Since the advent 11 years ago of Art Basel Miami Beach, the event has grown to the point that there are more art shows and openings in fair week than one has time to see.
Outside the Miami Beach Convention Center, the second most extensive area for art fairs, private collections and galleries is the Wynwood Art District, between North 36th Street and North 20th Street and east of Interstate 95, in Miami.
Our second day of the Art Basel week began at the 45,000-square-foot Rubell Family Collection at 95 N.W. 29th St., where one of my colleagues, artist Gerri Aurre, said that in the past they had served very arty breakfasts, such as in 2011, when freshly made yogurt was accompanied by dripping honey and live bees buzzing around. This year, food pickings were scarce, with only espresso and cappuccino being served; however, the art was plentiful and extraordinary.
Visitors were met in the lobby by an immense sculpture of a man by English-born and educated Thomas Houseago, now based in Los Angeles, who creates figurative sculptures out of plaster, plywood and rebar.
Adjacent in the next room is an immense triptych of 28-foot-tall paintings, Power and Country, richly textured with oil paint by Beijing-based Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi.
Next, we climbed up a steep flight of concrete stairs and onto the landing where we found the papier-mâché and metal, cloud-like sculptures of the late Austrian artist Franz West. These whimsical abstract forms, supported by thin metal rods, were covered with brightly colored abstract painting and seemed to defy gravity.
In the Wynwood Art District, the art is not confined to the inside walls of galleries; on almost every available outdoor space, walls are covered with graffiti by outstanding street artists.
Inside the giant tent at Art Miami and Context were actual ripped-out walls with graffiti by Banksy, an English political activist and painter. Of note is the 6-foot by 7-foot Wet Dog, created in 2007.
At the Ferrin Gallery, recent works are on display by the incredibly talented and skilled Russian-born Sergei Isupov. His concepts are mind-altering and his flawless techniques unmatched. Shown at the booth’s entrance is Speech of the Wild Animal, a 29-inch-wide sculpture priced at $45,000, and inside, I particularly liked his small, low-relief wall hangings with human and animal portraits.
A painted bronze of a stooped figure carrying a pot was instantly recognizable as a piece by the late artist Viola Frey. It was paired with a 60-by-40-inch painting she created in 1985. Gallery owner Nancy Hoffman knew Frey personally and has shown her work for years in New York City.
Next door, at Scope, another fair with more experimental and cutting-edge work, was Revolution Narrative, by Ernesto Kunde. This three-dimensional piece of mixed media drawings and paintings on reclaimed wood was both eye-catching and emotionally moving.
Brazilian-born, this Miami-based artist “sees that it is an artist’s job to capture history as it is happening. In my pieces, I try to capture a moment or place in time and to highlight the ordinary in a way that makes people take a second look.”
Across from Art Miami is the Red Dot, exhibit where we found several Palm Beach County artists: Debbie Lee Mostel, with her three-dimensional collages created of unusual materials, such as globe-maps and computer parts; Maryland transplant, now Lake Worth resident abstract painter and colorist Rhona LK Schonwald, who said her compositions can be hung either vertically or horizontally, depending on the space in one’s home; and Raymond Neubert, in the Artisan Direct booth, whose stylized and original paintings based on his graph-paper drawing are both colorful and intriguing in concept.
Also in Artisan Direct was a New Jersey-based artist, Thomas Francisco, whose sculptural paintings were inspired by the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy. His mixed-media assemblages on board are composed of building rubble left in the wake of the storm. “I wanted to honor the places and the homes that had been destroyed,” Francisco said.
Some outstanding ceramic sculptures were found in the Santa Fe-based Jane Sauer Gallery. A young sculptor, Clea Carlsen, is showing two conceptual, yet extraordinarily sculpted clay pieces where she has woven stories from Greek mythology into contemporary themes. A 25-inch tall Daphne, priced at $8,800, was amazing in its detail and execution of anatomic reality.
Featured in the Sauer Gallery is Adrian Arleo, a Montana-based sculptor who also works in clay and often adds wax encaustic and gold leaf to her imaginative pieces.
Katie Deits is the executive director of the Lighthouse ArtCenter Museum and School of Art in Tequesta and a member of the International Association of Art Critics.