Visitors take in Art Basel Miami Beach’s public video program, projected in the courtyard of Frank Gehry’s New World Center / photo ABMB
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Feature

Canada in Miami: Not-So-Cold Comforts

Various venues, Miami Dec 1 to 4 2011

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POSTED: DECEMBER 8, 2011

What is there, really, left to say about this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach and its dozens of concurrent fairs and events? Given the ample ink and pixels already spilled—like ostentatious collector Charles Saatchi’s anti-ostentatious-collector diatribe in the Guardian, Blake Gopnik’s Monopoly-money fantasy spree in the Daily Beast, and Martin Marks’ satire of Miami’s over-the-top art-party scene in Vanity Fair—the answer might seem to be “very little.”

Yet there is still much to report about the Canadian presence at this year’s events.

Over the past 10 years of Art Basel Miami Beach, the north-of-the-49th contingent has grown to include public gallery directors, museum curators, private collectors, art dealers, nonprofit organizations, consultants, members of the media, and, last but not least, Canadian artists themselves. This report provides a glimpse at some of the Canadians participating in last week’s events.

THE MUSEUM DIRECTOR
For many observers, the moneyed extremes of Art Basel Miami Beach sharpen an ever-present art-world tension—that between art as commodity status symbol and art as illuminating educational experience—to a fine edge.

Art Gallery of Ontario director Matthew Teitelbaum mulled over these issues as part of a capacity crowd at “Public/Private: The Evolution of Museum Missions,” the December 2 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach’s daily pre-show Conversations series.

Institutional buzzwords like “artist activated” and “audience engaged” flowed frequently during the discussion, in which Studio Museum director Thelma Golden, Museo del Barrio executive director Margarita J. Aguilar, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago director Madeleine Grynsztejn and Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf exchanged views on audience development, free admission, web presence, collections management, donor pressures and limited finances.

As nearby crowds amassed at the entrance of North America’s largest commercial art fair, the directors were asked to make a case for the indispensability of museums. Grynsztejn, to audience applause, opined, “We create citizens, not consumers.”

“I think Art Basel [Miami Beach] is a great place to gather information and to test assumptions—assumptions about trends in the art world, specific artists, and the energy around the presentation of their work,” said Teitelbaum, in town for his eighth ABMB. “Being here puts you in touch with people who are fighting the same fight as you are.”

Though Teitelbaum wasn’t looking for the AGO to acquire any artworks at the fair—“for institutions, it’s a tough place to acquire because the decisions happen too quickly, and trends in the market place interfere with reflection”—he noted that he and AGO executive director of curatorial affairs Elizabeth Smith were advising some Toronto collectors on possible fair purchases.

THE BLUE-CHIP DEALER
The only Canadian dealer at “the big fair” (Art Basel Miami Beach) this year was Montreal’s Landau Fine Art, a blue-chip operation which specializes in historical and modern works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Le Corbusier, Joan Miro, Kees van Dongen and other 20th-century artists of similar stature.

Landau’s booth, anchored by a large Jean Dubuffet sculpture, L’heure de la hâte, was extremely visible at the fair, having a prominent location just inside the main entrance. During a Friday visit, a smaller bronze by Henry Moore (Reclining Figure – Pointed Head) and a large bronze by Lynn Chadwick (Sitting Couple on Bench) had already sold, among other works.

“For us, it’s been fabulous,” said Alice Landau, who owns and runs the 25-year-old gallery alongside her husband, Robert Landau. They’ve shown at ABMB for the past few years to connect with their largely international clientele. “We meet the top American buyers here, and people from South America. We have a lot of Swiss people come over, a lot of Europeans.”

THE COLLECTORS
Like their international colleagues, many top Canadian collectors were also in attendance at Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite fairs, like NADA and Art Miami.

In fact, several Canadian dealers at the satellite Miami fairs said that in Florida they’d connected with (and sometimes, sold to) Canadian collectors they’d never met before, whether in their own galleries back home or at Canadian art fairs.

Philanthropist Charles Baillie, who sat next to Teitelbaum in the “Public/Private” panel audience, was among the Toronto collectors at ABMB, as was David Mirvish, who purchased multiple works at the fair.

But where some of our collectors came for the sales, others came for the spectacle. Toronto’s Judy and Gerald Slan, who focus their collecting on contemporary Canadian art, said they were at ABMB to simply take it all in.

