Jorge Mayet Lecho de mis raíces, 2009 / Papier-mâché, textile, iron structure and acrylic / 170 x 60 x 60 cm
Robert RauschenbergParagraph III, 1996 / Lápiz, acuarela, collage y libreta de apuntes Watercolor, collage / 38,9 x 50,9 cm
Fernando BoteroCircus act, 2008 / Óleo sobre lienzo / Oil on canvas / 127 x 99 cm

What do art fairs exhibit? The leftovers of works by historical avant-guard “sacred cows” that did not make it to museums, big companies and auction houses; the exponent “substitutes” of emerging trends promoted by marketing mechanisms attached to the galleries… Into that competitive chaos, the few art icons hiding in the peripheries managed to “sneak”; but just as cosmopolitan biennials do, fairs can’t help continuing growing, as neither they can erase the intercultural connotation of those events.

“Lucky he who far from business” (Horace: Beatus ille procui negotiis): that would be the phrase coming to our heads as we think of a blurred panorama of warehouses, malls, banks and all sorts of offices that distinguish this sea city baptized –perhaps ironically– by former-Origenes poet Lorenzo Garcia Vega as the “albino beach” and turned today –so it stops being just the gate to the “American dream” for the Latin exodus, or the sunny dream for the northern tourism–, into a strong marketplace for international art. But let’s not rush into judging –because of the wide-range of art fairs and highly frequent conventions it hosts and because of the successful chain of galleries established in the major districts of the area–, the Miami-Dade County as the speculating platform of one more marketing means with an exclusively pecuniary goal. None of the cosmopolitan art centers base the economic policies of its fairs, auctions and galleries in the flimsy simplicity of the law of supply, strictly speaking in marketing terms: the artistic product is still part of the aesthetic culture’s sanctuary and it must be treated under the shield of its public role as such: a cultural fact.

Art Basel / Miami Beach –an eco and extension of Die Internationale Kunstmesse Basel, Switzerland, promoted as Art Basel–, overcomes from the very moment of its extremely complex organization any type of mercantilist suspicion to become quite a social and artistic event around which several others take place. In December, taking advantage of the contagious and consumerist Christmas atmosphere, South Florida turns into a plastic art’s bazaar.

Hosted by the spacious Convention Center, Art Basel / Miami Beach brings together for this 2009 end-of-the-year edition, 225 local exhibitors, among them capital galleries, small firms and independent studios. It includes a section targeting four art institutions–Art Loos Register, Foundation Beyeler, LAXART and Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND)–, and another one for specialized magazines (27) plus distributor Art Magazines Joint Booth representing 56 publications of the genre. Four theme divisions lead the exhibiting project: Art Galleries, Art Nova (new galleries, artists and emerging trends), Art Positions (specific proposals by individual artists or groups) and Art Kabinett (historical or theoretical manifestations), whose propositions bring in a considerable number of activists and presentations inside and outside of the exhibition center, in near-by or distant locations.

One of them is the “emplacement” in Oceanfront –a space devoted to other activities: Art Conversations, Art Film, Art video, Art Perform–, by the hand of Cuban artist Jorge Mayet (with the Horrach Moya Gallery of Palma de Majorca). It consists of a hut-like rustic house set up on the sea waters standing against an ocean-horizon scene. The image of the work entitled Desire was chosen as the cover picture of the catalogue and magazine edited by Art Basel, so as to show the emblematic character granted to the facility. Why? This call by the fair’s leadership provides the work with more than one reading: the house as a ship to be hove to, incapable of traveling away? The house as a still and deserted isle overwhelmed by a longing desire to set sail towards an invisible point out at sea? The topic of immigration has been frequently addressed in the Cuban plastic arts (Kcho, Pedro Pablo Oliva…) while foreign eyes have been set on this temporary discourse of local and overseas artists…

Even though Art Basel’s executive board is supposed to observe an equitable assessment policy towards the exhibitors, certain highlights are envisioned out of implicit will, perhaps as a consequence of polls led prior to the exhibition and the selective eye of the concomitant critic. This is made evident in the magazine’s review where artists and their works, creative spaces and even dealers, curators and collectors are overrated. Likewise, marked emphasis is made on this year’s unprecedented presence of Scandinavia, Russia, India and Middle East as partial participants. Among highlighted artists is Argentinean painter Guillermo Kuitca –represented in the event by New York’s Sperone Westwater Gallery. Kuitca took part in the 9th Havana Art Biennial in 2006 (Urban Culture Dynamics), his graphic collection Orden Global, whose “pictorial treatment I would say is […] as I can’t find a better term, unfinished. The artwork has been abandoned.” Worried about the issue of human spaces –maps, cryptic environments, scenarios–, Kuitca’s work, closely connected to the theater, is apparently subjected to the need to suggest, state, hence its hallmark of unfinished, barely sketched work. It can be noticed on his retrospective exhibition at the Miami Art Museum.

