What might the late Rocky Pomerance have made of Swiss artist Olaf Breuning? Pomerance was the Miami Beach Police chief in 1972 when Vietnam protesters on the streets surrounding the Miami Beach Convention Center were tear-gassed by cops during the Republican National Convention. Now, 40 years later, Breuning is set to remind us of some Nixon-era upheaval when he detonates "Smoke Grid" at Collins Park for the 12th edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach (ABMB). Breuning's project kicks off the creative lunacy that wafts across town during the massive arts confab.
Breuning, who splits time between New York and Zurich, will set off smoke canisters in an installation of rainbow-hued fumes swirling into a painterly mass of color and visual confusion above art lovers and unsuspecting crowds. The resulting vapory haze will make up part of ABMB's Public Sector, which corrals the work of 24 international artists outside the Bass Museum of Art to transform Collins Park (2100 Collins Ave.) into an outdoor wonderland of eye-popping works.
This year the Public Sector of the fair has been curated with the theme "Social Animals" by ABMB newcomer Nicholas Baume, chief curator for the New York City-based Public Art Fund. The alfresco exhibition not only extends the fair's impact beyond the confines of the convention center but also is arguably one of its most popular events each year — not least because it's free to the public.
Baume has organized a seamless presentation of 30 monumental sculptures and installations by names such as Jeppe Hein, Alicja Kwade, Richard Long, Santiago Roose, Oscar Tuazon, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. Many of the works will remain on view through March 2014. Other performances for Public's opening night include Mungo Thomson's sound installation boasting four musicians serenading spectators with a buzzy sonata imitating cricket songs, and David Colman's cheeky "Santa Confessional," featuring a classic Catholic confessional for Magic City sinners who are no strangers to vice.
ABMB Public is also bringing back Britain's Thomas Houseago, a longtime staple who's based in Los Angeles. Houseago's colossal sculptures of skeletal characters that appear to have arrived from another realm leave a lingering impression on viewers.
"Houseago brings the gods back to life. He's arguably the most profound sculptor of his generation," says Robin Vousden, director of Gagosian Gallery, which represents Houseago.
Meanwhile, inside the Convention Center, 260 top-shelf galleries from countries representing North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia will exhibit 20th- and 21st-century works by more than 2,000 artists. Among the 50,000 visitors typically visiting the fair, organizers say they expect a large contingent of Asian reporters converging on South Beach this week.
"We opened Art Basel in Hong Kong last May, and one of the things I find most interesting is an increased attendance from visitors from the region and the number of Asian journalists who will be here covering not only the fair but also our city this week," says Bob Goodman, Florida representative for ABMB. "Other big news that has interested people I've talked to is the opening of the new Pérez Art Museum Miami to coincide with the fair," he adds. (See page 18 for more about PAMM's opening.)
Special sections at ABMB feature everything from video art to talks and salons by leading names from the international art scene. This year's fair has a new section called Edition, which includes 13 art publishers. The Kabinett sector — featuring everything from themed group exhibits to solos for rising names and art-historical displays curated by dealers in the main galleries sector — has been expanded as well.
Miami homeboy Luis Gispert takes center stage at Kabinett with Chicago's Rhona Hoffman Gallery, presenting a display of the talented artist's works that explore his fascination with the fetishization of Latin American modernism and music, as well as the Black Power movement of the 1960s.
Not to be missed in the Kabinett zone is São Paulo gallery Luciana Brito Galeria. It'll show the never-before-exhibited results of über performance artist Marina Abramovic's conceptual musings on the Brazilian countryside.
ABMB's film program, boasting flicks by and about artists in a dizzying range of approaches, includes upward of 70 film and video works culled from the show's participant galleries, and features a list that includes Dara Birnbaum, Martin Creed, Rineke Dijkstra, Joan Jonas, and Kehinde Wiley among the top names. This year's film lineup is led by the U.S. premiere of Nan Goldin — I Remember Your Face (2013), helmed by Sabine Lidl, at the Colony Theatre (1040 Lincoln Rd.). Both Goldin and Lidl will be on hand for a Q&A after the 8:30 p.m. screening December 6.
From December 4 through 7, ABMB's offerings spill over to SoundScape Park (500 17th St.) and the 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall of its neighboring Frank Gehry-designed New World Center. There, visitors are invited to cozy up on blankets and lawn chairs for free outdoor screenings.