert and photographer Mike Fleming lights up the eponymous words — and is surrounded by actual, large, leafy specimens — with the preposition flashing on and off so the sentence dances between a descriptive statement and a philosophical one. The latter phrase may require further contemplation, but as a stroll through Pulse proves, a reminder of the tropical environment is less than necessary, with snippets of the wild blooming all around even in the sterile and enclosed space.
The 2015 edition of Pulse Miami Beach (Indian Beach Park, 4601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida) continues through Saturday, December 5.