The words Art Basel are a bridge that connects art lovers with the best modern and contemporary art in the world. For the general public, however, these words can mean any number of things. Some may think it is a new artistic movement, others will not understand why the presence of large tents in Midtown or Wymwood, even umbrellas along Miami’s emblematic Calle Ocho.
But only a few know that the fair bears the name of Basel, the Swiss city that hosts, every year, the world’s most relevant art event, where the most coveted artworks in the market are sold. Miami Beach is an extension of that international fair.
JENNY HOLZER. Money Creates Taste.
Thanks to the efforts of connoisseurs and collectors living in Miami, for the last 12 years, Art Basel Miami Beach has been coming to South Florida. It is a true privilege for this city of sun and sand to have been chosen as the second location where people who are interested in acquiring the best works from established and emerging artists can come to catch up with their potential investments. Collectors go to Basel during the European summer, and come to Miami Beach during the first days of December, which is synonymous with brightly blue skies and pleasantly warm weather. Another city joined the fair in 2013. This time in a third continent, Asia, where Art Basel Hong Kong welcomed more that 60,000 visitors earlier this year.
Although several Miami neighborhoods dress up for this occasion and promote their events as Art Basel, truth is that only the Miami Beach Convention Center hosts the official Art Basel fair. Everything else uses the magical moniker and appropriates the name of Basel for pure fantasy, laziness or bait, creating a grand confusion and vast misinformation.
Having clarified this distraction of consumerism and opportunism from all the other fairs that take advantage of Basel for self promotion and profit, let’s explore what really happened during “the days of wine and roses” that precede Christmas 305.
JOAQUÍN TORRES GARCÍA. Estructura a cinco tonos con dos formas intercaladas, 1948. Galería Sur.
Every year, Basel leaves behind a different footprint. If previous editions brought fierce and bloody animals, immense canvases by Chinese artists hitherto unknown, or glittering naked rituals in extravagant facilities, 2013 was characterized by a series of more sophisticated surprises, more works by recognized and established artists, less European and more Latin American visitors and, above all, exceptional quality.
As always, the great masters were present. Picasso was surrounded by Chagall, Matisse and Calder; Man Ray and Duchamp hobnobbed with Pollock and Modigliani. Siqueiros and Leonora Carrington shook hands with Torres Garcia, Xul Solar and Gunther Gerzo. Andy Warhol chatted with Rothko and Twombly, Donald Judd with León Ferrari, Keith Haring with Jesús Rafael Soto, and Cruz Diez greeted Wesselman.
We saw diverse aesthetics and diametrically opposed approaches to enliven and bring color to every venue. Tastes as diverse as they were attractive.
Galerie Lelong. ANA MENDIETA. Installation view.
Ana Mendieta could meet Hernan Bas, two generations of tortuous visions. Some met in open fields, others in muddy mangrove forest coves. Performance artist Marina Abramovic showed an unprecedented quality in a small red abstract piece that embraced an unusual work by Allora and Calzadilla.
Richard Meier deserves a special mention. Praised and celebrated, the architect devotes his moments of solace to make irreverent collages with cardboard and paper detritus, in which he inserts pictures of naked women in pornographic frontal positions, mixing them with photos of world leaders. Many visitors miss these corners, where small pieces like Meier’s go unnoticed. They bypass the small galleries and find themselves lost in the splendor of Judd’s large canvases or the enormous works by the Spanish artist Manolo Valdés.
One element that characterized this edition of Basel 2013 was the high number of sculptures by artists from distant lands, such as the bicycles created by the courageous Chinese artist, Ai WeiWei, or Lucy, Yositomo Nara’s monumental head of a girl, made in bronze and painted black. Other galleries showed geometric sculptures as a way to enhance their environments.
Works with words in different typographies, featuring logical and consistent sentences, which are the latest aesthetic trend, abounded at this year’s fair. One example we can recall is Jenny Holzer’s bench carved with epigrams like Money Creates Taste or another piece that read: Any Surplus is Immoral.
RICHARD MEIER. Galerie Gmurzynska.
Photography was also a great source of interest. Huge photographs, some measuring 12 square feet; multi-photos, sometimes as collages or arranged in orderly sequences were on display at some of the galleries. Also on view, small format photography, some as common as the many we’ve seen of old Havana houses, mostly in ruins, or the photo of shirtless domino players, taken by the controversial Andres Serrano, which were displayed by less original galleries.
The big surprise of this year’s Art Basel was a work by Zilia Sanchez, a Cuban artist based in Puerto Rico. The way she modulates the canvas with wood until it achieves the desired undulation is both beautiful and impressive. New York’s Lelong Gallery represented her at Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 with a large white piece, one of her erotic topographies, which stopped visitors on their tracks.
To conclude the journey, the Italian-Argentine sculptor and minimalist painter, Lucio Fontana, slashes the canvas with a blade, leaving a large wound with a deep incision; sometimes he does it once, and in other occasions, several times, but always clean, without bloodshed. From everything I saw, I would keep one of his mutilated fabrics. Its price, $ 5 million. It might happen in my dreams. ■