MIAMI — The art fair Pinta Miami is dedicated primarily to Latin American artists. Wandering the fair, catching glimpses of so many Miami galleries and hearing so little English spoken, it feels like a good representation of the city. Though that isn’t a requirement for a fair — they are, after all, trade shows — it lends it an almost poignant quality.
It helps that the work, for the most part, is strong, and the fair’s size is small enough to view it in about a day. Though there are big names to be found (Julio Le Parc, Joan Miró, Wifredo Lam), it’s the tightly curated sections that are most exciting. Many pieces here are political and subversive, even though they may appear, at first glance, quite abstract or simply aesthetically beautiful. This was especially true in the works that were part of the “Solo Duo Project,” a section curated by Dan Cameron and Jesus Fuenmayor showcasing the work of just one artist from a given gallery. Subtitled Errant Geographies, the selected artists explore the slipperiness of place, politics, and cultural identity.
One of them, Yucef Merhi (represented by PROYECTO VISIBLE), makes a good case for abstraction as political tool. From afar, the shapes on his aluminum wall hangings, layered with paper, look blurred and amorphous. Up close, it’s clear these works, entitled “Soulless Security (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9)” (2017), are made up of social security numbers and full names, presented in an orderly geometric display. Upon closer inspection, it’s mathematically perfect.
“Berlinpaintings/Alphabet of Silence” (2012–2017) by Sigfredo Chacón, another artist chosen for Errant Geographies and showing with Imago Art, LLC, are right next door. Chacón’s paintings range in shade from deep gray to bright red, with thick lettering labeling them in Spanish or German: “ROSA,” “GRÜN.” Inspired by the artist’s research on concentration camps, the colors reference the systematic ordering by Nazis, the pink triangles and yellow stars pinned to the jackets of homosexual and Jewish prisoners. Here, we’re reminded of when organization is utilized as a weapon.
In the “Peruvian Section” (another curated section at Pinta), Adriana Ciudad at Y Gallery painted a mural of dark palm trees and bright, fluorescent-yellow haze. It’s strikingly beautiful, and deceptively cheerful. At the end of the wall, there’s a set of headphones adorned with flowers; listen and you’ll hear the mourning songs of her subjects, grieving Afro-Colombian women singing prayers to their lost loved ones. Inspired by her residency in Cali, Colombia, it’s both an installation on death and rebirth and the marginalization of Afro-Latinos. “Hay en el cielo un destello resplandeciente que me ilumina por donde voy,” the mural reads (“there is a bright flash in the sky that illuminates where I am going”).
One artwork in particular mesmerized me and perfectly encapsulated the fair: filmmaker Javier Téllez’s short film, “El león de Caracas” (2004). Though there are other films at Pinta, this is the only one with its own small, quiet theater; it, too, is part of yet another curated section: the Mercantil Collection’s display, Passages in Art from Venezuela, a collection of Venezuelan work from the past several centuries. “El león de Caracas,” soundtracked by a loud Catholic hymn, captures the strangely biblical moment of a taxidermied lion carried through a mountainous shantytown by military police. Children look on in confusion and awe. It’s a moment that presents, in almost painterly fashion, the brutal stratification of wealth in the city, and the mythology that courses through any religious country.
Pinta Miami continues at Mana Wynwood (2217 NW 5th Ave, Miami) through Sunday, December 10.