MIAMI BEACH — Ignore the commercialism, class strata, crowds, and cost of kombucha at Art Basel Miami Beach. If you only look at the art — forget the floor plan, you’ll get lost anyway — it’s an affair worth the trip, because if you want to see the newest art made in Saint Petersburg, Vienna, Barcelona, or Berlin, it’s here. The works by contemporary artists are mostly from 2016, and a prevailing medium is painting — representational painting, or image-based work to use a more comprehensive term. Historical pieces are choice and unexpected, with some “discoveries” to general viewers.
Leonor Fini, showing at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, was a self-taught artist born in 1887 in Argentina, who was raised in Italy but fled to Paris where she became involved with the Surrealists, especially Max Ernst, her lover and friend. “Chthonian Deity Watching over the Sleep of a Young Man” (1946) is of a male nude and was painted at a time when few female artists took up men, in relaxed or even vulnerable poses, as subjects.
More idiosyncratic in its mystical air is “Temple of the Word” (1954) by Leonora Carrington at Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art. The single gold leaf in the center of the painting references the material employed for religious objects and interiors the world over. Perhaps Carrington is referencing them all, or creating her own iconography for an invented religion.
Moving us from inside to outdoors, Mernet Larsen’s “Bunt” (2016) at James Cohan is a fair hit with her unique geometric figures of disorienting proportions. In sharp contrast to her cartoonish and disturbing imagery is the landscape-derived abstractions of Andreas Eriksson at Neugerriemschneider. “Material” (2016), as a title, suitably enough alludes to the painting’s earthen qualities, both in color and its components of woven fibers, oil, and pigments made of stone. Joan Mitchell at Kukje Gallery/Tina Kim Gallery, New York, floats an abstracted field with foliage, at least as a point of departure; the square canvas of “Untitled” (1960) barely contains it. Compare her work to the restrained economy of Etel Adnan’s landscape “Untitled” (2014) at Galerie Lelong.
Like Adnan and Larson, Alex Katz at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is among the seasoned contemporary artists showing in Miami. His “Light Landscape 2” (2016) is perhaps the largest painting at Art Basel, proving the senior painter is still relentless with his skill and ambition. Catherine Murphy’s “Chairback” (2016), at Peter Freeman, Inc., is solidly in place with the observational painter’s eye for commonplace subjects, cropped and therefore striking. She is deservedly getting more market attention now as one of our best realist artists. Another is Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, who one would assume works from observing sitters. Rather, her portraits, which are on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, are of fictional people who nevertheless feel real. “Sing Songs to Any Sinner” is all soul.
Also at Jack Shainman, is Barkley Hendricks’s pensive and calculating “Buck” (c. 1970). A young man is weighing his options at a chess table, metaphorically expanded to become his surroundings with a dark checkered floor and blackened deep space. It’s an existential situation the viewer observes without exactly entering.
More explosive are Katherine Bernhardt’s “Untitled” (2016), at Xavier Hufkens, and Robert Lostutter’s “Untitled” (1970), at Corbett vs. Dempsey. Painted years apart, they celebrate “low” culture without irony or pretense. The latter (b. 1939), a lesser-known Chicago Imagist, gives viewers a visual punch with his fetishistic depiction of a domineering lady. Bernhardt throws anything at her viewers as long as it’s surprising: bananas, telephones, burgers, and cigarette butts. Here it’s Pink Panther, reminding us that, however crazy, “Such is life!”
Art Basel Miami Beach continues at the Miami Beach Convention Center
(1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach) through December 4.