MIAMI BEACH — Wandering for hours around the convention center housing Art Basel Miami Beach tends to make one long for fresh air. Fortunately, one can find respite just a stone’s throw away, in the palm tree–filled Collins Park. Spread out over the green square in front of the Bass Museum of Art, the fair’s companion public art sector, simply named Public, brings together 27 large-scale, site-specific works from international artists, curated for the third time by Public Art Fund Director Nicholas Baume. This year’s theme, “Metaforms,” is intended to consider familiar objects and revisit their meanings.
Accordingly, utilitarian material makes a strong appearance here, from Ishmael Randall-Week‘s “Paraiso” (2015) — composed of bricks that appear to melt, forming a dissolving archaeological structure one can enter — to Matt Johnson’s “Twisted Jersey Barrier” — a curving concrete divider that gracefully bends towards the sky. Marianne Vitale has also brought the industrial era to bear on the tropical landscape in her “Ace of Spades” (2015), which consists of 60 tons of steel scrap she transported from an old Pennsylvania truck facility to form three mounds that contrast sharply with the waving palm trees. Nearby, British sculptor James Capper has given construction cranes a delightful update, creating a kinetic, quadrupedal, bug-like critter of metal parts that can walk on a number of terrains, commandeered by a control box. I stumbled upon Capper while he was experimenting with his 2,000-pound creation. “Mountaineer Prototype,” his eighth work out of 10 such machines, was very slowly leaving muddied footprints in the grass.
Some works revisit history, such as Sterling Ruby‘s “Big Yellow Mama,” which transforms Alabama’s longtime electric chair of the same name into an oddly playful, larger-than-life version that seems right at home on the beach. A neighboring stainless steel installation, “Ukpo.Edo” by Melvin Edwards, references another grave American institution of the past: its large metal links that allude to slavery and oppression.
More playful is a giant deer by Tony Tasset, which creates an unusual encounter with wildlife but also brings to mind a corny but endearing lawn ornament à la Donald Featherstone. California artist Sam Falls also engages with the verdant surroundings in his take on a garden structure, “Healing Pavilion” (2015); the gemstone-covered shelter invites passersby to sit down and spend a moment chatting face-to-face in a relaxed setting — an rare opportunity during Miami Art Week.
Select works from the installation will remain in Collins Park through February 1 as part of tc: temporary contemporary, the Bass Museum’s city-wide program for temporary public art. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area, although one note for the show’s curator would be to include more women next time: last year’s showing (also curated by Baume) was wonderfully dominated by women artists, but this recent iteration features sculptures by just four.
Art Basel Miami Beach continues through December 6. The Public sector is located at Collins Park (Collins Avenue between 21st & 22nd Streets, Miami Beach). A selection of works there will remain on view through February 1, 2016.