Baltimore at Art Basel: Checking in with the local artists and spaces that showcased in Miami

Last week, bits and pieces of Baltimore’s artist and gallery community relocated temporarily to Miami for the annual Miami Art Week, the massive pop-up of satellite art fairs revolving around Art Basel. Held in the Miami Beach Convention Center, Basel, which originated in the Swiss city of the same name in 1970, showcases 269 top-tier galleries from nearly every continent and draws hoards of collectors, artists, dealers, celebrities, critics, and tourists from every corner.

Yesterday marked the final day of Basel, as well as the 19 other fairs held in tents, hotels, and pavilions up and down the Miami Beach island and the mainland city. City Paper traveled to the Art Deco city to soak in the neon, sunsets, palms, graffiti murals, and, particularly, the artwork brought here by Baltimore galleries and artists.

Our city’s presence at Miami Art Week has grown steadily in recent years, though sturdy commercial spots Goya Contemporary and C. Grimaldis Gallery have been coming here for about a decade. Grimaldis and Goya returned to immense multi-tent mainland fair Art Miami, where they brought with them work by Baltimore artists.

Newly anointed MacArthur “Genius” fellow (and City Paper’s Best Artist this year) Joyce J. Scott made her mark at Goya, where she has long been represented. From her “Day After Rape” series, three glinting faces and the smaller figures they wear as foreboding crowns—one a reaper-like skeleton perched on a ruby head—hung on one wall, watching over the crowd filtering in and out of the spacious booth (something of a respite from the packed avenues winding around other booths—with folks crowding around Damien Hirsts, Barbara Krugers, and Man Rays, this trio of tents felt like MoMA on a busy day). Formed from glass beads and thread, the mask-like sculptures bubbled and seduced as light bent over each grain-sized bead. Nearby, light spread more fluidly over the Baltimore native’s hand-blown Murano glass sculpture ‘Breathe,’ a red, Buddha-like nude pulling a clear glass infant out from her own body with an almost unsettling ease. Beside her sat another Scott sculpture, the comical glass and wood couple ‘Look Mom- A Doctor’, atop a plywood crate—perhaps the one it arrived in—and behind Scott’s figures hung three entrancing black, gray, and beige paintings by MICA professor Timothy App (who, full disclosure, taught both of these reporters), long recognized as a wizard of subtle color alchemy by way of geometric abstraction. On the adjacent wall hung two new paintings by fellow MICA faculty member Jo Smail, who here collages clippings from old recipes and a vintage brassiere advertisement and cakes on swaths of acidic red and blue paint. Among the other artists represented at Goya’s booth were Fanny Sanin, Günther Förg, Louise Fishman, Sally Egbert, David Brown, Liliana Porter, Madeleine Keesing, George Rickey, Willhelm Mundt, Alfred Jensen, and Yayoi Kusama, who is among the most expensive living female artists—her small, glitter-dusted mixed media sculpture ‘Flower Pink’, one of two Kusamas on display at Goya, was going for $90,000.

Meanwhile at C. Grimaldis Gallery’s space, the youngest fair goers circled around Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s dizzying light sculptures, at times pressing their moist noses against the glass that barricaded them from the illusion of infinity created by mirrors and neon fluorescent lights. Securing Grimaldis’ position as kids’ choice of Art Miami 2016 in particular was Ahn’s ‘Well,’ what appeared to be a hole in the floor that opened to an endless concrete shaft into the earth’s depths lined by vertical strips of neon that shifted in color, but like all of Ahn’s work here was merely a pattern of mirror reflections. Enclosed in a darkened space, Ahn’s work stood in stark contrast to Grimaldis’ other artists—found metal sculptor Anthony Caro, contemporary photographer Marja Pirilä, and the late great abstract expressionist painter Grace Hartigan, who for decades served as the director of MICA's Hoffberger School of Painting and whose estate is under the care of Grimaldis. Opposite Hartigan’s gorgeous stained canvases hung two monolithic geometric abstractions by painter Joan Waltemath, Hartigan’s successor at the Hoffberger School. Their connection, though, seemed incidental here; Waltemath’s stony voids speckled with colorful squares complemented Hartigan’s gushing washes of paint swept with loosely drawn figures, and yet both felt akin to cave paintings.

On the mainland, in Wynwood, Galerie Myrtis efficiently used nearly every inch of its space, which was located in a breezy, visible spot near the back at Spectrum, showing work by Delita Martin, Morel Doucet, Anna U. Davis, Michael Gross, Ronald Jackson, and Jamea Richmond-Edwards. This was Myrtis’ first time at this fair, and though some of the work almost butted up against others, the booth strangely didn’t feel too crowded or crammed in there. Perhaps it’s the quality of the work. Martin’s large mixed-media prints feature portraits of black women against blue and teal backgrounds, embellished here and there with a modular circle pattern or lanky, leafy strips of paper. Davis’ figures are at odds with one another inside of puzzle pieces. The puzzle pieces fit together within the rectangle of the collaged canvas, but the people in them are yelling, fighting, and occasionally making out.

Between Davis and Martin were three small abstract paintings by Michael Gross that feel musical in a Kandinsky way. Bookending all of these works, on the left side were Miami-based, MICA grad Doucet’s delicate ceramic sculptures that replicate and iconize pieces of coral, seaweed, and shells in pastel colors and different shades of brown, hanging among lovely mixed-media portraits by Jackson, from his “Portraits of Color” series. On the opposite end were Richmond-Edwards’ captivating portraits of young black people, whose skin tones are painted in velvety, warm, gray and black tones, whose bodies are clothed in colorful power-clashing patterned paper, and whose heads are cradled by a quick, brusque halo.

