ArtBasel: Where Did It Come From? What Does It Want?

The place to look for new and lively expressions from smaller international galleries is the Art Nova area at the convention center. London's Alison Jacques Gallery will feature work by Paul Morrison, who is represented in some Miami collections. Engholm Engelhorn from Vienna is bringing some delightful work by Mark Hosking, who is obsessed with solar energy. Kurimanzutto, a nomadic gallery from Mexico City originally conceived by artist Gabriel Orozco, will take up temporary residence at Art Nova.

Today galleries are not content simply to bring art and hang it on the wall. They are now the powerhouses of cultural production. For example, New York's Deitch Projects, in addition to its centerpiece (an early, large Keith Haring piece), presents a special installation of work by Barry McGee; a book launch for photographer Terry Richardson; works by Ghada Amer, Vanessa Beecroft, Liza Lou, and Jonathan Borofsky; an outdoor project by the Dearraindrop collective; and a live performance by indie-rock phenom Scissor Sisters.

Not all artwork is collectible in the conventional sense of being an object. Pierogi 2000 from Brooklyn presents Simon Lee's Bus Obscura, which will circulate between the convention center and the shipping containers of Art Positions on the Beach. Also on the schedule is an event celebrating the publication of Do It, a series of artists' instructions for making art, assembled by dynamo curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Artwork by Edouard Duval Carrié
Artwork by Edouard Duval Carrié
Clockwise from top left: works by Jiae Hwang , Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Norberto Rodriguez
Clockwise from top left: works by Jiae Hwang , Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Norberto Rodriguez

Aside from the high caliber of work being exhibited at the fair itself, many visiting gallery dealers I contacted praise the exceptional support of local collectors, the abundance of top-quality events and exhibitions elsewhere in town, and the general fun to be had at the nightly parties, performances, and cocktail receptions.

The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is here for the second time, now ensconced at the Ice Palace Studios just north of downtown Miami and stocked with 60 innovative galleries from around the world. "Definitely ready for round two," says local curator José-Carlos Diaz, who is consulting for a NADA gallery and has his feet in the art worlds of Miami, San Francisco, and Mexico City.

NADA participants from New York who seem to have their fingers assuredly on the pulse of the moment are Daniel Reich Gallery, LFL Gallery, Bellwether Gallery, John Connelly Presents, and Cohan and Leslie. Zach Feuer, owner of LFL, echoed the sentiments of several galleries when he explained that exposure for his artists is a greater draw than the prospect of actual sales. To land a work in a prestigious collection or museum show -- these are the real fruits of having a presence in Miami during Art Basel.

While -scope/Miami, the boutique-hotel fair with annual events in Los Angeles, London, and New York, aims to "demystify the process of buying contemporary art," some of its novelty may be wearing thin. There have been grumblings about the expense of participating versus less-than-robust sales. This year -scope will take over the Townhouse Hotel on South Beach, where some 70 exhibitors and curators will transform the rooms and common areas into improvised galleries. The roster of participants, mainly North American but also a half-dozen from Europe, should not by any means be written off. Attending from the provinces are Wendy Cooper Gallery from Chicago; Rebecca Ibel Gallery from Columbus, Ohio; and Conner Contemporary Art from Washington, D.C. -- all reputable galleries showing strong work. Also look for Caren Golden Fine Art from New York, featuring the work of Nicola Lopez; and Bernard Toale Gallery from Boston, bringing Joe Fig's dollhouse-size dioramas of artists' studios.

Responding to the siren call of large crowds of art enthusiasts, yet another independent exhibition has cropped up this year. Frisbee Fair, organized by New York curator Anat Ebgi at the Cavalier Hotel on Ocean Drive, is a new event created to provide exposure for artists, curators, and dealers not involved in Basel, NADA, or -scope/Miami. Among many others, New York artists Chris Verene and Christian Holstad will present a collaborative project there. Miami's José-Carlos Diaz also will be participating. Ebgi repeats the mantra being chanted even at the highest echelons of the art world: "It's a cheap two-hour flight to get here, it's warm, and it's the most international exposure you can get in a few days."

Galleries from that other sunshine coast are also well represented at Basel, -scope, and NADA. More than fifteen will be here from Los Angeles alone, among them Michael Kohn, Margo Leavin, Patrick Painter, Regen Projects, Peres Projects, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, the Black Dragon Society, and the Happy Lion. Another, the year-old David Kordansky Gallery, was thrilled to be invited to Art Positions, Basel's container show, and will present a group exhibit.

Even galleries not represented at Basel or any of the ancillary events will be in Miami this week, the possibilities for networking being so great. For example, several galleries from Mexico City will take advantage of the festivities to meet and plan their own fair called MACO (México Arte Contemporáneo), which takes place in April.

New York curator Renee Riccardo, another participant in Frisbee Fair, believes that people come to Basel looking for the new or for a seminal piece by a favorite artist. Predominant trends she sees at the moment include art that's handmade, highly crafted using low-tech materials, and making reference to music and popular culture. Others say drawings are a lure, and that there has been a resurgence of interest in photography.

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