Art & Design

December 13, 2017

The Best of Art Basel Miami Beach

In times of political upheaval, identity politics took centre stage

  • Written by Benoît Loiseau

Welcome to Miami, where every December, the global art world flocks en masse to show, see, buy and sniff the best of contemporary art. For an entire week, over a dozen art fairs take over the Floridian city, which also becomes host to the most eccentric parties, impromptu gigs and exclusive dinners.

This time last year, the world had just woken up to the harsh reality of Trump’s America, which had dampened the mood, to say the least. A number of galleries responded with timely, political works, including some re-interpretations of the American flag by General Idea co-founder AA Bronson and the enigmatic artist Puppies Puppies. Now one year, dozens of appalling executive orders and millions of #MeToo later, this edition of Miami Art Week was, again, a hotbed of politically-explicit ideas — none of which prevented the champagne from flowing.



At the 16th edition Art Basel Miami Beach (showing 268 galleries and 4,000 artists) the young LA-based artist Ramiro Gomez spent the week in an improvised studio at PPOW gallery’s booth, making cardboard paintings of the fair’s behind-the-scene labourers, which he then gifted to them. Also on show is a new large painting, portraying nannies at Madison Square Park in New York — a shift from his best-known paintings centred around Latino workers in Californian settings: “The labour that’s happening is worldwide,” says the young artist, who used to work as a live-in nanny in West Hollywood. “The casts are different, but the roles are same. That’s why I’m here: to make a statement.”

On the other side of the fair, London gallery Pilar Corrias presented a brilliant solo display by the American artist Tschabalala Self, whose recognisable mix of paint, fabrics and recycled materials address the iconography of the black female body. At 27, the rising-star has been praised by art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch, compared to Kerry James Marshall and is one of the youngest artists in a group show at the New York New Museum, which explores gender’s place in contemporary art and culture.

SELF 2017044 Koco at the Bodega

Tschabalala Self, Koco at the Bodega

Still on the topic of gender politics, but this time from a more historical perspective, the San Francisco-gallery Jessica Silverman shows a rare early sculpture by feminist artist Judy Chicago (lead image), whose iconic 1970s installation The Dinner Party is currently being revisited in a documenting exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. At Art Basel Miami, Chicago’s 1964 acrylic-on-clay sculpture depicts some sort of fantasy genitalia, combining phallic and yonic imagery, which, in the post-Weinstein world, feels ever so topical.

Meanwhile, over the MacArthur Causeway, in the far-less-glamorous downtown Miami, the grassroots fair NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) kicked off its 15th edition. Over a 100 of the best mid-to-small size galleries and project spaces from around the world gathered at the fair’s new venue, the Ice Palace Films Studio, including Karma New York, London’s Studio Voltaire and Lulu from Mexico City (the fair was forced to relocate from their South Beach location at the Deauville following damages due to Hurricane Irma).


ltd los angeles

A highlight was the booth of ltd los angeles, with new works by the American photographer John Edmonds and the Canadian multimedia-artist Esmaa Mohamoud, both interested in deconstructing black masculinity. A few aisles down, the New York gallery Queer Thoughts presented works on paper by the London-based duo Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings, whose much-talked-about project @Gaybar last year explored queer history and safe spaces in the UK.

Then a couple of miles south, in the financial district of Brickell, the first edition of the all-female anti-art-fair ‘FAIR’ took over an unlikely shopping centre. The self-described “alternative non-commercial art fair” (ok, we get the play on words, but isn’t a ‘fair’ commercial by definition?) is dedicated to address gender inequality in the art world by providing a space for radical women.


So it seemed a tad ironic that their curated show opened with the ever-so-underwhelming Wish Tree installation by Yoko Ono — one of the most visible female artists living today. And while the Guerrilla Girls felt like a bit of an easy pick (particularly after their Whitechapel retrospective earlier this year) it was pretty cool to see their timeless, large billboards plastered across a shopping mall, denouncing the underrepresentation of female artists.

Speaking of visibility, the possibly most Instagrammed art-work this year was a 12-foot-tall neon vagina sculpture that flashes on a 27.68-second loop. The multi-coloured installation made by gymnast-turned-journalist-turned-artist Suzy Kellems Dominik was installed at the Nautilus Hotel and titled I Can Feel and is a celebration of the female orgasm. Meanwhile, at the Faena Hotel, Hackney-born multimedia artist Zoe Buckman was speaking about her public art commission CHAMP, a giant neon uterus to be installed next year on the Sunset Strip in L.A. “It’s not a vagina!” insists the 32-year old during the Lexus Art Series talk on feminist art, pointing at the misconceptions around the female organ in our society.

The Prada Double Club Miami_1

The Prada Double Club

And of course, Miami Art Week doesn’t come complete without an unreasonable string of champagne-fuelled parties. From DJ sets by Björk and Paris Hilton to impromptu gigs by Drake and Cardi B, we saw it all. But the icing on the cake was The Prada Double Club: a three-day reiteration of the 2008-2009 London experiential art-installation by Belgian-born, German artist Carsten Höller. The opening night was graced by a Wyclef Jean performance, while Miuccia Prada, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Ricky Martin were all in attendance.

But while the art world recovers from its hangover, the cultural sector in America may well be in trouble. President Donald Trump’s recently proposed tax reforms are likely to impact museums and cultural institutions, who receive valuable donations from wealthy benefactors avoiding steep tax. “There is a war on culture in this country. There is a war on people of colour, on immigrants and on women,” commented Anne Pasternak, the director of New York’s Brooklyn Museum, during a panel discussion. “Art Basel feels like the party before the apocalypse.”


Judy, Chicago Bigamy, 1964, Acrylic on clay, 15 x 20 x 8 inches


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