It’s happening again. The fleets of Lexuses and Beemers laden with VIPs sitting in impossible traffic on the causeways. The mobs of hyper-groomed swells in designer sneakers. The lines of private jets parked at Opa-locka. The lavish parties. The star-studded dinners you’re not invited to.
Oh, yes, and the art — an overwhelming deluge of some of the best, and some of the flakiest, works of visual arts the world has on offer, all brought to our little subtropical backyard for the biggest, baddest cultural bazaar in America.
Time to strap on the running shoes. Miami Art Week is here.
Tuesday meant museum show openings: Feminist icon Judy Chicago at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Miami, and the Haas Brothers’ “Ferngullly” at The Bass. It meant invitation-only previews at the Design Miami and Untitled art fairs.
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And it meant VIP Preview night at the second-largest show in town this week. The Art Miami fair returned for the second year to the site of the former Miami Herald building on Biscayne Bay along with its sister CONTEXT fair, where by 8 p.m. the congestion of bodies in the aisles rivaled the clogged traffic outside. Street artist Mr. Brainwash was trailed by a video cameraman, and “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary scoped out art with his wife, Linda.
On Wednesday, the main event, the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, opens its doors to select VIPs.
“It’s a great time of the year when the world comes to us,” said art collector and film producer Dennis Scholl as he swept into the Art Miami tent with his wife, Debra, looking for “good blue-chip” drawings on paper that he knew he could find at the fair.
The serious quality hit visitors square in the face, in fact, as soon as they entered: A massive, unmissable Henry Moore bronze entitled “Mother and Child” was front and center at the Landau Contemporary booth, yours for around $8 million. Around it were paintings by some of the greats, including Picasso, De Chirico and Leger, only a sampling of the $80 million in inventory that fair director Nick Korniloff said the Montreal gallery brought to Miami.
But the blue-chippers aren’t the only reason the locally grown fair has now made it to every Art Week visitor’s must-see list, Korniloff said. Galleries also brought works by contemporary masters David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat. And along the edges of the fair, he noted, are high-quality works from lesser-known artists with pricing attractive and affordable to beginning collectors, so that Art Miami offers something to a wide range of potential buyers.
And those buyers, he said, have not been scared off by stock market volatility, Tuesday’s Wall Street sell-off or slowing economies in Europe and Asia.
“People are very bullish still on the art market in America,” he said.
There was plenty of space devoted to expensive frivolity. A red F430 Ferrari tattooed by graffiti artist Retna, whose art uses letters in an invented language, was for sale at Maddox Gallery’s booth, along with several canvases by him. But the Ferrari is a race car and not street legal, so the buyer will have to park it in a garage, joked gallery director Christian Fannenboeck Campini.
But several booths also struck some serious notes, with art pointed to the moment of Me Too, climate change, mass shootings and discrimination against immigrants and indigenous people.
At the Heller Gallery’s booth, Norwood Viviano is showing 16 blown-glass cylinders that represent the land mass of cities around the world and, at the center, a glass core showing how much land would be left dry by sea-level rise. Among the most dramatic examples are Miami and Miami Beach, where only a slender glass tendril remains at the center of their cylinders.
“I tried to make it beautiful, but it’s also pessimistic,” Viviano said.
At the Nancy Hoffman Gallery booth, a wall was hung with seven of artist Michele Pred’s vintage handbags, each emblazoned with electroluminescent wires spelling out messages with a feminist cast: “Me Too.” “Believe Women.” “Time’s Up.” The bags have become celebrity darlings, with Amy Schumer posting Instagram pics of hers and three being carried on the red carpet at the Oscars, Pred said.
For those looking for media with messages, UNTITLED’s mammoth beach tent at 12th Street and Collins Avenue delivered. From a massive gun cut from the side of a yellow school bus, to collages crafted from paint peeled from decaying Havana buildings, artists proclaimed frustration with the status quo.
VIP patrons stood in line to plop down $30 for a custom-printed T-shirt created on site at an activation presented by Columbia University’s LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. Each buyer had the choice of a background (Angela Davis, Mahatma Ghandi) and a slogan (Burn it all Down, The Revolution will Come.) The project was the brainchild of artists Rirkrit Tiravanija & Tomas Vu.
Havana’s El Apartmento gallery showed at UNTITLED for the second year. Among the offerings were poignantly beautiful collages created from paint peelings off Havana’s decaying facades by Diana Fonseca, and a rug created from bit of clothing of Cuban people, by Reynier Leyva Novo.
New York’s Nathalie Karg gallery centered on a puppet show-style booth by Nick Doyle with a sculptural double cheeseburger on stage; on the back, a screen played a video depicting the cheeseburger singing a woeful country-style song mourning the state of the world.
At the Miami Girls Foundation space, a bright red wall exclaimed “NEVER NOT WORKING.” The installation, by Miami’s Ekaterina Juskowski, referred not to the well-heeled workaholics attending the show but hourly domestic workers, explained collaborator Tomas Loewy. A second part of the installation along the beach walkway provides 30-minute opportunities to work hanging, folding and rehanging sheets. Working a 30-minute shift costs $30; proceeds from it and the sale of “Never Not Working” aprons go to the Miami Workers Center.
At Design Miami’s tent in the Miami Beach Convention Center parking lot, galleries showed and sold quintessential objects from the chairs we sit on, to the cars we drive and the watches we wear. A $150,000 sofa made a $92,000 Lexus also on exhibit seem reasonably priced.
The sofa is a walnut and cowhide work of art by Jean Royère, the French Avant-garde genius. Its walnut base is sleek and sinuous, forming the armrest and backing in one continuous curvaceous loop. The sofa, with its lustrous brown hide is on sale at Galerie Patrick Seguin, one of 34 galleries from 12 countries.
Lebreton/San Francisco put on a museum-quality display of Jean Cocteau ceramic plates, some never seen before, Design Miami CEO Jennifer Roberts said.
Artists and gallerists came from as far away as South Korea and South Africa, as well as Israel and Italy. A showstopper was Sag Hoon Kim’s four-seat sofa. Made of foam from his family’s foam factory in South Korea, the sofa appears dappled in layers of multicolored paint. In reality, Roberts said, Kim created the effect by experimenting with chemical solutions and the material is all foam.
One of the highlights is the Design Visionary booth, which features the work of the husband and wife team of Pedro Reyes and Carla Fernández, both from Mexico. Their art is a paean to the togetherness of man and a rage against the machine. In one segment of the fair, he set up a hand-operated printing press from the 1800s, where another artist from Chile produces Reyes’ prints of interlocking hands on T-shirts and tote bags. The booth also includes maps of the Americas, with all the indigenous tribes that lived there well before the establishment of relatively modern countries such as the United States
“The first Americans, Native Americans, were there 11,000 years ago,” Reyes told the Miami Herald. “Our current borders are only 200 years old. Brown and red people have been made outcasts in their own territory.
One striking object at the booth is a guitar fashioned from weapons. Although not on display, Reyes recently created 17 flutes from gun barrels, each representing a victim of the Parkland mass shooter, contrasting how guns and shooters instill fear while music and art bring people together, he said.