By F. Lennox Campello
If you read this column regularly, then you should know this by now: About a decade ago, the European founders and organizers of a very famous European visual fine arts fair called Art Basel (which of course, takes place in Basel, Switzerland, and thus the Art Basel moniker – by the way, that’s Baaaaasel not Bay-sel), decided to try an American version of their money-making European “art fair” model and started one in the gargantuan Miami Beach Convention Center, and they called it Art Basel Miami Beach or ABMB for short.
The world of planetary visual arts was forever changed – the Bernie Sanders wanna-be voters think that this for the worst, and the people who realize that “some” of the parts of the complicated tapestry that makes art “click” is a commodity, think it was for the best. Clinton supporters established their own servers so that they could control what goes in and (mostly) out, while Trump supporters just banned all Jihadic art from the big dance.
What’s the “big dance”?
Over the years, that one Miami-based ABMB art fair has spawned multiple satellite art fairs in the Greater Miami area, nearly all taking place at the same time during the first week of December each year, and by now there are over two dozen smaller, but almost equally important, satellite art fairs going on around the Greater Miami area. As a result of that, art collectors, artists, celebrities, gallerists, actors, dealers, party animals, politicians, curators, and all the symbiots of the art world head to Miami during that week, and art rules the region (closely followed by dozens and dozens of private “art parties”). I’ve heard quotes where I have been told that about 20% of all the visual art sold on the planet each year (less auctions I assume) sell in Miami during that first week in December.
And because there are so many art fairs, at some many levels of the economic food chain, and while most mega collectors, the Hollywood crowd (hypocritical members of the 1%), and the rest of the 1% all focus on the top two or three fairs (ABMB itself being the crown jewel), there is art somewhere in Miami for all tastes and budgets.
ABMB makes the art world rock for all 100% levels!
Because of that critical mass, the ABMB Week in Miami has become the “big dance” of the art world; the art salon of the 21st century; the art place to be. Also as a direct result of that, it has become imperative that art galleries from all over the world come to Miami to showcase their art and artists.
“I sell more work, and see more curators, collectors, museum directors, and gallerists in five days here than I did in 10 years at my gallery,” once told me a Washington, DC gallerist, who has since closed her gallery space and now (as a virtual gallery) only does art fairs all over the world.
It’s not an easy goal to accomplish, as the financial commitments are enormous, and for many a gallery, if they make a mistake, it is a one-time mistake: a bad art fair choice will break most galleries’ finances in one strike.
Most of the art fairs are gallery-focused; that means that it is art galleries, as opposed to individual artists, which exhibit artwork at the blue chip art fairs such as ABMB itself, or the other top fairs such as Art Miami (and its sister fair Context Art Miami), considered by most to be the second most important art fair in the big dance, and other satellite fairs such as Pulse, Scope, Miami Project, NADA, etc.
The prices for the booths are spectacularly expensive, in some fairs reaching the tens of thousands of dollars for a small booth. And this is before a gallery adds other associated costs such as shipping costs of the artwork, transportation to/from Miami, customs, food (the world’s best Cuban food – waaaay better than Cuba itself!), car rental, hotel, commissions, and salaries. For most galleries around the world it is a daunting economic investment, which can turn into a financial disaster if sales fail to materialize.
I think that DC area galleries and DC area non-profits and artists’ collectives need to go to the big dance or become irrelative.
Because of this, I decided to highlight a city on the other side of this great land to show how that city’s galleries make an impact on ABMB.
The City of Angels.
It was refreshing to see a lot of Los Angeles area art galleries in the various fairs during this last December, and of the many LA area galleries at the big dance, several stood out, not only to me, but also to Texas-based super, uber, monster collector Ardis Bartle, an experienced art fair aficionado, and an ass-kicking lady who hasn’t missed a single ABMB week in the last decade.
Once the VIP pre-opening parties were finished and the elegant crowds, booze and small food ceased to circulate, and tightly-dressed women in lethal-looking six inch heels finished their improbable art fair strolls with plastic wine glasses in their manicured hands, and handsome young men in slim suits and nerdy black glasses used their cell-phones to photograph the artwork, while third generation blue-eyed Cuban-American girls, four or five inches taller and 25 pounds lighter than their political refugee grandmothers, and slim as rifles, finished shooting selfies in front of the artwork, it was time to check out some LA galleries.
Context Art Miami is sometimes seen as the “incubator” art fair for its big sister, the enormous, multi-tent, Art Miami — easily the best “American” art fair on the planet — and it was at Context where Fabien Castanier Gallery stood out because of the singularly unique work of Washington, DC-based artist Mark Jenkins.
Mark “The Tape Dude” Jenkins started as a street artist with a unique ability to take clear plastic tape and make a hyper realistic three dimensional object of practically anything.
Jenkins is a genius; he invented this process.
