MIAMI — One of the good things about the glut of art at fairs is the chance to make unexpected visual connections — to watch sparks fly between artworks you’d never otherwise see together. (If you can keep your brain focused, which I grant is a big “if.”) At the sprawling Art Miami fair, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the associations and affinities that jumped out at me from among the aisles. Here, in no particular order, are some of them.

Sijan and Shaomin

Left: a work by Marc Sijan; right: Shen Shaomin, “I Want to Know What Infinity Is” (2011–12)

This one may be a little obvious, but it was too good to pass up: eerily lifelike sculptures of wrinkly old ladies! This is classic art fair stuff, although Marc Sijan really takes it to a new level with the levitation (see: amazed child in photo). Despite the quasi-gimmicky-ness of it, Sijan’s work, on view at Peter Marcelle Gallery’s booth, showed a pretty amazing level of detail. Shen Shaomin‘s piece, exhibited by Eli Klein, is more contemplative. Both are compelling for the amount of craft and skill involved.

Mendelson and di Robilant

Left: Shari Mendelson, “Silver Vessel” (2011); right: Tristano di Robilant, “1600 (with raindrops)” (2011)

Shari Mendelson, showing with Todd Merrill 20th Century Studio Contemporary, makes beautiful vessels clearly inspired by classical forms but made from recycled plastic bottles. Not too far away at the fair, I saw Tristan di Robilant‘s “1600 (with raindrops)” on view at James Barron Art. Robilant uses a classic medium to create an unconventional form — the inverse of Mendelson. Both artists pull off a delightful contrast of the overall form of their works with their materials and texture.

Anderson-Staley and Luster

Left: Keliy Anderson-Staley, photographs from “[Hyphen]-Americans: Tintype Portraits” (2005–13); right: Deborah Luster, photograph from “One Big Self series – Louisiana State Penitentiary portraits” (2009)

Some of my favorite works at Art Miami were photographs, specifically the work of Keliy Anderson-Staley, on view with Edelman Gallery, and Deborah Luster, shown by Arthur Roger Gallery. For her [Hyphen]-Americans series, Anderson-Staley explores Americanness and diversity by taking photographs of Americans with hyphenated identities. The tintype format gives her portraits and their subjects a formidable grace, and the unifying aesthetic emphasizes the concept of a shared nationality. Luster, meanwhile, has spent years photographing prisoners in Louisiana. Her gelatin silver prints on aluminum not only recall tintypes; they also offer their subjects a similar quiet dignity. And the title of the series, One Big Self, suggests a goal similar to Anderson-Staley’s: a focus on the ways we connect rather than how we differ.

Gray and Marcos

Left: Cameron Gray, “I Have A Feeling I Shall Go Mad. I Cannot Go On Longer In These Terrible Times. I Shan’t Recover This Time. I Hear Voices And Cannot Concentrate On My Work. I Have Fought Against It But Cannot Fight Any Longer…Naww, Fuck It, I’m Good” (2011); right: Ángel Marcos, “The Intimate Subversion” (2013) (click to enlarge)

Both of these installations were on view as part of Art Miami’s “Think Big” initiative — a handful of curated projects scattered throughout the fair. Cameron Gray‘s, presented by Mike Weiss Gallery, was a big crowd-pleaser on opening night, in large part because it contains a man in a recliner who barely appears to be breathing; he didn’t budge even when someone stepped up to check his pulse. But Gray’s digi-animation collage video, looping on 27 stacked monitors, is the strongest part of the work; it will suck you in and give you an eye twitch. Meanwhile, Ángel Marcos‘s project, presented by Galerie Ernst Hilger, offers a similar structure to Gray’s — chair facing a grid of images, with rug(s). Marcos’s approach, however, is the opposite, as he reaches for the quietness and calm of still photographs of empty spaces in a small Spanish town.

Hirsch and Ellsworth

Left: Stephanie Hirsch, “Believe” (2013); right: Angela Ellsworth, “Seer Bonnet XXI (Eliza) and Seer Bonnet XX (Emily)” (2011)

Stephanie Hirsch, at Lyons Wier Gallery, and Angela Ellsworth, at Lisa Sette Gallery, are connected at Art Miami by proximity, theme, and approach. Hirsch uses a standard Pop art–inflected visual, but she changes up the process and the narrative. The subject is a black woman, rather than, say, one of Lichtenstein’s white ones, and she’s created the work with beads, rhinestones, and embroidery, all generally known as “women’s” materials. Ellsworth also employs a material associated with women and domesticity: corsage pins. By using 39,804 of them, she turns two bonnets from symbols of femininity into objects of danger.

Frankenthaler and Amos

Left: Helen Frankenthaler, “Red Shift” (1990); right: two mixed media on canvas works by Sarah Amos

At James Barron’s booth, I was immediately drawn to this late Helen Frankenthaler painting on display — a sea, or maybe a desert, of red that plumbs the depths of its color in a concert of spots, strokes, and stray marks. The work looks sublimely effortless. Frankenthaler’s reds reappear in the wholly different work of Sarah Amos, on view with Cynthia Reeves. Amos uses more media and more layers in her work — both of these are print and mixed media on paper on canvas — and she’s exploring shades in a way that’s more tied to shapes and forms. But I’m charmed by the idea of a color connecting two women artists across generations.

Art Miami continues at the Art Miami Pavilion (3101 NE 1st Avenue, Wynwood, Miami) through December 8.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...