Art Basel

Giant tongues, vanishing steel and thinner crowds: Welcome to Miami Art Week 2016

Bernadette Despujols’ resin on aluminum sculpture, 'Love Is No Game,' is on offer for $26,000 at Scope art fair.
Bernadette Despujols’ resin on aluminum sculpture, 'Love Is No Game,' is on offer for $26,000 at Scope art fair. Miami Herald

The crowds that thronged the opening of the citywide festival known as Miami Art Week, now in its 15th edition, seemed noticeably thinner Tuesday than in previous years, likely culled by Zika, a contentious presidential election and exhausting weekend festivities for the long-awaited death of Fidel Castro.

“It’s not as frenzied,” said Michele Oka Doner, a Miami-born, New York-based artist. Oka Doner said she spoke with a number of regulars who are passing on this year’s fair.

But fewer visitors mean more room for locals to slip into art fairs, enjoy free public exhibits and indulge in lavish nights out.

“The people who are here really want to be here,” said Rodman Primack, director of satellite art fair Design Miami/, a theme that was echoed by other gallerists. (The slash is edgy, not a typo.)

Artistic eye-grabbers so far include a disappearing sculpture, a 3D-printed champagne bucket made from dried grape skins, and a functional slide in the shape of a giant pink human tongue on sale for $26,000.

The five-day cornucopia of contemporary art will take over Miami Beach, Midtown Miami and Wynwood through Sunday, slowing traffic but providing prime opportunities for people watching and celebrity spotting, as well as the chance to travel by yacht and even seaplane, thanks to ride-sharing company Uber.

In a pre-Basel event, Tide by Side took to the streets in a artistic representation of Miami's colorful diverse music and performance expressions on Sunday, November 27, 2016.

On the agenda for party people this week: Live performances by hip hop star Kendrick Lamar, producer/DJ Diplo and Brooklyn-based band MOTHXR (fronted by former Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley.)

Developers and real estate firms put out the welcome mat for luxury home shoppers with open houses, cocktail parties and lectures.

The so-called Ritz Rainbow — unveiled by Lionheart Capital in honor of its Ritz-Carlton Residences, Miami Beach — will project a multi-colored beam of light visible for 25 miles, artist Yvette Mattern says, in the Design District.

The main event

And then, of course, there’s the raison d’être of it all: The art.

One striking sculpture of a man with his hands up — open free to the public at Collins Park in Miami Beach — seems to disappear into the clouds as an observer circumnavigates it. The back is a mirrored metal that reflects the sky, effectively erasing the image of the man in front. On a sunny day, it feels like you’re looking right through the aluminum-and-steel sculpture, called Invisible Man, which soars 14 feet high, including its base, and evokes the “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” movement.

“That’s why we make monuments — to remember things,” said artist Glenn Kaino. “But they also have the power to erase. That is what this work begins to get at, the responsibility of artists, especially in our time, to not only commemorate, but also to critically dissect and understand how culture functions.”

For those with inside connections, Tuesday was VIP day at fairs Art Miami and sister fair CONTEXT, Scope, UNTITLED and Design Miami/, and at exhibitions including Desire, a show of masterworks centered around eroticism arranged by New York mega-art-dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian.

Desire was highlighted by a glossy plastic sculpture of a couple making passionate love on a rock. The piece, by famed contemporary artist Jeff Koons, is titled “Dirty — Jeff on Top.”

(For many fairs, public show hours begin Wednesday. The big fair, Art Basel, kicks off Thursday for the public at the Miami Beach Convention Center.)

UNTITLED, located in a massive tent on the beach at 12th Street, expected a full roster of VIPs for its fifth fair.

At Tuesday’s VIP preview, the crowd was leisurely but growing by mid-afternoon. Gallerists including Nora Fisch of Buenos Aires looked forward to a busy fair. While some of her U.S. clients have complained of a post-election malaise, those from Argentina seemed unfazed.

At Design Miami/, the design-oriented fair that is a sister to Art Basel, the mood was more relaxed than in recent memory. The fair features a revamped layout this year that won general acclaim, and the crowd thickened as the afternoon wore on.

One of the biggest hits was Perrier-Jouet’s Strand Garden, filled with flowing “reeds” and artful stools. All features of the garden were made by artist Andrew Kudlass using digital technology. The limited edition champagne bucket was printed in 3D from a material made from dried chardonnay grape skins, he said.

At the Hostler Burrows space, gallerist Kim Hostler showcased artworks made of glass lanterns by Swedish artist Frida Kjellman. Hostler said she was seeing fewer European collectors than in years past, and a staff member in child-bearing years had passed on the opportunity to come to the fair because of Zika. But overall, she said, the fair’s opening day had brought more serious inquiries than last year.

“So there’s less traffic and less parties,” said one regular. “That’s not a bad thing.”

At Art Miami, the atmosphere could best be described as sane. Gone were the crushing crowds of some years, leaving a still-lively opening at which fair-goers could actually navigate through the booths and see the art.

"Maybe it's because there are so many parties," suggested Adrianne bon Haes, with collector Marvin Ross Friedman.

Unlike years past, Tuesday turned out to be the night when luxury brands like Yves St. Laurent, gallerists and major collectors held their own private parties.

Fair director Nick Korniloff said VIP demand and sales at partner hotels had been slower than usual three months out but had picked up in the past few weeks. "The casual visitor may be staying away," he said. "But the serious collectors are here, looking for gems." A painting by David Hockney that appeared on the fair's VIP invitation sold before the doors opened, and a number of art advisers had requested early admission, he said.

"Blue chip" was the phrase of the night, with booth after booth filled with works by well-known artists including Ed Ruscha, Cy Twombly, Marc Chagall, Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, Alexander Calder, Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg, John Chamberlain, Alex Katz and Jean Dubuffet.

San Francisco-based gallerist Cheryl Haines said many collectors had expressed interest in works pre-fair, and several works were already reserved. "The traffic is a bit lighter," she noted. "But the conversations are more substantial. The serious collectors seem to be present."

Visitors from abroad have been impressed by Miami’s sophistication and growth. Chinese artist Sun Xun is installing a massive, outdoor 3D video installation in a beachfront bamboo canopy near the W South Beach hotel. The project, called Reconstruction of the Universe, is sponsored by Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet.

Sun called Miami a “metropolitan capital” and said he hopes to see it one day boast as much art as New York City.

Added the Beijing-based artist: “I also love the stone crab.”

Miami Herald editor Kendall Hamersly contributed to this report.

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