Across the bridge, in North Beach at the Deauville Beach Resort, the New Art Dealers Alliance fair (NADA) showcased contemporary artists in booths and project spaces, including Baltimore’s Springsteen Gallery. There was a MICA alumni tour of NADA that we’d signed up for, but we missed it because we were still getting used to the time it took to get from one part of Miami to another, mainly due to traffic. We wandered about and, at Portland’s Fourteen30 Gallery, found some intriguing sculptures by Hannah Levy that use nickel-plated steel and silicone, appearing vaguely like functional objects (a grill, a walking stick, a swing).

Springsteen was located in a project space, showing work by Brooklyn artist Alex Ito (whom they’ve shown often, including their last show in Baltimore, which closed this weekend). In the middle part of the space hung three small works on aluminum panel by Ito, hanging on a simple metal and glass structure that felt rather industrial or utilitarian. Each of the three rectangular pieces resembled a perfume or makeup ad in design and scale, with a feminine head/neck, and a neat row of color swatches and a banal statement (“You Are Here,” “Lost Sincerity,” “This Will Pass”) on the bottom edge of the panels. (Another of these panels hung in the booth on the right wall; two others hung on the outside wall.) A less overt take on ideas of commodification, advertising, and consumerism, on the left wall of the booth hung ‘A Feeding Whisper,’ where a small round blown glass object appeared to be pulled from its top and bottom by taut wires, about ready to burst, it seemed.

The Satellite Art Show was both our first stop on Thursday, when we arrived in Miami, and our last, on Sunday (it also seemed to be Nelly Furtado’s first and last stop, but more on that later). At this fair, 47 galleries, collectives, artist-run spaces, curatorial projects, and several other things that don’t fit neatly into any of those boxes put up artwork and immersive installations in rooms at the Parisian Hotel. Satellite had the biggest representation of Baltimore of all the fairs this year, with Terrault Contemporary, Platform Gallery (co-run by friends of these writers), along with a few Baltimore artists on display in Art F City’s “Strange Genitals” show (a slightly edited remount of their show in New York, co-curated by AFC’s senior editor Michael Farley, who’s also an occasional CP contributor).

The frenzied room hosting Terrault Contemporary, a neighbor to Platform in Baltimore’s Bromo District, was a welcome shift from the restrained white-cube booths that filled the majority of other fairs. Small paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media work by Katie Duffy, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Cheyenne Woodward, and Christopher McCarthy—all formerly Baltimore-based artists who have since relocated to Chicago, Austin, Portland, and New York, respectively. In the high saturation of neon and bold edges and sunset hues (it all felt very Miami), standouts included Alvarez’s large woven tapestry marked by his signature hieroglyphic shapes (later bought by Nelly Furtado) and Katie Duffy’s bathroom installation. There, a bathtub full of packing peanuts formed a nest around an LED screen glowing with a geometric animation and illuminating the reflective vinyl shapes pressed against the walls like the scales of an opalescent fish. Most exhibitors at Satellite took advantage of their bathroom spaces, but none felt quite like a party as Duffy’s.

Platform showed Esther Ruiz, Amanda Martinez, and Baltimore artist Alex Ebstein, as well as a bathroom installation by Aurel Haize Odogbo, where the viewer was surrounded by red roses scattered across the floor and house plants hanging from the shower curtain rod, listening on headphones to a poem read by a kind of distorted alien voice about metamorphosis, constriction, oppression, and what happens “when your body’s the catalyst for chaos.” The three artists in the main space each explore shape, color, texture, and abstracted forms, using materials that are somewhat unconventional (Ebstein’s yoga mats, Martinez’s styrofoam, Ruiz’s neon and geodes). The white masonite floorboards, which Platform installed, had laser-engraved shapes on them that each artist uses in her work: Ruiz’s gems and neon loops, Martinez’s specimens-on-a-microscope-slide-looking shapes, and Ebstein’s lumpy arcs and O’s.

Walking into Art F City’s “Strange Genitals,” we were greeted by Baltimore artist Phaan Howng’s tall, lumpy, neon, possibly radioactive phallic sculpture—similar to though smaller than what we saw at Fields Fest this summer. Citing the government’s own disturbing interest in the genitals of its people (and what laws it should enact to control them), Art F City’s dozen or so artists treated these parts of our bodies that are sacred and only join each other in heterosexual married unions, ahem, with measured humor, absurdity, wonder, and embellishment. In her painting, Baltimore artist Sejong Cho riffed on Manet’s ‘L’Origine du monde,’ placing a nude female body whose legs are spread open, in a dreamy blue sky-meeting-water horizon. In June Culp’s paintings, cartoony characters slap and pinch and fuck, their actions rendered in amusingly gross, simplistic and unsexy detail.

Bringing the energy of Baltimore to Miami in a different way, on Thursday night, as part of Posture mag’s latest issue launch at Satellite, Abdu Ali performed in the lobby of the Parisian. As usual, his energy brought everyone close up, sweating and clapping and chanting along to ‘Did Dat’ and ‘I, Exist.’ We spotted Nelly Furtado off to the side getting into it.

With gallerists fatigued by the surreal week of late-night installation and repeating elevator pitches over and over again to potential buyers, and fairgoers stumbling after walking and standing and looking at art for days, Sunday evening saw a surge of energy minutes before the final closing of Satellite. Starting from the third floor of the Parisian, a procession winded down the hall and stairwells with chants of “Mni Wiconi!”—Lakota for “water is life.” News of the Army Corps halting the Dakota Access Pipeline work at Standing Rock had hit the fair. A woman carried around an open laptop presenting live video from the Standing Rock celebration, while another marcher stopped at every level to read aloud a statement from the camp announcing the decision. The procession slowly moved outside the hotel as gallery-sitters emerged from their spaces, teary from hearing what felt like the first good news in ages.

Check back next week for more on City Paper's trip to Miami Art Week.

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