MIAMI BEACH — A few years ago, during a #rank panel at the Seven art fair, I made the observation that reviewing art fairs was much like reviewing shopping malls in that they seem overwhelmingly preoccupied with convenience, circulation, and perceptions of leisure. Malls, and art fairs, are concerned with making immediate connections between things rather than looking at overarching themes or connecting the dots in any significant way. Little did I realize at the time that the art fair hadn’t reached its apex, as it continues to be embraced by the leisure class. Each year this contemporary version of an art shopping mall continues to evolve in subtle ways, suggesting that it isn’t going anywhere soon.
At first, and like most everyone, I wanted to (OK, I did) hate art fairs, because they foregrounded commercialism in art in a way that we hadn’t been accustomed to throughout the 20th century. But now I’ve made some peace with them, after I accepted that they’re simply trade fairs. To expect highly curated experiences is missing the point. Art fairs, like trade fairs, are social and business occasions. Critics, curators, and even artists, often bemoan them because they feel sidelined, but art dialogue isn’t really the point, as the focus shifts to sales and the business of sustaining galleries, artists’ careers, and, well, art fairs. Sure, there’s always a crop of art fairs that want to point out they aren’t, in fact, art fairs (they are), but they also aren’t exactly exhibitions either.
Here are 12 artworks or displays of note I spotted at Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) that explore the margins of art and display at the best art mall ever:
Wang Yuyang’s “Breathing Series – Finance Department” (2013) at Tang Contemporary
Tang Contemporary Art’s contribution to the Positions section of ABMB is a spectacular piece that transforms the mundane into a “through the looking glass” experience. The CCTV camera has the most character, appearing shy and withdrawn. The artist, who’s known for his meticulous renderings, has recreated a modern Chinese office with silicon and outfitted each item with motors that create the illusion of breathing. The result is ominous, original, and thoroughly creepy.
Jim Drain & Naomi Fisher’s “Paradise Working Title”
This hidden bar and installation in the Nova section of ABMB is part mini-oasis and part children’s fort. There’s a schedule of events for the duration of the fair, but in reality it’s a welcome respite from the whiteness of the fair and its minimalist “neutrality.”
Jorge Pardo’s El Stand Installation at Neuger-Riemschneider Gallery
It still surprises me that Pardo is included in art rather than design fairs, and his installation at Neuger-Riemschneider gallery continues that seemingly deliberate confusion. I suggest you use the opportunity to explore the immersive space he’s created (yes, you can sit down and linger) to think about the line between the two categories — the room has a maximum occupancy of 49 people. In case you were curious, each item is for sale individually (or as a group), but the overwhelming theme is mid-century modern, with all its associated utopianism.
Superflex, “Copyright” (2006) at Nils Stærk Gallery
Always exploring the margins of the legal landscape in the culture industries, Danish art group Superflex (Jakob Fenger, Rasmus Nielsen, and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen), back in the early aughts, noticed that a Danish firm had produced knock-offs of a well-known chair by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen, the Ant Chair. To avoid legal issues, the company had altered the original design in significant ways, but Superflex transforms these intentionally skewed copies into something closer to the original. The work highlights the absurdity of contemporary copyright but also the role of inspiration for creators and when a copy can potentially be original.
Siebren Versteeg’s “Departures” (2013) at Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Versteeg’s digital piece at Rhona Hoffman Gallery gives you live updates about the departures at Miami International Airport. I asked the gallerist, and she confirmed that the data is live and she believes it to be accurate. In an age of airport security theatrics designed to make us feel safe, this work conveys a sense of unease by making you realize that data in a supposedly secure environment can be easily accessed (perhaps even altered). The work also cleverly pokes fun at the collector and gallerist class, who will probably see little of the real Miami after shuttling between fairs and parties filled with other tourists and visitors. Is Versteeg’s work a form of public service to fairgoers or a coy question: “When are you leaving?”
Stefanos Tsivopoulos, “Fuck the € (Proposal for Art Basel Miami Currency)” (2013) at Kalfayan Galleries
When Tsivopoulos represented Greece at the Venice Biennale this year, his pavilion was a deep dive into the idea of currency and money exchange. Considering Greece’s recent monetary troubles with the EU, it was a finely tuned exploration of the fictions and facts about money. His latest product is a proposal for an alternative currency in the form of a hand-crocheted doily. It’s absurd but returns a notion of the handmade to something that’s very far removed from that. In case you missed the Greek contribution to Venice, the Kalfayan Galleries booth includes videos that were on display in the controversial pavilion.
Richard Meier–designed Booth for Galerie Gmurzynska
While this year’s commissioned booth by Galerie Gmurzynska may not be as successful as years past, it is notably designed by Richard Meier (the floors are nice). The gallery, which is based in Switzerland and specializes in secondary-market works from the 20th century, has commissioned various starchitects through the years, including Zaha Hadid in 2010, to design their booth. I’m surprised no one has really transformed the space, but then again, this is an art mall, so there are limits … Selling is the point, remember?!
Peter Saville’s “Flat-Pack Plinth ‘Do It’ Version” (2013) at Paul Stopler Gallery
Nothing says art mall like Ikea-style packaging and lettering, so Peter Saville’s installation at the Paul Stopler Gallery is a perfect homage to the portability of art and its trappings. Always a jokester, Saville’s multiple is not only funny but practical and affordable. I suspect these would look like lovely minimalist sculptures if they were left alone and not used as plinths, raising questions about object and frame that are as old as modernism itself.
Olafur Eliasson’s “Little Sun” Project
We’ve written about Eliasson’s “Little Sun” project before, but this was the first time I saw the cute little solar-powered portable critters up close. Only $30, they say that they only need to be charged for five hours to generate five hours of light. A popular invention like this has the potential to transform the lives of people who live in poverty and don’t have access to electricity and other modern conveniences. It seems fitting that Eliasson, the man who likes to manipulate light and perception, seems to think that no one should have to sit in the dark if they don’t want to. All purchases help provide free solar lights to people who can’t afford them.
Virginia Overton “Untitled (C9 floor)” (2013) at Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery
Overton’s lumber floor is kind of ridiculous but fits into my ABMB exploration of the margins of the art mall. Need flooring? Check. Even if the floor is a little absurd, it works surprisingly well in the space and didn’t interfere with the other art, as you might assume. Overton has the special ability to take a rather common material and transform it ever so smartly without being heavy-handed and overly pretentious (I say “overly” since it is, admittedly, a little pretentious).
Robert Watts’s “The American Supermarket” (1964/2002) at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
The art history nerd in me loves the re-creation of this classic Flux/Pop Art (it really fits into both categories) work from 1964, which is a commentary on the rise of American commercialism, the blurring of the lines between art and life, and the ridiculous nature of the commodity. It is an art mall, after all, and your eyes have to eat.
Cory Arcangel, “Napkin” (2013) at Lisson Gallery
I don’t know if Arcangel is trolling us with his “Napkin” (2013), but he has certainly found a solution to ensure that his copyright lives on if any image of his work is transmitted anywhere in print, video, or online. I imagine this work hanging in some boring office somewhere, where it could return to looking like non-art by resembling some bizarre corporate step-and-repeat backdrop.
Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 continues at the Miami Beach Convention Center (1901 Convention Center Dr, Miami Beach, Florida) until December 8.