MIAMI BEACH — The first thing visitors see at Untitled Art Fair this year is a literal wall of garbage: limbless Barbies, empty tequila bottles, clothes hangers, sandals, and other detritus, all crushed together in a cement hunk. A new iteration of Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1970 piece and performance, “Garbage Wall” is one of Untitled’s special projects this year, and it’s huge. Matta-Clark’s original “Garbage Wall” (1970) confronted environmental issues and the homelessness crisis. This new one, constructed by Florida International University Honors College students, in collaboration with Matta-Clark’s Estate, utilizes marine debris from the Deering Estate and confronts similar problems — though this time the threat of impending sea level rise and drastic climate change renders it newly relevant. Two of Matta-Clark’s short films flank the wall: “Fire Child” (1971) and “Day’s End” (1975), the latter of which documents the short-lived park Matta-Clark conceived as a “sun-and-water temple” for people to enjoy.
I was pleased to see something so hopeful and, in equal stride, dystopian, at the entrance to Untitled, which last year was quite pretty but not particularly challenging. There was plenty of neon, Abstract Expressionism, and mid-century-inspired art that’d be nice for a living room, but the fair did not speak to the challenges presented over the prior 365 days. To be clear: I came to Untitled hoping the art would have caught up with the times, because the times hurt.
And, as far as fairs go, Untitled does address the strange and painful quality of the world we’re inhabiting. Another special project, Thiago Martins de Melo’s, “Deus Cortado” — which translates from Portuguese to “severed God” — is a striking, brutal installation and animation that portrays the harsh realities of colonialism in bright colors: the rape, torture, decimation of whole belief systems, and destruction of landscapes.
At a booth occupied by Galerie, a nomadic art space, exhibitors are acting as “representatives” for performative services offered by artists — in Hana Lee Erdman’s “Animal Companion,” gallerist Adriano Wilfert Jensen accompanies you around the fair for several minutes, without speaking, and for “Humourology” Alex Bailey delivers a custom-made “socio-practical” joke. I chose Valentina Desideri’s “Political Therapy,” during which the artist discusses with you a sociopolitical issue of your choice and engages in a kind of mapping, reframing, and healing session. Each of these works has its own kind of economy and fees — perhaps you pay in a joke yourself, or offer money for a session — an attempt to complicate the art market and what’s worth selling.
In between all the swaths of pleasant colors, plenty of work at Untitled addresses dystopia, the reclamation of history and identity, and the absurdity of an art market that tries to address these topics, and thankfully does so with a great sense of humor.
Untitled 2017 continues at Ocean Drive and 12th Street (Miami Beach) through December 10.