If Art Basel this week jaded you too, saunter over to some of the less pretentious fairs in Miami — where the paint is chunkier, the floors are dirtier, and the art is definitely weirder, for better and for worse.
They don’t feel any less like trade shows (you can’t put lipstick on a pig), but for some of the galleries participating in these fairs, coming here represents a significant cost and a real leap of faith: They don’t have the same name recognition as the bigger, wealthier spaces, and they typically show more emerging artists. Below are a few booths to check out at Untitled and NADA (two “smaller” fairs) and Art Miami, which is a huge show, but doesn’t have that hoity-toity art-fair feel about it.
And remember, there’s a lot of local art to explore in this city beyond the fairs. “My favorite thing about Miami is that it has this less visible side, a real essence, an interesting underground, and creative people,” said Steven Guberek of SGR Galería in Bogotá, which is showing at Untitled. “There’s barrio here, if you look for it.”
His least favorite thing about Miami? “The superficial part, the other side of that coin, which has to do with money and appearance and lifestyle,” he told me, before clarifying: “But we sell to everyone.”
It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re at the beach. The fact that it’s sitting on the literal sand certainly helps Untitled, where I found good vibes, laid-back people, and some of the best art I saw at the fairs in Miami this year. At the booth of the Puerto Rican gallery Km 0.2, Yiyo Tirado’s installation of “palm trees” made out of discarded mops and a neon sign that reads “Not Your Tax Heaven” probes the ways in which the tourism and real estate industries are impacting the region. “After Hurricane Maria there was a massive exodus of Puerto Ricans,” said gallery co-founder Karlo Andrei Ibarra. “Investors in the US came in and bought up properties, and now we have gentrification and lack of housing, just like in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean. You end up feeling like a foreigner in your own country.”
Colombian design duo Colectivo Mangle’s twisted wood “Shit Happens” sign at SGR Galería and fluid, swirly paintings by Yulia Iosilzon at Carvalho Park’s booth were also standouts. “As a Brooklyn-based gallery, the impressions made here are countless,” said gallery co-founder Jennifer Carvalho, commenting on the value of the Miami fair to spaces like her own. “Far greater than the reach of exhibitions within our gallery walls.”
Let’s say the quiet part out loud: Fair booths are ugly places to hang art, and I tip my hat to the galleries that manage to creatively transform them. At NADA this year, single-artist booths take the cake, many of them more akin to a mini-exhibition than to my worst white-cube nightmares. Patel Brown Gallery, based in Toronto and Montreal, dedicated its booth to works by artist Nep Sidhu. The hand-woven tapestry “Malcolm Smile 7a” is a tribute to el-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz — the Muslim name Malcolm X adopted during a pilgrimage to Mecca, when he embraced Sunni Islam. Portrayed is a box-like form from which a staircase unfurls, evoking a portal to another realm, and a poem about self-realization by Ishmael Butler, translated and transcribed into Kufic script and rendered in gold thread.
At Mrs. gallery, from the Queens borough of New York, Rose Nestler’s uncanny sculptures (candle-pierced torsos and legs in fishnet tights) pay homage to women saints. And Gisela Projects, a roving gallery, mounted small works by Bianca Kann and Cooper Lovano in materials like extruded plastic, resin, silicone, and clay. They ranged from $200 for ceramic fried eggs in an open edition to $3,000.
“Sometimes big collectors, or people who could spend a lot of money, are still interested in the art because it’s fresh,” said founder Gisela Gueiros of the response she’s had to her booth.
Ah, Art Miami — it’s the oldest fair in the city, and despite the fact that you can find works by established artists, such as Keith Haring and Amelia Peláez, it somehow lacks the glitz of Art Basel. Instead, it has its own distinct charm. Paintings by Alexi Torres, exhibited by the Miami-based Contessa Gallery, imagine Classical statues like “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” improbably draped in the black-and-white hexagon and pentagon pattern of a soccer ball. At the bottom of the canvases, the artist renders groups of tiny people “to show the scale of the sculptures, like visitors to a sacred place.”
“I start each painting when the moon is waning and finish it a few months later on another waning moon, like farmers do to plant their seeds and harvest them,” Torres told me. “It gives the artwork a more deep and direct connection to nature and the universe.”
I heard more Spanish spoken at this fair than at any others I visited this week, which made me think it caters to locals or visitors from Latin America. But the most enchanting part about Art Miami was that everyone I spoke to seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
“I want to come back tomorrow and bring my daughter,” said Tina Engineer-McRae, who visited the fair on Thursday. “She’s six years old and loves art. I feel like there are a lot of artists that cater to kids here, it’s fun, and there’s color. She would love it.”