MIAMI — The first ever Brazil Art Fair in Miami got off to a rough start: it didn’t open on time. When I visited two days later, the fair still felt tentative, a bit uncertain, rough around the edges. The floors looked like they had just come out of the box, with BOISE/APA/”Sized for spacing exposure” stamped across the light, unfinished wood. The lighting was strong, but cast a bad glare on much of the art. Most of the booths did not have labels to identify their work (though that may have been purposeful).
Brazil, however, is a new fair, and one can make such allowances for a first edition. On the plus side, the pavilion is spacious, which, given the small number of galleries (only 15, plus two exhibitions), gives the art plenty of room to breathe.
That art is a healthy mix of media and styles, with a strong dose (as one might expect) of geometric abstraction and conceptual projects. The Tempo Suspenso exhibition, curated by Luisa Duarte and plopped into the center of the fair, offers the welcome reprieve of a number of strong videos, among them works by Berna Reale, Rivane Neuenschwander and Cao Guimarães, and Milton Machado. But a good chunk of the art at the fair feels lackluster, overly clever, or unchallenging, some of which may be chalked up to the unforgiving art fair format. Then again, I suspect the run-of-the-mill stuff is easier to notice at Brazil because the fair is so intimate. Having so few galleries sets the bar for all of them higher.
It isn’t all bad, though. About halfway through my visit, things started to pick up: I found the booth of Galeria Um Zero Três, which is filled with great pieces by Mayana Redin, Duane Bennati, and others. Redin works with postcards — drawing on, rearranging, and sculpting them; in the process, she offers a subtle commentary on the images and forms we deem ideal. Bennati makes his work by stripping painted acrylic from its surface. The results are intriguing scraps — the “garbage of the paint,” in the gallerist’s words — that can be hung or draped (as one was) to great effect.
Across the fair, Galeria Movimento, which focuses on street art, also brought a strong showing. Artist Toz is a standout, particularly a bright six-panel work in which the character of “The Joy Seller,” the man who sells balloons on the beach, morphs into the superhero-inflected character of Insomnia. Toz also had a Day Glo installation in a small curtained-off room adjacent to the booth, featuring a larger version of Insomnia, floating balloons, and music; it was nice to look at, but didn’t do much besides glow. Movimento is also showing Thais Beltrame, whose work is in many ways the opposite of Toz’s: small, grayscale, and quiet. Her scenes made from cutouts and brush and ink look like the missing illustrations for a fantastical children’s book.
Nino Cais, at Central Galeria de Arte‘s booth, also offers a bout of whimsy with small, oddly compelling collages of men with bird heads and patterned circles stamped on them. Next door, at Galeria Logo, large, bulky pieces by the artist Sesper take the collage aesthetic to an extreme, as the artist combines collage techniques with acrylic, graphite, and silkscreen on wood. Some of the works fall back on the reliability of a “throw so much shit together, it must look cool” aesthetic, but Sester has a smart grasp of form and layout that makes you look at others twice, and linger.
Sesper incorporates discarded materials in his work — posters, magazines, equipment — and recycling and reusing are also one of the impulses behind Orchestra Brasil, an organization that represents contemporary Brazilian designers. Orchestra has a 20-piece exhibition, which doubles as a silent auction, installed at the back of the fair — the first time these designs are being shown in the US. Highlights of display include Domingos Tótora’s Banco Solo bench, which looks like stone but is in fact made from recycled cardboard soaked in water and mixed in a blender; Regis Padilha’s Trad Mesas Auxiliares side tables, made from carpentry shop wood waste; and, my favorite, Luiz Pedrazzi’s Imaginary City I, a glass-top coffee table made from salvaged motherboards.
The pieces look great, not just on their own, but as a whole: the Orchestra Brasil presentation is the best- and most professional-looking part of the fair. The mini showroom is elevated on a finished wood platform, with big, readable labels accompanying every work. The organizers of Brazil Art Fair are smart to have invited the organization to participate, and they might want to take a lesson or two from it next year.
Brazil Art Fair continues at 3501 NE 1st Avenue (Wynwood, Miami) through December 8.