As I was walking through Art Basel Miami, at least for a moment, I felt “normal” until I remembered that we are still dealing with a global pandemic. Masks, social-distance protocols, wristbands, among other things often reminded me that this is as close to normal as it gets at this time. Nevertheless, the return of Art Basel Week 2021 was received with enthusiasm among galleries, curators, collectors, and all of us who make our annual visit to sunny Miami a must. I have been attending this event for many years as an exhibiting artist, exhibitor gallery, or like this time, just a happy visitor. I wanted to witness first-hand the return of Art Basel Miami Week after a year of absence.
Art Basel reported an overall attendance of 60,000 people this year. It is still a little shy of the 81,000 attendees registered in 2019. “We’re back” was the theme of the day, every day, everywhere. Not only the fairs were back but also big art, figurative art, street art, and yes NFT’s were making their way into the whole Miami art week ecosystem.
As the pack leader, Art Basel brought in a significant amount of interesting and great art in my opinion. Nothing was extremely controversial or utterly shocking. Remember that banana in 2019? Not this year. Nothing like that at all. As a painter myself, I was pleasantly surprised to see several large-scale paintings. Perhaps, a reminder that not everyone is experiencing the pandemic the same way. For many of the ultra-rich people coming to Art Basel, large-scale works were still within their budget, I suppose.
Go Big or Go Home
Just entering the show, we were welcomed by a huge Keith Haring painting grabbing our attention with its typical black line strokes over a bright yellow background. Not too far on the other side, a large Damien Hirst‘s yellow circle from his butterfly series stood still like a bulls-eye target waiting for us to see it.
As I walked further, a colorful, abstract 10 x 15 feet painting by Marilyn Minter titled Public Eye made me stop in my tracks. It was nicely fitted into Regen Projects Gallery’s mid-size booth. The booth size maximized the painting’s monumentality and power. Normally, I like to view a large painting from a distance but this layout gave me no other option but to be one-on-one with its surface which I enjoyed.
Basel was not the only home of large-scale work. At the smaller satellite fairs surrounding it, one could see an effort to make scale a center of attention. At Scope Miami Art Fair, Lucio Carvalho featured a gargantuan painting of his version of the Last Supper measuring a whopping 26 feet wide. He is known for his hybrid of Baroque, and Roccoco with a futuristic illusionary flair. At first, I thought it may have been done on panels. At proximity, I found out it was a single huge piece of canvas.
In Art Miami, you could not miss Bartoux Galeries with larger-than-life paintings by Gabriel Moreno. His Renaissance-like compositions often depicting the female nude adorned with many tattoos, and surrounded by pop culture references, attracted the attention of visitors and collectors alike. All of Gabriel’s paintings sold out from what I could tell.
Galleria Arte Martinelli delighted us with a playful 120 x 162 inch “City of the Future” painting by Kenny Scharf at Art Miami/Context. This painting reminiscent of the Jetsons animations gave a lightness to the otherwise doomed and gloomed outlook for humanity’s future we often hear in the news. Considering what we’ve been going through in the past two years, who wouldn’t appreciate a good playful vision of the future.
Massiveness was not the only element at play. I typically find pleasure and delight in going to art fairs and finding small gems quietly hidden from the attention-grabbing device that scale, shine, sparkles, and glitter tend to offer. Sometimes these small works are behind a wall, on the side of the booth, or simply in front of you but often unnoticed. My favorite small gem this week was a set of three small 11×15 inch paintings by Gerhard Richter. These three little works gave me as much pleasure to view at proximity as any of the other larger works. That was a fun find! They may have been small in size but certainly not in beauty or price for that matter.
Figurative Art Takeover
I was pleasantly surprised to see an increased number of figurative artworks in most of the Miami fairs compared to past years. I can say, figurative art made a significant comeback in 2021. It is back and in big numbers. This was quite pronounced in the satellite fairs. In Art Miami/Context, the paintings which were priced at around $18,000 by David Uessem (Art Angels Gallery) seemed to have been received well and were selling out fast. David’s hyperrealist portraits are concealed with shiny foils and sequins that shimmer over the head hiding the person’s true identity.
At Untitled Art Miami Beach, Steven Zevitas Gallery presented a strong collection of figurative works by Keith Jackson, Anastasiya Tarasenko, and Papay Solomon. The latter, who was present at the fair, featured two gorgeous large hyperrealist paintings inspired by his experience growing up in a refugee camp. Papay’s paintings amplify stories and experiences of the African diaspora.
Another sold-out booth of figurative works was the booth by Tokyo International Gallery at Scope featuring large portrait paintings by Kotao Tomozawa. Her portraits combine slime-like materials and organic motifs.
Other figurative works getting attention were not exactly realist paintings but rather illusionary, and in some cases, right on the edge of abstraction.
For example, at Art Miami/Context, portrait paintings by Moreno Bondi, Justin Bower, and Roberta Coni, to name just a few, were under this category. A 98 x 77 inch abstract work by Yulia Bas (Galerie LeRoyer) titled “Ow Hello Body!” stood out at Art Miami/Context for its commanding presence. Yulia’s paintings reflect transformation, and the strange beauty found in imperfection.
