Monday, December 7, 2009

Art Basel 2009- "The Second Act"

Left: Jack Pierson "The Second Act" at Regen Projects.

Below right: Doug Aitken's "Free".

This year's Art Basel Miami was full of proclamations: large textual sculptures which, strung together, could easily portend statements about the art market this year. A gigantic “DESIRE” filled one booth, a “PORN” revamped Robert Indiana’s famous “Love”, and “FREE” by Doug Aitken had a photo of wreckage within. Peres Projects featured Don Attoe’s neon figures along with phrases, most potently “We’re all here because we’re too afraid to deal with problems in our real lives” atop men’s heads watching a stripper at her pole.
Additionally, we had “The Second Act” by Jack Pierson, certainly a comment on how quickly the art market has rebounded from the doldrums of last year. The neon “After” aglow behind Philippe Parreno’s "Marquee" lights, showed that afterlife was just across the way, seen through the entryway of celebrity/film idol-worship. Perhaps last year’s purgatory has led not to Hell but to a slightly adjusted Heaven of smaller fairs, but still healthy appetites. One overheard snippet: "...but I have 30-foot ceilings!" from a happy purchaser.

Left: Marc Bijl "Porn" at Breeder.

Above right: Philippe Pareno "Marquee" at Esther Schipper.

Below right: Jonathon Monk "Gold Bubbles" at Yvon Lambert.

Indeed celebrity reared its ugly head quite often in Miami. Richard Prince had a row of pencil sketches of Zac Efron and similar teen idols. The Obamas were featured in Annie Leibowitz photos, and in large paintings by Kurt Kauper at Deitch. But most prominently, Michael Jackson was the real star of Art Basel. His beatific likeness found its way into a triptych by David LaChappelle at Tony Shafrazi, including one of “Archangel Michael”, and a giant Kehinde Wiley equestrian painting of MJ as King Philip, commissioned before the artists’ death and completed afterwards, much to the happiness of Deitch’s cash registers. A faceless MJ could be seen in both a 3-inch cardboard painting by Gideon Rubin, and painting of MJ with his chimp by Jonathan Monk. But my favorite MJ painting was by Jeff Sonhouse of the singer as seen from the back, with odd colored lights, and one rhinestoned glove held out in his signature pose, showing us the paradox of celebrity worship: we think we know all based on a celebrity’s ubiquity, and yet he is forever unknowable.

Left: Jeff Sonhouse "The Loved Gloved One" at Tilton Gallery, LA.

Right: Agathe Snow sculptures at James Fuentes, LLC, New York.

This year Art Basel changed its configuration, confusing and frustrating many artgoers (including me), but on the plus side, it moved newer galleries from the containers on the beach to the convention center into a section called Art Nova. For the most part, these galleries capitalized on their new location, and certain galleries stood out; James Fuentes with his all-over wallpaper and crazy sculptures by Agathe Snow, Canada with a quiet threesome of paintings by Joe Bradley, Andrew Edlin had an old-timey booth with Brent Green, and Miguel Abreu with thick paintings by Pieter Schoolwerth. Gavlak, a Florida gallery, featured surreal collages of people with neon colored plants instead of heads, and sculptures of sinking houses by Philip Estlund, proving that not everything is shiny and happy in that sunny state.

Left: Lorraine O'Grady at Alexander Gray, NY.

Right: Mickalene Thomas, "Photomontage8" detail, at Rhona Hoffman, Chicago.

Alexandre Gray's booth featuring work by Lorraine O'Grady had a great feeling to it. Bridging work from an older era showed how O'Grady's work conceptually and stylistically preceded that of Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and even the more photographic work of Mickalene Thomas, the latter two artists featured at Basel as well. O'Grady had a series of photographs of Harlem, where participants held frames in various poses, and the work felt as fresh and organic now as it must have in the 1980's. Thomas, more familiar as a painter, had stacks of 80's-era frames and black and white photos within, making an interesting sculptural link to her work.

Right: Robin Rhode "Pan's Opticon Studies".

Robin Rhode
had work featured in at least three galleries, including a black and white series of photos at Neils Borch Jensen Galerie. This artist is continuing his seeminlgy endless investigation of movement, performance, sculpture, and painting, creating his own hybrid by inventing new ways to document mark-making via the body, i.e. hitting a ball with paint and then photographing the results in a series.

Right: artist Hans Peter Hoffman in front of his work at Galerie Jamileh Weber.

Sartorially, the men at Art Basel fared better than the women, as one artist matched his family crest flags, [Hans Peter Hoffman] while another cooly strolled past a yet-more graphic painting (left). Proving that art fairs make for fascinating outfit/art combinations, a woman enlivened Shephard Fairey's communist propaganda portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi with her dress. While Fairey as usual lacked any irony, one could see nearby a series of Warhols based on the hammer and sickle, where the wall labels alone created a rich stew of communism and capitalism, art world and politics, cool irony and real danger.

Right: Shephard Fairey at Deitch.

Left: Andy Warhol wall labels at L & M Arts.

Below: Gerhard Richter and Louise Bourgeois at Kukje Gallery.

Another pleasure found at crowded art fairs was that of finding delicious juxtapositions of art by familiar artists. A lovely pairing of a hanging Bourgeois "Lair" sculpture, dark, minimal, yet sensual, prompted me to see a nearby abstract, primary colored, lush Richter in a new light.

Shoes seemed to boringly inhabit the black platform stilettos range, which I consequently abstained from photographing. Some colorful Miami variants popped through, notably the following.

In my final few minutes at Art Basel I noticed a realistic life-size sculpture of a waitress by Duane Hansen wedged into a corner. How apt, for all the discussion of the health of the art market, that I saw this sad creature, left behind by the whirlwind of moneyed exotica roaming the halls of the convention center searching for their next investment.

Left: Duane Hansen "Rita the Waitress" 1975, at Van de Weghe.