Art Basel, NADA, PULSE and SEVEN, Miami

Paddy Johnson

December 6, 2010
Various locations, Miami
November 30–December 5, 2010

I lost 15 minutes of my life stuck in a traffic jam beside a sewer pipe in Miami. The cab from the new fair Seven to a restaurant in South Beach cost $35 dollars, and when I arrived I was afraid I smelled of shit. One of the less charming aspects of Miami remains: transportation is reliably a bitch.

But Basel was the best it’s been in my five years of attendance, and while NADA slips some, it’s still, by far, the best fair for emerging artists.


Affectionately referred to as the Borg ship amongst some bloggers, Basel’s floor plan is basically a large grid of white cubes inside the Miami Convention Center. This format has the ability to make all art look the same, and this year was no different: a rather stale viewing experience. As always, the Modern and postwar art booths are located at the front of the building, while contemporary settles for the back. Probably not such a bad layout tactic—but I expect this is a design holdover from ten years ago when dead artists brought in a lot more money.

Of the bluer blue chip galleries, Acquavella had a pristine set of Andy Warhol Marilyn prints worth noting, and Hauser & Wirth a fantastic Paul McCarthy bust of an anthropomorphized dog without the usual cock nose. I don’t know how important this bust is to the artist’s career (I expect not very—he makes a lot of these busts and Pot Head, 2002, is more recognizable)—but I like that the canine has a grin creepy enough to have only been produced by McCarthy.

Also of note was Robert Gober’s ear at Matthew Marks Gallery, Jack Shainman’s ever-prolific Nick Cave and five new sound suits, and a recent series of figurative videos embedded in small sculptural landscapes on armatures by Tony Oursler at Lehmann Maupin.

I spent the most time in Art Nova though, the section of the fair dedicated to art “often even fresh from the studio.” Sutton Lane presented the strongest booth in this section with Liz Deschenes’s blank silvery photograms, which also reflect slivers of color from Blake Rayne’s patterned canvases with hanging paper sashes. It’s an unusual match, but so seamless a viewer could forget the curatorial choices would have more to do with commerce than content.

Michael Mahalchick, Xylor Jane, and Matt Connors each have strong works on view at Canada. Connors’s yellowing linseed oil seeps through an overlaid layer of white acrylic that stops just short of the stretcher (evoking Tony Conrad’s aging canvases). Mahalchick’s penial assemblage sculpture topped with a train conductor’s hat and a candlestick is hilarious, while Jane shows off her now well-known virtuosity making vibrating grid paintings without the aid of a straight edge.

Miguel Abreu showcased some of the strongest artists in the fair, but were it not for his stellar reputation, I suspect the work would have been lost in the mass of booths. Scott Lyall’s paper pieces proved to be amongst those artworks that don’t translate well to a fair space, his large undulating white printout looking flat under Abreu’s lights. Lyall also designed a rotating wall for his work as art, thereby increasing their wall space at no extra cost to the gallery. It would have been a good trick, but the piece “intentionally” interrupted the viewing experience of other work, including R.H. Quaytman’s carefully constructed paintings. Lyall offered up a good moment or two with a framed arrow pointing either in the direction the wall should move or a viewer should look, but generally speaking more harm than good was done.


In its second season, this year in a giant ballroom and large conference area at the Deauville Hotel, the dealers and attendees at NADA are much more friendly than those stuck in Miami’s Convention Center. My day consisted of meetings with collectors, curators, and artists explaining how happy they were to escape the “clutches” of Basel.

As for the art, the solo show section known as Richelieu was promising, while the group booths at Napoleon weren’t very interesting at all. Small booths of random assorted art doesn’t effectively communicate a good gallery program even if variety can clear pay off in sales (see Leo Koenig, Lisa Cooley, and San Francisco’s Altman Siegel).

Jessica Labatte at Golden is the show stopper of all the Miami fairs, in general, for her photographs located at the back of the Richelieu. A large photograph of crumpled cut paper—spray-painted and collaged together—fills the back wall of the booth and is surrounded by 8 small photographs of aluminum paper. Each look as though they have been digitally altered in some way, though it’s entirely unclear how. In reality the photographs are untouched. The real prize of this show lies on the anterior wall, a still life made of red and yellow artist tape, an eraser, and a tick tac, on a round black plate, set against a white washed background. The composition is a unique interpretation of advertising as applied to art-making materials.

