Brandon Vickerd, “Sputnik Returned” (2013)

MIAMI BEACH — Parsing contemporary art’s inscrutable pecking order of markets and sensibilities is already a miserable endeavor, but the stakes inch ever higher in Miami, where the tantalizing gruel of celebrity gets spread preciously thin. Kevin Spacey’s standing around at Tracey Emin’s Vanity Fairsponsored opening! A$AP Rocky is in the house hovering in the DJ booth for thirty seconds! Quick: who’s “the coolest”? “All things Dis Magazine,” a Dis contributor and “coordinator” at the Perez Art Museum tells the T Magazine blog.

Amid all this clamoring, there was something substantial about the PULSE art fair this year. An older fair with a middle-ground but established reputation, the (relatively) heavy presence of photography has in recent years emerged as an identifying quirk, with a lot more of it on hand than can be had at the other larger fairs. That glut continued this year, though the real standouts weren’t photographic, but rather the European and West Coast stalwarts that have been returning, year after year, and earning this show its place at Miami’s fair week.

Though 25 exhibitors hailed from New York — a little under a third of the 85 total — their influence felt diluted. Unlike at NADA, where New York is very much the affair’s spiritual nucleus, PULSE feels thoroughly continental. A strong presence from Spain and Germany dominates, with the United States shining through via a considerable West Coast contingent. While Untitled has strenuously sought to earn the praise of those who might compare it to NADA, PULSE seems to avoid such aspirations, quietly offering an uneven but frequently excellent lineup of American and international galleries.

Of particular note here were San Francisco’s Hosfelt gallery, Cologne’s Galerie Stefan Röpke, and Barcelona’s +R gallery. At Hosfelt, two large and very different grid-based works on canvas by William T. Wiley (one of the living greats of American art with a surprisingly low profile in New York) and Driss Ouadahi (an Algerian painter with an architectural-political sensibility) immediately captivated, though the gallery’s entire booth made a lasting impression — as strong and well-curated as any I’d seen in Miami. The canvas-bound monumental grid recurred in a massive Max Neumann triptych on view at Stefan Röpke, which represents the German artist. Conrads gallery of Düsseldorf featured several works by Ulrike Heydenreich, her compelling hyperrealist mountain scenes on geometrically folded paper a lesser echo of downtown artists Ryan and Trevor Oakes‘ meticulously studied approach to perspective.

Paper was out in force among several Spanish galleries: Galeria NF of Madrid featured an intriguing topographical study by Mateo Mate, a sculptural book-object. Barcelona’s +R gallery presented an understated lineup dominated by works on paper, from Sabine Finkenauer’s colorful geometric cutouts to Mar Azra’s Syntax Statement series, the latter recalling Meg Hitchcock’s recent show at Studio10 Bogart. Further along the familiarity continuum, Chelsea’s Mixed Greens provoked with the formalist pokings of Conor Backman, while Black & White gallery gave their booth over to a solo showing of Christofer Koch’s mixed media work. A Brobdingnagian paper plane from Michael Scoggins’ idiosyncratic notepad was suspended over the Freight+Volume booth, the prop feeling somehow more ridiculous than at home in Chelsea, where the domineering environs lend themselves more easily to such play. It’s a reminder that sometimes, just sometimes, things actually can feel better in Miami.


Detail of Liliana Porter, “The Photographer” (2012) (Hosfelt gallery, San Francisco)


Alan Rath, “Roto II” (2013) at left, Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, “1111613” (2013), at right (Hosfelt gallery, San Francisco)


William T. Wiley, “I’ve Got to Sing to Write the Blues” (2010) (Hosfelt gallery, San Francisco)

Driss Ouadahi

Driss Ouadahi, “Grand ensemble 1” (2012) (Hosfelt gallery, San Francisco)


Max Neumann, “Untitled” (2005-06) (Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne)

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Anselm Kiefer, “Velimir Chlebnikow” (1997) (Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne))


Works by Sabine Finkenauer (+R, Barcelona)


Mar Arza, “Syntax Statement” series (2013) (+R gallery, Barcelona)


Conor Backman, “A Shroud” (2013) (Mixed Greens, Manhattan)


Booth view (Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City)


Amir Zaki “Untitled (Tower 23)” (2009) (James Harris gallery, Seattle)


Mateo Mate, “Arqueology of Knowledge” (2013) (Galeria NF, Madrid)


Susan Stockwell, “Sail Away” (2013) (Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London)


Ulrike Heydenreich, “Ausblick” (2013) (Conrads, Dusseldorf)


Mounir Fatmi, “Mecanization No.2” (2011) (Conrads, Dusseldorf)

Christofer Kochs solo presentation at Black and White (Brooklyn)

Christofer Kochs solo presentation (Black and White, Brooklyn)

The PULSE art fair took place December 5 through 8 at the Ice Palace (1400 North Miami Avenue, Miami).

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.