A few weeks before Art Basel's arrival, I noticed Vice's infamous "I Don't 'Get' Art" article being shared on Facebook. In the piece, Glen Coco (best pen name ever, by the way, and probably written by West Coast editor Jamie Taete) admits he cannot grasp what contemporary artists are trying to say these days.
Coco followed this up by attending Art Basel last year. Unfortunately, that didn't help remedy the situation.
Wandering through the maze of booths at the Miami Beach Convention Center, I totally get why contemporary art can frustrate people. A lot of it looks like it was slapped together without any thought or meaning. And when artists try to go for shock value (enough with the genitals, sex toys, etc.; I've seen plenty) it comes off as trying too hard to get a reaction out of the viewer.
Yes, I will say it here: A lot of the stuff on display at most art fairs, including Basel, isn't worth a dime. Buying art is less like stock trading and more like high-stakes gambling. You are putting money on something hoping that eventually the artist will generate enough "buzz" to raise the value of the piece. Unfortunately, the art world is plagued by people who are paid to generate "buzz," which makes the process a bit disingenuous. Talent doesn't always have to be there in order for "buzz" to be created.
That doesn't mean I don't believe in the work a lot of contemporary artists are doing. I do. I'd just wish the process of recognizing artists involved more academic study and discussion and fewer Russian oligarchs and people who want something pretty to hang in their Brickell condos. (And I know I'm totally contradicting myself. I understand that it's these kind of people who keep galleries and their artists afloat. But a boy can dream.)
So with that long-winded intro done, now I will tell you what I saw.
I made it a mission of mine to seek out Miami artists and galleries of Basel -- which only included Spinello Projects and Fredric Snitzer. (Don't even get me started on this.)
A last-minute addition, it seems, was Bas Fisher Invitational's Jim Drain and Naomi Fisher, whose Paradise Working Title serves as the bar area for the Nova section of the fair. In this Miami oasis, Drain and Fisher have created a places where people can relax and take in the installation, which includes camouflaged walls made of walkers, orchids, and an immense sculpture of brightly colored tubing. The pair will also be hosting a different event every day, including poetry readings, cooking lessons, and an architectural "intervention" (A&E-style, we hope).
Over at Spinello Projects, the gallery based in Allapattah (or West Wynwood, if you're a realtor) returned for a second year in a row. But unlike last year, when the gallery only showcased the work of Agustina Woodgate, this year Spinello brings Woodgate back along with Sinisa Kukec and Naama Tsabar -- all of whose talent is on full display at the booth with strong pieces that reflect their aesthetic.
Honestly, what makes gallerist Anthony Spinello so worthy of praise is his commitment to his artists. He's more than just their business liaison. He's their friend and family, and it shows. It's a rare thing in the art world.
We quickly spoke to Woodgate, who seems excited about her upcoming solo show at the Hollywood Art and Culture Center in March. She's back to sewing huge tapestries made from stuffed animals -- work we haven't seen from her since a few year's back when Spinello was part of SCOPE. There's a reason though. Woodgate says the tapestries will play a big role in her March solo show.
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Over at Snitzer, who's a Basel mainstay at this point, we saw works by locals Hernan Bas (I know he lives in Detroit now, but he's forever local), Naomi Fisher, and Michael Vasquez. Undoubtably, Snitzer has a great eye for talent and he knows how to make artists into superstars of the art world. Bas and Fisher already enjoy plenty of respect and admiration from their peers and collectors.
But if I have one criticism about Snitzer, it's this: I'd like him to find the next generation of Miami art superstars. I feel like his eye lately has been looking elsewhere. Maybe that says something about our local art scene, or maybe I'm just reading too much into it.