Over a decade ago, in his first gallery show in Washington’s iconic Fraser Gallery (ahhhh… which I used to co-own), he made a life-sized car which was subsequently towed away by Georgetown’s money-making parking police!
Together with fellow DMV artists such as multimedia glass/video sculptor Tim Tate, and PostSecret’s Frank Warren, around the world Jenkins is one of the capital region’s best-known artists and yet he remains mysteriously anonymous in his own city – while exhibiting and discussing his unique approach to art worldwide.
DMV area museum curators (less American University’s): you suck!
At Context, Fabien Castanier Gallery exhibited mostly Jenkins’ figurative work, where his life-sized dressed humanoids, sometimes in slightly threatening poses, confound and confuse and question the public. Jenkins also showcased his art critical side in a piece where a black-shoed 3D leg punches out the canvas from a saccharine fruit oil painting.
Also at Context I liked the colorful and graphic work by Mike Kalish, a mixed-media artist based in LA and represented by Culver City’s FP Contemporary. His best well work is probably the large scale Muhammad Ali monument in downtown Los Angeles, but at the fair FP Contemporary featured a series of elegant 3D roses that were quite eye-catching.
Still at Context I saw Mugello Contemporary, a new LA gallery founded in 2014 and already in one of the best art fairs of ABMB week. The frenetic works by Miami’s MR Herget were not only superbly streetwise, but also showcased the self-taught artist’s mastery of a savage palette knife and natural color sense.
At Context, art collector Ardis Bartle liked Kerry Miller’s work, being showcased by Venice’s Lawrence Cantor Gallery. The artist uses old, discarded books, experimenting with dissecting and rebuilding them to produce the unique assemblages in her “reimagining the book” series. She was also present to talk about her work. Ardis also noted Michael Mapes, who created “specimen boxes” for the fair, some focused on Renaissance figures, and some on 1950s pin up art.
Next tent over, at the huge Art Miami, she also liked Italian artist Alberto Burri’s work (being showcased by LA’s Mixographia – originally from Mexico City); an amazing edition of dark prints from Burri’s series before his death.
At the Untitled art fair, Ardis Bartle really liked Alejandro Diaz’s neon work (represented by LA’s Royale Projects). His “Glitter Pollock” was getting a lot of attention, but Ardis liked the neon sign that flashed “Cheese” and then “Jesus.” Also at Untitled, she liked three painters from the Southern hemisphere showing with Santa Monica’s Steve Turner Gallery – Joaquin Boz (Buenos Aires), Ivan Comas (Buenos Aires), and Michael Staniak (Melbourne) – all with different styles. Also at Steve Turner, the Michael Staniak paintings fool the eye with a 21st century twist: they appear to be digitally printed but they are actually created entirely by hand.
Also at Untitled, Santa Monica’s Richard Heller Gallery featured Devin Troy Strother (a Los Angeles-based artist whose work was recently in a group exhibition at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles).
The Scope art fair has had its ups and downs over the years, but for the last couple of ABMB iterations it has consistently received good comments from many of the art collectors who talked to me during ABMB Week, and this year Ardis liked David Cooley’s multi-layered paintings, and multi-dimensional mixed media paintings crafted using mostly acrylic, resin, spray paint, pen, and fabric to achieve an unique effect. Cooley was being exhibited by LA’s Thinkspace. The gallery also provided an affordable approach in their booth, where a piece from their artists could be purchased for $1,000 or under, and with their representation of over 30+ artists, it was a refreshing approach to gang-exhibit a lot of work.
Similarly to Scope, the Pulse Art Fair has had its ups and downs in recent times, sometimes associated with the fair’s seemingly heavy handed obsession to “over curate” the galleries’ artists that it selects; however, in the last two iterations of ABMB Week, Pulse has somewhat relaxed its choking approach to who and what gets exhibited, and subsequently regained its blue chip status among collectors as it inches towards a 2015 sense of “art fair” reality. At Pulse, LA’s Charles James Gallery had very interesting work by Ramiro Gomez. Like Mexican photographer Dulce Pinzon’s iconic “The Real Superheroes” series of photographs documented a few years ago, Gomez’s paintings captured the often anonymous figures of domestic and manual laborers that make sterile scenes of homes and gardens possible. As Ardis noted, these are often the “invisible” people of our culture.
The art fair known as Miami Project has very quickly become one of the better fairs at the top part of the art fair food chain, and within Miami Project, an inside-the-fair art fair titled “art on paper Miami” has also received good marks from the collectors that I talked to. In fact, since I work on paper myself, some of my collectors noted that I should have my dealers try the fair for my own work in the future. A recommendation doesn’t get higher than that! At Miami Project, LA was represented by Dunden & Ray.
By Sunday evening, when most of the fairs ended, the glamorous aura of ABMB weekends as gallerists begin the sweaty dance of re-packaging the art for the long and expensive trip back home.
Art Basel Week returns the first week of December 2016.