Street Art Inside Out
Street art and pop art also made a strong appearance during Art Basel Week. Booths at Art Miami/Context with works by Risk and Kai were quickly getting multiple red dots and works were flying off the walls. Just an indication of how popular these artists’ brands have become in recent years. Alexi Torres’ (Contessa Gallery) 96 x 192 inch monumental painting “Super Dream” featuring a plethora of superhero characters reminded us of the impact pop culture has made on us and one’s aspirations to be a “superhuman” at some level.
At Scope, artist NYCHOS attracted a lot of attention particularly from the younger audiences for his paintings dissecting our favorite TV and movie characters such as The Simpsons and Starts Wars. I have to admit, I sent a picture of dissected Grogu (Baby Yoda) to my son back in Chicago who loves Star Wars films. He replied “Awesome!” The painting had sold for $19,000.
Diversifying the Art Basel Miami Week Experience
It was clear in most of the fairs that a larger number of artists representing minority groups had a bigger footprint in 2021. It was time that a wider and more diverse representation would take place in Art Basel Miami Week. In addition to the culturally diverse artists already mentioned in this article, one of the rising stars at Art Basel was Jammie Holmes whose painting Illusions and Meanings hanging at Marianne Boesky Gallery brought quite a bit of attention. This painting, adorned with a wooden sculptural structure on top, depicts the artist himself floating in a saint-like manner above a fence while another larger figure lights up a cigarette. What is significant about Jammie is that he is a self-taught painter from a small rural town in Louisiana. In his mid 30’s, he visited an art museum for the very first time. Now at 37, he is getting a lot of attention and significant sales. His work tells the story of contemporary life for many black families in the Deep South.
At Untitled Art Fair, Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery which returned for a second year, presented works by Martine Feipel & Jean Bechameil, Noel W Anderson, Yashua Klos, and others. The gallery focuses on emerging African-American artists. Overall, seeing more diversity this week was an added benefit to navigating the fairs.
Non Fungible Tokens Enter the Art World’s Red Carpet
Did someone say, “what about NFTs”? Yes! They were here indeed! Although I thought there was going to be a much bigger presence within the many fairs, it was a great start nevertheless. Regardless of what you think of NFTs, they are here to stay. Just ask any artist involved in the minting of their digital creations and their eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. It is a good thing. Most people who now think NFTs are just a fad, are probably the same ones who thought selling art online was impossible. Who would want to buy art online without actually seeing it? I remember that old argument. Now, nobody questions online art sales. I know, it is not the same thing but new developments, when not easily understood, take time to swallow.
A collection of NFTs from energy-efficient blockchain technology was featured at Art Basel. The exhibit by Tezos was called “Humans + Machines: NFTs and the Ever-Evolving World of Art.” Tezos provides a platform where NFTs can be minted in an environmentally-sustainable way.
At Scope, Superchief Gallery NFT which is recognized for being the world’s first physical gallery space dedicated exclusively to NFTs, made a strong presence by providing daily exhibitions and programming. They devoted time to educating the public and answered questions about this new technology.
Another interesting project at Scope was Hashmasks. Hashmasks is a living digital art collectible created by over 70 artists globally. It is a collection of 16,384 unique digital portraits. By holding the artwork, you accumulate the NCT token on a daily basis, which allows you to choose a name for your portrait on the Ethereum blockchain. It is one of the largest collaborative NFT art projects to date.
At Kahn Gallery in Scope, artist Laurence de Valmy presented her new body of work titled TikTok Timeless. In this series, Laurence composed videos created on TikTok through accounts in the name of famous artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat @jmbasquiatofficial or Frida Kahlo @fridakahloofficial. Each video presents in less than 30 seconds a moment in time in the life of these artists. The digital artworks were available as NFTs using the new platform Voice which makes NFTs accessible to artists and is more environmentally friendly than other NFT platforms.
Besides great samples of NFT art within the art fairs, other off-site events ran concurrently demonstrating how NFTs are evolving with the times. Like any other technology, it is a matter of time before it is widely understood by the general public. On a personal note, it was great to see new NFT platforms which are environmentally friendly since this has been one of the biggest criticisms of blockchain platforms. Ironically, no-one seem to question the environmental impact of cell phone usage which is a conversation worth discussing at another time.
Back to the Future
In retrospect, it was a great experience to return to Art Basel Miami Week. As I’m writing this article on my flight back to Chicago, I cannot help but to wish I had more time to see more. Unfortunately, I did not get to see all the fairs and all the exhibitions. It is almost impossible to do so. If you have never attended Art Basel Week, I recommend you take the trip. I am sure you will meet new people, find art you love, art you hate, and new developments like NFT’s that perhaps you want to learn more about.
Check out more art fair pictures in my photo gallery at the end of this article.
If you want to read why I love coming to Art Basel Miami, check out my article from 2015 “From the Streets to the Belly of the Beast. A Journey Through Art Basel Miami Week.” To read about some of the top works that sold at the highest prices, read “15 Works That Sold at This Year’s Art Basel Miami Beach” by Art News.
If you enjoyed reading this article, consider following me on Instagram at @sergiogomezart. Discover my Chicago gallery 33 Contemporary Gallery on Artsy. If you are an artist in need of guidance as you navigate the complex art world, consider joining my community the Art NXT Level Academy. Want to see my art? Click on www.sergiogomezonline.com. Visit my online curatorial space at www.sergiogomezcurates.net. One last thing, if you love podcasts, subscribe to The Artist Next Level Podcast. Enough said. Have a next-level kind of day.
Artist, curator, entrepreneur