The painting on the left is exactly how I felt as I finished walking through Scope and Aqua. Two art fairs that last year had been among my favorites, shrank and eliminated many good galleries. Aqua got rid of their lovely hotel location, and the current Wynwood location had so many garish works that by the time I had walked through I had forgotten the good ones. Among the better, were Toronto's Michael Gibson Gallery, featuring a quiet and haunting painting by Wanda Koop of the "Miracle on the Hudson"- an event that quickly became a Hallmark-card media spectacle, but in paint brought back the haunting lonely frisson of near-death it once was. Another standout was Megan Whitmarsh's oddball embroidery and painting mash-ups, at Michael Rosenthal.
Left: Guerra de la Paz at Carol Jazzar, Scope.
Scope was also barren of good booths, with even the best galleries playing it safe and bringing rather ho-hum works. Recession specials were not in everyone's favor. Carol Jazzar and ADA stood out, with 3-d work by Guerra de la Paz and Jen Stark, and Chris Verene's idiosyncratic photography and a crazy collection of cats by Scott Hewicker respectively.
Left: Okay Mountain Corner Store, Pulse.
Pulse won out for Most Improved Fair, gaining a better space (no more sand floors!), more solid galleries, and a terrific music program taking full advantage of their courtyard space at NADA's former location. With 104 galleries, Pulse managed somehow to still feel organized and leisurely. A highlight of the Impulse section (for solo exhibitions) was the hand-made bodega at Austin's Okay Mountain collaborative gallery. With products for sale, all created by hand, it hit the sweet spot of art-world humor (Dzamacolors "for art school kids to use when they're making those rip-off Marcel Dzama paintings") and silly fun (Old Stanky kitty litter).
Left: Devin Strother, "Drunken Bitches Fighting in the Bathroom" detail, Richard Heller, Pulse.
Devin Strother, a young artist at Richard Heller, showed cut-out figures in manic scenes, slyly playing with devilish racial stereotypes. Cut paper was used to quite different effect in Natasha Bowdoin's elegant layered paintings at CTRL Gallery in Houston. DCKT, Kopeikin, Fred, and Mark Moore Gallery all had strong carefully thought-out curated booths; i.e. London's Fred Gallery presented works by artists from the African diaspora--though one wouldn't necessarily guess it from the variety of works.
Steve Viezens had paintings and quirky drawings in a star-shaped layout at the booth of Galerie Kleindienst from Liepzig, another strong booth (no surprise given the famous art school there).
Right: Steve Viezens at Galerie Kleindienst, Pulse.
Left: happy reveler, post-Exene Cervenka performance at Pulse.
At Photo Miami, the booths shrank by two thirds, leaving a spartan arrangement of 26 galleries. However, for the most part it was for the best-- fewer flower studies and giant female nudes, more thoughtful or historic work. Large constructed photographs of a fictional African town called Udongo, dealt with post-colonial history and Western concepts of Africa by Jasper de Beijer at TZR Galerie Kai Bruckner. Nearby, classically composed photographs from 1970s beaches gave us the opposite--a taste of the visually familiar, but with a Mexican twist, courtesy of Carlos Perez Siquier at Galeria Sandunga (right). A vibrant booth from China--MR Gallery-- with classical documentary black and white images by a handful of artists, provided welcome relief from Art Asia's Vegas-y commercial fare.
Left: Comfortable man being comforted by comfortable art at ArtMiami.
At nearby Art Miami, bright halogen lights and gleaming concrete floors created a soothing environment, and the art similarly didn't want to cause any discomfort. While I saw some great art, including Zhang Huan photos at Barry Friedman, and iceberg photos by Olaf Otto Becker at Amador Gallery, the overall effect was of a gentle sea breeze.
And finally, my visit to NADA provided a welcome pause to the madness. NADA chose an anachronistic resort a few miles north of Art Basel, replete with chandeliers, ballrooms named after famous French leaders (Napoleon, Richelieu), and a pool aching for hipsters to swim in their skinny bikinis (right). Also, a baristas from Intelligentsia Coffee plied their wares midway through the ballrooms, and who could resist such steam-punk cuties (left)?
Art-wise, NADA had dealers beaming with delight, as booths were both full of visitors and high-quality, especially the Lower East Side galleries. Collette Blanchard showed an installation by Derrick Adams including a performance, as well as glittery paintings based on the musical the Wiz. Lisa Cooley featured a bureau stabbed multiple times in the back, and a knit sculpture by Josh Faught.
Left: Derrick Adams at Collette Blanchard, NADA.
British galleries were quite good, as London's Man and Eve showed tiny cut paper delicacies by Sarah Bridgland, perhaps a tad too cute, but riding the overall trend for cut-paper sculptures and collage. Josh Lilley Gallery also had a strong show of Christof Mascher and Vicky Wright, whose oddly light washes on unprimed backs of panels created an ominous cloud when seen from afar.
Left: Another fabulous shoe/dress combination.
Below: a restful view courtesy of NADA's Deauville Beach Resort.