In the Art Kabinett area, teeming with projects (27), the Continua Gallery’s stand catches the eye as it houses the “Jewels of the Crown” installation by Carlos Garaicoa (Havana, 1967), which is included on its personal exposition entitled “The amendment within me” which was presented at the Fine Arts National Museum (Cuban Collection) during the 10th Havana Art Biennial (Integration and Resistance in the global era), from March thru April, 2009. The work consists of a critical approach to intelligence and counterintelligence systems at world level.

Other interesting proposals are one on experimental photography by Brazilian Geraldo de Barros (1923-1998) and Waldemar Cordeiro (1925-1973), reevaluated by the “Luciana Brito” Gallery; “Aspects of Pop-Art” –with Tom Wesselmann, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol–, by the Gmurzynska Gallery; early works by George Grosz (1893-1959), made during the Weimar’s Republic as a member of Berlin’s Dada group; that of the surrealist stage of painter Gunter Gerzso (Mexico, 1915-2000), presented by Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art; that of the “chess” stage of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), explored by Francis M. Naumann Fine Art (New York), and others presented by so many other galleries, among which Art Kabinett Kicken Berlin is a must with its exposition of Bauhaus’ unpublished documents and of master pieces by Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) and Walter Peterhans (1897-1960); also worth mentioning - because of its singular meaning- is the screening of 500 images of the first 100,000 Iraqi civilian victims of the American military occupation starting on March 2003, a video material on account of Vera Lutter. The film was partly done with information provided by the Iraq Body Count Project. It was presented by Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art of New York (No comment).

The explosion of parallel activities aroused by Art Basel / M.B. can be seen in the large number of collateral fairs carried out and the amount of gallery chains activated in and during the five-day event: Art Asia / Miami International Asian Contemporary Art; Art Miami; Aqua Art Faire; Focal Art Faire; Fountain Miami; INK Miami Faire; NADA Art Faire; NOBE 67 Faire; photo Miami; Pool Art Faire; Pulse Contemporary Art Faire; Red Dot Faire; Scope Miami Art Show; Verge Art Faire… all recognized by Art Basel, plus Design Miami (Design District); FO.CI. Art Miami; Graffiti Gone Global; Littlest Sister 09; Sculpt Miami; Zones Art Faire (Winwood), as alternative spaces or even on the web: Amaryllis Feria Fine Arts / Specializing on Latin American Art, or… And among those targeting workshop communities or exhibition spaces for groups of artists: The Americas Collection; bac 23 (Bakehouse Art Complex); Art Center of South Florida…

Guided visits to private collections add up to the labyrinthine fiesta of the visual arts: Rubell Family Collection; The Margulies Collection at the warehouse (Miró, Noguchi, maestros of surrealist sculpture, George Segal, Hill Viola); Carlos de la Cruz Collection… While some museums give up their transitory halls to favor art proliferation: Bass Museum of Art; Boca Raton Museum of Art (Enrique Martínez Celaya collection); Miami Art Museum (with Kuitca); Museum of Contemporary Art / MoCA; Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale (with Norman Rocwell); Naples Museum of Art (Latin American painting); Northern Museum of Art (with William Kentridge: “Five Topics”)…

Together with Florida’s areas where museums, galleries and warehouses for works of arts converge–South Beach, Midtown, Winwood Art District, Design District, South Florida–, I cant avoid mentioning the so-called Little Havana (as written in the city maps) area and its “famous” calle 8 street, along which mostly Cuban artists (dead or alive, living in the area or not) merge, so is the case of Leal’s Gallery representing Marcelino Vizcaino, Nelson Dominguez, Hector Cata, Vicente Rodriguez Bonachea, Abel Quintero, Aisar Jalil Martinez, Andres Retamero, Pedro Avila Gendis, Kamyl Bullaudy and Zenen Vizcaino. It is worth bringing out as a significant piece of information the collective exposition on display from November 30, 2009 thru January 30, 2010 at the Cremata Gallery, consecrated to the memory of painter Jesse Rios, entitled Abstractomicina –abstract act as antidote against the eccentric and mercantilist figurative pseudo-art that exploits the immigrant’s nostalgia. The exhibit consisted on works by 82 (!) Cuban painters and sculptors as a result of the thorough efforts of its curator, artist and activist Aldo Menendez, who managed to overcome through the exposition the frontier’s Manichaean reductionism built by the broad concept of both sides of the Stretch, which is condemned by the action of culture to disappear in the future.*

Because culture –and within it plastic arts– eventually recovers from the global contingences of the market. Chief Editor of Art Basel / Miami Beach, Sara Harrelson’s statement: “this year is a great time to buy,” seems to float around an expectation whose optimist call seeks to hide the fear of recurrent bankruptcies in the art marketplace. Meanwhile, we can conclude –paraphrasing poet Horace–: “luckier is art when far from business.”

March 4, 2010