There's no reason to spend your entire Basel week trapped inside a white vinyl tent. While fairs hog headlines, savvy insiders look to Miami's booming gallery scene for some of the most explosive talent in town.
Take Theaster Gates, who provided one of the most memorable moments of last year's Basel when he recruited the Black Monks of Mississippi to help him belt out his "A Sermon on Art History." As he returns to Miami this week, Gates comes to Locust Projects with his "Soul Manufacturing Corporation."
"It is a great example of Theaster's belief system... that an artist can really have a great impact on the community," says Kavi Gupta, the dealer representing Gates.
At Locust, Gates has created a fully functioning "factory" with four pavilions where "skilled makers" will produce found-art objects and pottery. A yoga instructor, DJ, and reader on hand will "care for" the workers and audience, a nod to the lectors who read news and literature to illiterate workers during the industrial era.
In the gallery's Project Room, meanwhile, Miami's Jacin Giordano will present "Wound, Bound, Tied and Knotted," for which he employs tree branches as the stretchers for his paintings. Their organic nature dramatizes the web of rainbow-hued yarn wrapped around the stems to create the painting surface. (Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-8570, locustprojects.org. Admission is free.)
No exhibit drew more headlines last December than Primary Projects' "I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me," in which artist Miru Kim got naked and wallowed in a muddy space with live pigs. The edgy gallery's two new shows this year aren't likely to become as notorious but are worthy of attention in their own right.
For "Raneytown," Miami native Rebeca Raney brings 250 ink-and-gouache drawings depicting a wild menagerie of hybrid creatures, plants, and characters, plus a phalanx of sculptures including a soaring, ten-foot "Plant Person."
The gallery is also staging "Asif's Guns," a pop-up "gun store" where Miami's Asif Farooq will sell more than 300 firearms — from a snub-nosed Saturday-night special to an M16 — all fashioned from cardboard.
"Asif loves the intricacies in the engineering aspect of firearms. But instead of glorifying gun culture, 'Asif's Guns' gives you a different perspective on America's fascination," says Chris Oh, one of the gallery's partners. (Primary Projects, 4141 NE Second Ave., Ste. 104, Miami; 954-296-1675; primaryflight.com/projects. The pop-up is located at 167 NW 25th St., Miami.Admission is free.)
Photography lovers should look for Dina Mitrani Gallery, where "Willy Ronis: Paris" showcases the photographer's work depicting postwar France struggling to rebuild itself. The retrospective contrasts striking images, such as a couple hugging beneath a bridge along the Seine and a young boy skipping along a boulevard while clutching a baguette almost his size. (Dina Mitrani Gallery, 2620 NW Second Ave., Miami; 786-486-7248, dinamitranigallery.com. Admission is free.)
For half a decade, the L.A.-based gallery OHWOW has put on the memorable "It Ain't Fair," which in previous years included packed exhibits by David Lynch and Danger Mouse. This year marks the last "It Ain't Fair," and it's going out Hollywood-style with exhibitions by James Franco (yes, that James Franco) and 30-odd other artists, a nightly soup kitchen to feed the masses, and a week of live programming from OHWOW's pirate station, Know Wave Radio, hosted by NYC hipster extraordinaire Aaron Bondaroff. (December 6 through 9 at 743 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Admission is free. Visit oh-wow.com/itaintfair-2012.)
A few works are too large to be contained inside a gallery. That's the case with Miami-based artist Jessy Nite, who will light up South Beach with Under the Scope, a hallucinatory projection of opulence, hedonistic excess, and tropical dreams. Her dizzying installation at 1234 Washington Ave. will broadcast her kaleidoscopic work onto a historic art deco façade, lighting the walls with compositions of color, jewels, and drugs that encapsulate Basel's sordid bacchanalia. (Live video from the event will be captured and displayed on site Friday and Saturday night, December 7 and 8, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.)