Our Once A Year Museum On the Beach

Arts / Article

Aside from a rarefied, moneyed few,  the art in the Miami Beach Convention Center is for looking, not acquiring. While affordable art can be found in the numerous satellite fairs around town, it’s not in the convention center. But that’s OK.

The works displayed at the top-notch international booths act as the world’s biggest museum of contemporary art, albeit for four days; we can glean trends, catch famous pieces, and get familiar with those galleries that make and break careers.

Unfortunately for some of us who use the convention center for such study, the art has become more predictable and less experimental in the last several years (hey, galleries are here to sell, not to just to exhibit), but here are a few standouts from this year.

At the Lelong gallery (New York and Paris), don’t miss the small Yoko Ono glass work. It’s shattered by a hole in the middle, and the broken glass plate reflects the colors of the other works around it. Lean down and stare through the hole — it’s all very Ono and very cool.

A work that seemed to grab almost everyone’s attention who walked by it is the 3-D sculptural triptych at Benzacar (Buenos Aires). It’s a simply amazing, fantastical worldscape of paint, plasticine and wood work from the hip collaborative Mondongo — in this case, even if you had the money, it wouldn’t matter; it sold almost immediately.

At Shainman (New York), some super crafty pieces are standing and hanging. First are the Soundsuit sculptures from Nick Cave. Literally brilliant. These life-size suits are made from hair, bright cloth, buttons and beads, and resemble some kind of psychedelic suit of armor (Cave was in the Rubell show during last year’s Basel, he’s a favorite there). Also in that booth, the intricately woven tapestry from El Anatsui. The Ghanaian artist collects the aluminum seals from liquor bottles and meticulously weaves them into this amazing work that takes its own wall, with reference to both traditional African crafting and modern materialism.

In the Friedman (London) booth, don’t miss Wayne Gonzales’ “Peter’s Beach,” or Andreas Gursky’s photography at White Cube (London), like his “James Bond Island I.” There’s some new Kehinde Wiley paintings at Rhona Hoffman (Chicago) worth checking out, along with the painting called “The Bowery Girls” at Sperone Westwater (New York). There was enough of interest, as usual, at Zwirner (New York), including a Neo Rauch, to keep actor Ben Stiller hanging around for quite a while on opening night.

However, a highlight and one of the best conversation pieces sat in the booth from a pioneering part of the art world, ShangART (Shanghai). A pile of brownish rocks and rubble, on close inspection, seemed to breath — the pile’s “stomach” inhaling and exhaling. Gotta love it.

But everyone has their own passions, so once a year it’s a treat to go after them, feel out what turns you on, and enjoy its presence. For better and for worse, the fling ends on Sunday.

Art Basel Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center through Sunday, Dec. 5, open daily noon to 8:00 p.m., till 6:00 on Sunday.