ART BASEL MIAMI 2018 Review — 17th Year Miami-Making Gravitas -- the anchor of Miami Art Week now in a newly renovated Miami Beach Convention Center
Above two paintings-- THIS IS NO FANTASY+DIANNE TANZER GALLERY, Melbourne; Artist: Vincent Namatjira
As in other recent Art Basel Miami shows, there were artworks on display that commented on our most unusual political times. Yet— in this writer’s view—it was a one-time car salesman standing silently until it was his turn to speak, that shouted the loudest political commentary, just by his very being.
This was Norman Bramon, billionaire co-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and art collector who is often credited with being the driving force to bring Art Basel to Miami, launching his campaign about two decades ago. He had just told his Art Basel colleagues privately that he was about to retire from his Art Basel role. Mention was made by speakers at the opening ceremony of Bramon’s sense of public service and citizenry. It was not unlike McCain’s funeral not long before, where Trump’s name was never mentioned but he was the biggest personality in the hall. Here was as real billionaire, a man who really knows how to get things done, and who has made his mark on Miami and Miami Beach without apparent need to refer to himself as “a stable genius”.
Art Basel Miami is the Progenitor of Miami Art Week
Indeed, anyone who had arrived early to what is now Miami Art Week couldn’t help but be impressed by the sequelae of getting Art Basel to launch in Miami 17 years ago.
This year’s Art Basel Miami was the first one in the renovated Miami Beach Convention Center where galleries’ and artworks’ increased breathing room was a front-of-mind presence for show regulars. Spacious, in a word. Soothing, in another. This opening day was in sharp contrast to the Art Basel Hong Kong, which was almost humorously VIP packed in sardine can style. Many of the booths felt museum-like but the overall experience was not one that gave museum feet.
Having recently met artists in Budapest who complained about Art Basel as “Too Big to Fail”, and being inclined to root for the underdog, we arrived ready to think that Art Basel’s stature might need to be revisited. However, the quality of the art on display truly does seem a cut or two or more above. With the possible exception of the NOVA showcase of newer artists, every booth had multiple works worth a long linger. It reminds of the fictionalized autobiography by philosopher Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where the main character admonishes that you know quality when you see it or experience it.
Depending on how you count them—and in the case of Fridge Art Fair how you find their “secret” location made semi-public just before the official Miami Art Week launch—there are as many as a dozen art fairs in Big Daddy Art Basel Miami’s shadow, including PRIZM, Untitled, Context also reviewed on these pages. More, the many art museums in Miami and Miami Beach are putting on their party garb too—with special exhibits galore in sync with the art loving hordes arriving in Miami and Miami Beach. You bump into art in the parks, and you also get sense of how art is now just part of the scene, whether or not monied art buyers from Latin America are there.
For this writer/photographer team, an expectation grew quickly that many of the Latin American artists being showcased were especially engaging. An especially strong section of the show this year was SURVEY, which showcases art historical works. Particular favorites were: the thoughtful display of Feliciano Centurión’s work by Walden Gallery of Buenos Aires; the Mammie Wada series by Joyce J. Scott exhibited by Peter Blum Gallery of New York; David Park paintings exhibited by Hackett Mill Gallery of San Francisco, Karl Benjamin’s geometric abstract paintings exhibited by Louis Stern Gallery of Los Angeles. Truly though, if there is one section of Art Basel Miami that especially feels like a treasured museum experience, it is SURVEY.
Much of the NOVA section was, in contrast, somewhat underwhelming, encouraging one to zip through and on to other sections. Striking exceptions were the standout exhibit by South Africa’s blank gallery showcasing artist Billie Zangewa’s silk collage works, the artists being exhibited by Linn Lũhn Gallery of Dusseldorf, and Jeffrey Gibson’s colorful play with geometries within geometries exhibited by Roberts Projects of Los Angeles.
Art buyers with a mission can zip in and out and make their buys in hours.
Those with more intent to take in the entire Art Basel Miami scene could easily devote three days to this show alone, even if other Miami Art Week events are on their plate.
You’ll leave feeling renewed. Art’s heart is beating strong; new ideas and new visions are percolating. Civilization is alive and well!