Over on the Napoleon side of the fair, former Deitch director Kathy Grayson exhibits the work of artists in the still-to-be-defined stable of her new gallery Hole. The exhibition—a series of art works made to recreate a living room—changes daily. Ben Jones a member of the now defunct collective Paper Rad, offered a great multi-colored coffee table Thursday, and Barry McGee, a forgettable yellow painting filled with his trademark figures. The booth offers a mixed bag of goods.

Other notable booths include AVA, a small project space displaying a collection of books on sound and a portable listening station, as well as John McAllister’s paintings of hundred year old paintings and the contemporary wallpaper they’ve inspired. Those works were shown at James Fuentes.


Pulse takes over NADA’s old space at the Ice Palace this year. This means the front yard collector hammocks are back in use!

As far as fairs go, this one is a second tier NADA, though good work can still be found. I spotted only one giant dick on the wall, which, for an art fair, is usually a good sign.

Although some good painting can be found—i.e., Julie Heffernan’s renaissance-like figures morphing into trees at Mark Moore Gallery—traditional photography is the strongest here of any fair. Yossi Milo gallery hosts a great photograph of a young Japanese teen by Lise Sarfati worth a second look, while Alex Prager displays a large portrait, Isabelle, of a woman with a cup of Coke at Yancey Richardson. Prager gets a lot of play Pulse, also showing recent work at M+B.

Impulse, the section of the fair that seeks to find new talent, looked pretty grim this year. LMAK had the strongest booth in this section which included a photograph (purportedly about perception and truth) of a sad clown by Carlos Rigau. The fair needs to seek out some better talent.


Hate art fairs? Seven is the Miami Art Fair antidote, as it’s hardly a fair at all. Housed in a converted warehouse, Seven New York based galleries (Pierogi Gallery, Hales Gallery, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, BravinLee programs, Postmasters, P•P•O•W, and Winkleman) join forces to create one sprawling exhibition.

The result? Mixed. We’re talking about a lot of art that would never be shown together were it not for a fair. This means Monarch, a cheese ball aluminum alien in a giant rocking chair by David Herbert is exhibited in the same space as Guy Ben-Ner’s poem video Drop the Monkey and Tony Fitzpatrick’s intensely layered collages. Now, granted, these works are exhibited as far away as possible from one another, but it’s a patch on the enduring curatorial problem of fairs. Even when exhibitors pick their neighbors they still don’t select their art. Achieving cohesiveness is nearly impossible.

Still, Seven’s achievements outweigh the flaws. For one thing, the collective set up a series of giant video viewing booths that makes a viewer want to sit down. It’s the most effective video presentation I’ve seen, in museums and galleries alike. Nearly everyone I spoke to watched four or more videos. I wished for even more. It was good to see Janet Bigg’s opera singers and car racing video but why did Winkleman not also bring Eve Sussman and The Rufus Corporation to the fair? Where was Postmaster’s Omer Fast?

Nearby Herbert’s alien, William Powhida and Jen Dalton’s week long #rank discussions and performances—a continuation of the widely lauded #class at Winkleman last winter—add to Miami’s art fair fabric [full disclosure: I participated in the critic’s round table Saturday]. Not every workshop is a home run, of course, but I rather liked that. Only four people show up to the art handler’s roundtable for example, which somehow seemed about right. No one talked, but at one point organizer Jen Dalton announced there was only ten minutes left before another session would start, so maybe the handlers would like to speak amongst themselves.

This is all part of the experience of #rank, which works because it operates with such an inclusive model. About a month ago they sent out an open call for panel submissions, and selected participants from the well-known to the not-so-well-known. Discussions include a lecture of the banking crisis as demonstrated by a stand-up comedian/artist with Toblerone chocolate, and a lecture on the concerns of professional artists who are hired by other artists for their fabrication skills. Also, Man Bartlett offered up a performance in which he compared the height of fair attendees to the cost of art in the exhibition. I’m sure much was learned.

Personally, I’ve been a little more interested in how the Miami experience compares to others fairs on the circuit. This year, I’d say it does pretty well, outperforming London’s Frieze, a fair boasting airy architecture, but plagued with New York galleries exhibiting old work for new European collectors. It has yet to challenge the “real” Basel. That fair houses some of the most ambitious (and large) work viewers will see at such venues. Without even getting into issues of convention center space, for Miami Basel to truly compete, it would likely need to fix a few roads. Shipping for any gallery is reliably a bitch.

Paddy Johnson is the founding editor of the New York-based blog Art Fag City. She also maintains a weekly column at the L Magazine by the same name, and lectures at universities across the United States.

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December 6, 2010

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