Everything great and everything suspect about the contemporary art and design worlds, and their penchant for the blowout fair model, is on full display each year at Art Basel Miami Beach—and of course the bevy of satellites and counterprogramming that swirls it. On one hand, the fair, which wrapped up on Sunday, is full of gossip galore, celebrity worship, and the commodifying effect of multi-million-dollar sales—not to mention, with a dozen Slamdances to Art Basel’s star-attraction Sundance, an overwhelming feeling of paradox of choice. But there’s also a giddy sense of discovery and inspiration to be found. If you can’t discover something to love among the enormity of Miami Art Week, you’re quite simply not looking. From AI-generated art at Scope to goopily abstractionist furniture at Design Miami, there was much stunning work to mull over.
But first: the numbers for the marquee event. According to festival organizers, some 83,000 people passed through Art Basel Miami—which boasts 268 galleries from 35 countries—across its five days. No doubt the layout of the now-renovated Miami Beach Convention Center helped—providing a welcome contrast to last year, when the in-progress overhaul and residual effects from Hurricane Irma stunted mobility—and according to some galleries—sales.
But even despite some stock-market volatility, this year saw several of the mega-dollar transactions we’ve come to expect. According to a handy roundup by artnet, the priciest buy was Picasso’s “Tete de Femme” (1917), for a cool $17 million. And interest was apparently good right out of the gate. “The gallery had an extraordinary first day, the best we’ve had at any fair, which has only been enhanced by the Collect Wisely installation on the booth,” Sean Kelly, founder and owner of the eponymous gallery said in a release, referencing his gallery’s collecting-minded campaign. “It has enabled us to engage collectors on a more profound level and the response has been extremely enthusiastic. This has been one of our best fairs ever.”
The sentiment was echoed by Alison Jacques, founder of the gallery of the same name in London, who also underscored how important a massive fair setting can be for a gallery’s bottom line. “It is great to see that sales are happening every day of the show, which is very encouraging,” said Jacques in a release. “Art Basel in Miami Beach is becoming the only fair in America that really counts. Our focus is to concentrate on Art Basel, rather than diluting ourselves with regional fairs, as the caliber of this show attracts top curators and collectors. We see a booth at an Art Basel show as an extension of our gallery space.”
As for highlights, some of the most prominent contemporary artists led the way. Kara Walker, among the preeminent artists of her generation, garnered adulation with works on paper that characteristically mined the nation’s racial history. White Space (2010) was also notable from the sales perspective; it reportedly nearly broke the seven-figure plane. Another major critical draw was Judy Chicago, the artist behind the feminist watershed “The Dinner Party,” who exhibited works on paper through Jessica Silverman Gallery.
In terms of star-gazing, one could Page Six it up as ever. Queen of 2018 Cardi B, Travis Scott, Pharrell, Lil Wayne, and Kanye were all spotted at parties—and some even performed. There was also of course plenty of branded nightlife, the most noteworthy perhaps being the team-up between Prada and Chicago-based place-making artist Theaster Gates on a pop-up club. It served as a satellite installation to “The Black Image Corporation,” Gates’ exhibition of Ebony and Jet magazine images that explore black identity, on view in Milan.
Away from Basel’s high wattage, some of the most forward-thinking pieces were on display at Design Miami. There was cheeky office furniture designed by Instagram fave Harry Nuriev, who splashed the logo of luxe-fashion house Balenciaga on solid-wood mock-air conditioner and copy machine. Philippe Malouin put an interactive spin on wallpaper, channeling Henri Matisse’s iconic cut-outs, with movable forms produced for the designer by Calico Wallpaper.
South Korean designer Sang Hoon Kim’s memory-foam sofas mimic paint-splotch drip paintings in their eye-grabbing look. “Breaking the Mold: Contemporary Korean Ceramics,” presented by J. Lohmann Gallery, similarly highlighted playfully bold colors and forms, and Italian trailblazer Gaetano Pesce illustrated his enduring appeal with a whimsical 54-arm lamp.
Another clear standout was Nadja Zerunian. Her practice eschews so much conceptualism and eye-popping color in favor of meticulous hand-forged objects, made from copper and gold. She crafts them alongside traditional Roma artisans who employ age-old tools and techniques. When placed alongside one another, the scale and precision of the project becomes crystal clear.
The Venn diagram overlap where the art world meets hip-hop is now a well-traveled one, but it can absolutely still excite. No, we’re not referring to the viral video of Kanye refusing daps after his skateboard fail at Art Basel. We’re talking about the IRL programming of artist Hajar Benjida’s beloved Instagram “Young Thug as Paintings,” presented in partnership with Young Thug—whose influence on hip-hop fashion and phrasing remains incalculable—and featuring layered prints to add a new dimension to Benjida’s visual comparisons. Hitting the nexus of design, art, music, celebrity, fashion, and media, this is the multi-hyphenate promise of the contemporary art world at its most fun.
There was also the much-discussed exhibition by AICAN, the artificial-intelligence program designed by Rutgers’ Art & AI Lab that made headlines when one of its works sold for $16,000 at auction earlier this year. You could look and grapple with all manner of questions about authenticity and expression, or simply marvel at the next great art-tech leap.
Over at Pulse, one of the most noteworthy programs spotlighted a decidedly less fanciful subject: violence. “A Violence,” featured in the fair’s PLAY video division, brought together five artists to create video works around the theme. Renluka Maharaj’s five-minute Lilah, which split-screens footage from an actual funeral with a visual of a dress being drenched in bloody liquid, is particularly arresting. You can view clips of each video here.
NADA and Untitled are always reliable when it comes to spotlighting emerging artists who don’t necessarily have the winds of industry machinery at their backs. NADA again stepped up with socially conscious programming, particularly with a group show curated by Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. The BLM Global Network also teamed up with Hebru Brantley to launch limited-edition merch. You can check out the shirts and hoodie on which they collaborated here. Over at Untitled Art, Argentinian artist José Luis Landet was honored with the fair’s fist Otazu Art Prize. And at The Bass, Paola Pivi’s concurrently running Art with a view impressed with life-size, feather-covered polar bear replicas that anchor the wide-ranging exhibition.