by Shana Beth Mason
Its placement on Ocean Drive and 12th Street in Miami Beach, with exhibitors literally able to step into the sea merely yards away from their respective booths, seemed to claim a false allure. If the quality of the the artists' solo/collaborative projects and their layout within each gallery's designated space was truly challenging, it could occupy a decrepit warehouse in Overtown or a back lot in Hialeah and the reviews would still glow. A glamorous location (five blocks away from Art Basel Miami Beach), a mini version of one of Miami's hippest bars (Wood Tavern), and a slick architectural shell (courtesy of K/R Design): why did it all matter? Because these were just the trimmings on a visual and intellectual feast called Untitled.
To begin, the choice of lead curator in Omar Lopez-Chahoud was nothing short of ingenious. Based in Miami, educated at Yale and the Royal Academy of Art, curatorial projects and panels in New York and Prague: this is the kind of résumé that satellite fairs in Miami had been sadly lacking. Lopez-Chahoud's intuitive aesthetic sense and academic rigor was thankfully acknowledged by fair director Jeffrey Lawson (formerly the lead of Art Asia), who noted how this new fair was meant to be an elevated statement with creative ideas actually put into motion rather than just wistfully bounced around emails and text messages. While the stringent exclusivity of NADA or the sky-high prices and celebrity pull of Art Basel Miami Beach were traits that barely evaded Untitled, the concept of a fair rooted in a local talent (Lopez-Chahoud) corralling relatively unknown programs from New York, Berlin, Miami, Dallas, Santo Domingo and London was critically and publicly well-received.
Choice programs included a fortune telling booth from (Art) Amalagated artist Pablo Cao, complete with an array of Renaissance-inspired portraits of dead Pop idols Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. 'I don't pretend. This is a celebration, it's something wild and uplifting,' said Cao amongst cubbies of withered flowers and odd amulets. Richmond/New York-based Ada Gallery presented George Kuchar's last comic strip and a wall of simple, potent paintings from John Lurie. A solo sculpture from Emily Noelle Lambert (represented by Lu Magnus in the Lower East Side) had a sense of a child desperately reaching skyward, with rippling colors and wooden rays poking into the two surrounding walls. Cuban-American filmmaker Coco Fusco presented a special project of a film with little more than the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana lit by sun and moon, with a local journalist recounting the site's ripple-effect of nostalgia and public exclusion.
Without question, the fair's most complex, overwhelming commission project was a series of exercises overseen by Brooklyn-based collective The Skull Sessions (Andrea Galvani and Tim Hyde). Practicing artist and physician Saul Melman contributed photo documentation (executed by Hyde) from his performative task of gilding MoMA PS1's furnace as well as a live, continuous rearrangement of bricks (made from horse-skin parchment, dust and water) within the 'gallery' booth. Alice Miceli presented photographs (developed in both normal and gamma radiation-charged conditions) of successive exclusion zones of Chernobyl, often resembling swirling energy fields in states of action and inertia. Hyde and Galvani, themselves, offered photographs probing the limits of visual disbelief and initiating artistic dialogue just beyond the limits of the law. In short, this could not be digested in a single visit, not even in a single day. But trying to unravel the tangled mass of physics, medicine, mythology and mystery of the ambitious collaborative was where the fun was found.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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