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MIAMI — The first artworks I enjoyed when I walked into the Miami Project, one of two newcomers to Art Basel Miami Beach fair week this year, were paintings by Monique Prieto at ACME. Then I discovered photographs by Lee Materazzi. After that, there was Daniela Comani’s wonderful installation “Beau De Jour,” and it was around that time that it hit me: So much of the work I was loving at the fair was by women.
This isn’t, obviously, a surprise. Women have always made great art (and plenty of bad art, too, just like men). But anyone who think gender disparity and gaps don’t still exist in the art world is kidding himself. Auction discrepancies are miserable, and while museums are coming around (MoMA mounted a Cindy Sherman retrospective!), they still have a long way to go (they only gave her half the 5th floor).
So at Miami Project, which, it should be noted, has made an impressive debut this year, I let myself follow the women and be led by them. I was not disappointed.
The aforementioned Materazzi, whose photographs were on view at Quint Contemporary Art, makes smart, funny photographs of herself trying to hide or fit into, or embrace, domestic spaces and objects. But the hiding is always obvious and never complete, the embraces ridiculous, and the pictures seem to represent the psychic struggle of a woman confronting social expectations — in an outsized, deliberately absurd way.
Also tackling the burden of domesticity is Ann Toebbe, whose incredible cut paper and painted collages on view at Steven Zevitas offer flatterned, aerial views of houses, apartments, and rooms. Get up close and you see that the works are amazingly intricate and detailed, with small scraps of paper coming together to create, say, the pattern on a dining room table. Toebbe’s perspective on these spaces is key — it both disorients the viewer at first and offers her, a woman, a symbolic way to master them.
Women’s issues are not, however, confined to the home, and other female artists at the fair confronted an array of questions, from sexuality to the representation of women in pop culture. Daniela Comani’s “Beau De Jour” (2012), at Charlie James Gallery, was one of my favorite pieces. For the installation, Comani set up rows of nearly 100 faux DVD cases, all of them famous movies slyly renamed by the artist to subvert gender norms. Pretty Woman becomes Pretty Man, and Dirty Harry becomes Dirty Harriet while the cover images remain entirely intact — a subtle trick that makes the new titles sneak up on the unsuspecting viewer.
Similarly, but somewhat less successfully, Andrea Mary Marshall has an installation at Allegra LaViola’s booth in which she defaces Vogue magazine covers, turning them into Vague magazine and adding commentary about the ridiculousness of the cover images and tag lines. Nearby, Adriana Zarate is showing a series of playfully dark paintings at the New Wall Gallery that depict tall, thin women in modeling poses — but with deadpan animal heads.
One of the best examples I saw of a female artist dealing with sexuality was Susan Silas‘s Love in the ruins; sex over fifty series at CB1 Gallery. Three photographs on view show exactly what the title says — people over 50 having sex, and the pieces are charged and evocative. Silas seems to issue a challenge question: When was the last time you saw older, imperfectly human bodies engaging in blatant sexual activity?
Karen Finley, over at Coagula Curatorial, is also trying to help us all deal with our sexuality a little more comfortably and openly in a performance called “Sext me if you can,” for which she is soliciting sexts from strangers, asking them to send “your wildest personal image.” She then interprets the photos as delicately pornographic paintings, using small, oval canvasses, like Victorian miniatures, and painting live at the booth yesterday and again at 2 and 5 pm today.
Like Finley, a number of women at the fair are engaging with the broader culture rather than just “women’s issues” (although I often think that phrase makes light of the fact that women are half the world’s population, and all of its mothers). Lauren DiCioccio, at Jack Fischer Gallery, has a more delicate approach than most: in her most striking works, she has sewn multicolored thread over spreads from book. DiCioccio has a system for each one, including different colors for every letter, and the results are a softly beautiful commentary on the decline of the book as something useful and its rise as an art object.
Erika Rothenberg, on the other hand, is less kind to our culture, offering some brilliantly biting pieces near Comani’s work at Charlie James’s booth: “America, the Greatest Nation on Earth” (2012), a black-and-white community message board that lists a series of depressing meetings like “Battered Spouses” and “Jobless Club”; and two rows of original greeting cards with such original messages as, “a note from your foetus … Dear Mom, Remember, abortion is murder. Love,” and signed off by a picture of the fetus.
Laurina Paperina’s wall of drawings and paintings at Fouladi Projects is equally colorful and energetic in its judgments, though the aesthetic is far more surreal. Paperina pokes fun at everything from our eating habits to our superheroes, with a penchant for crazy-eyed, cartoonish animals and figures. And she had what was probably my favorite painting of the whole fair, as it seemed to satirize and sum up so much of what the art fairs are about: Keith Haring riding a penis rocket into the sky.
The Miami Project (NE 29th Street and NE 1st Avenue, Miami) continues through December 9.