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Lil’ Older Sister Comes Of Age: Miami Before Basel

Artcritical, December 8, 2013 (read there)

I have come to think of Art Miami as Art Basel Miami Beach’s approachable kid sister – smaller, easier to get to know, and possessing many if not all the virtues of the main fair. One can find modernist jewels there, more and more every year, in fact, while also sampling a wide range of contemporary works.

This is a vindication. Art Miami, you may recall, predates the main fair by several years. It used to be the place you’d go to see loads of Fernando Botero, scores of duplicative Latin American realists, and a smattering Miami art galleries now long-gone. When “Basel” showed up in 2002 and ate its lunch, Art Miami had to reposition itself on the calendar and find a new raison-d’etre. It foundered for a few years, but is now a mainstay of the Wynwood fairs.

1960s-era Jules Olitski is coming to market with increasing frequency, and these are always a pleasure to behold. A particularly fine one was at Antoine Helwaser Gallery (NYC), a field of red with a channel of green circles rolling through it. It was paired with an equally fine Adolph Gottleib canvas from the same era in which two planetoids, one black and ringed with pink and the other powder blue, rise over a roiling red splash.

Jerald Melberg Gallery (Charlotte, NC), in addition to presenting an in-cubicle exhibition of Robert Motherwell and showing some dependably good Wolf Kahn pastels, introduced me to the work of Lee Hall, a North Carolina native with an oeuvre of solemn, thinly painted abstractions. Lee went on to show at Betty Parsons and lead the Rhode Island School of Design; she now lives in Massachusetts. Scott White Contemporary Art (La Jolla, CA) had one of the best Milton Avery paintings I’ve ever seen: a still life of potted flowers and a decanter that smoldered with chromatic intensity and snapped together compositionally like puzzle pieces. There were several excellent works by Louise Fishman at Goya Contemporary (Baltimore).

Pan American Art Projects (Miami) showed two pinball machines by Abel Barroso. Built roughly out of painted wood but nevertheless operational, after a fashion, they remarked cleverly on the trials of finding oneself in the multicultural world – one flipper is labeled “origen,” the other “destino.” Galerie Von Braunbehrens (Munich) displayed a video work by the Zurich-based artist Marck, a technical marvel in which a video of woman half-submerged in water appeared to struggle against an iron frame adhered to the screen. It was a beautiful novelty at first blush, but grew increasingly distressing and poetic as it played on and the woman made no progress at escape. In contrast was the idyllic figure-in-an-abstraction by Grace Munakata at Paul Thiebaud Gallery (San Francisco).

And now, Miami Beach calls. Not the art fairs, but the actual beach with sand and waves. The weather, which after all is why we’re all here, is perfect.

Word count: 483

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