“Where else can you come to one place and see so many international exhibitors, such a wide range of artists?” said Gerald. Added Judy: “Berlin, South Africa, Los Angeles… all corners of the world are here.”

THE ARTIST-RUN CENTRE
Though there weren’t any Canadian contemporary-art dealers at ABMB this year, a small hub of contemporary Canadian artworks was present courtesy of Toronto artist-run centre Art Metropole, which since 2005 has shared a space in the fair’s bookstore section with New York City’s Printed Matter.

Artist multiples on display and for sale at the Art Metropole/Printed Matter booth included Maura Doyle’s Handmade Coins and Tickets molded out of clay; Lyla Rye’s metallic and mirror-like Cameo pin; Tibi Tibi Neuspiel’s Artist Sandwich sculptures showing the visages of Picasso, Beuys and Van Gogh sketched in what appear to be pieces of toast; the Fuck Death Foundation’s coffee mugs; Paige Gratland’s “feminist hair wear” The Sontag; and Sandy Plotnikoff’s Holidays Cancelled greeting cards.

This year, ABMB also served as the apropos launch platform for Art Metropole’s newest book, Commerce by Artists, which was edited by Toronto artist Luis Jacob.

“Commerce by Artists has done really well [at ABMB] for the fact that it’s so suited to this environment,” Art Metropole shop manager Miles Collyer said. “And it’s almost counter to commerce that’s going on at the fair, because a lot of the projects [in the book] are dealing with alternative forms of transactions between the audience and the artwork, or between the gallery and the artist.”

“It’s a nice kind of second sober look at commerce and what people may be coming here to participate in.”

THE ABMB ARTISTS AND ARTWORKS
Many works by contemporary Canadian artists were also on offer (or often, sold or on reserve) at the booths of American and European dealers at ABMB.

In the realm of Canadian artists new to the fair, young Calgary-raised artist Ryan Sluggett, who received his MFA from UCLA this year, had success with two large works sold by Richard Telles Fine Art, his Los Angeles dealer. The works, priced at $14,000 apiece, translate Sluggett’s previous successes in paper collage and painting into a sewn and dyed fabric medium.

“There’s a huge collector base in Los Angeles, and the response to his work is fantastic,” said Telles, noting that his gallery will open a solo show of Sluggett’s work in January.

Another ABMB debut belonged to an artist already quite well known at home and abroad: Edward Burtynsky.

Though Burtynsky’s dealers have shown his work at the other Miami events for several years, this was his first time having work at the central fair, where prints from his Oil and Dryland Farming series found successful sales.

“It’s good [to be in the show] because an incredible audience comes through here,” said Burtynsky at the booth of his New York dealer, Howard Greenberg Gallery—one, he said, of just three photo-exclusive galleries among the 200-plus showing at the fair.

“Artists hate talking about it, but it’s good to have a market that is broad,” Burtynsky said, as it permits one to continue with one’s work.

Canadian artist Scott Lyall, based in Toronto and New York, had a strong showing, with four large new untitled works premiering at the booth of his UK dealer, Campoli Presti. Gallery representative Cora Muennich said that Lyall’s current London show, up until December 17, had already sold out, and that three of their ABMB works were placed by the second day of the fair.

To create the new series, Muennich said, Lyall sent algorithms directly to a UV printer to be translated into 6 layers of colour ink on canvas. The results are subtle, minimal-seeming and spectral canvases mounted on thin, hand-painted wood bases. Two related works shown by New York dealer Miguel Abreu also sold.

New York’s Andrea Rosen Gallery was showing four new works by David Altmejd, two of which reflected a rawer exploration of inner and outer figuration than seen previously—these two figures were formed largely out of bent chicken wire and resin fruits. (By the second day of the fair, three of the four works had been sold.)

Galleria Franco Noero of Turin was displaying two new Canadian works they sold at the fair—Steven Shearer’s massive salon-style installation Bad Cast #1, which revived Shearer’s collection of Leif Garrett ephemera as large, brightly coloured screenprint-style images, and Andrew Dadson’s Black Restretched, in which countless layers of coloured and black oil paint were scraped over a linen support.

New York’s David Zwirner created a small room of Marcel Dzama works, highlighting five new small paintings dubbed Forgotten Terrorists and a new drawing, Weighed with Tiredness and Defeat, alongside a large diorama from 2008 and two smaller shadow boxes from around that same time period.

Winnipeg artist Karel Funk was represented by a new work, Untitled #52, at the booth of New York’s 303 Gallery; the painting continued his carefully rendered portrayals of coat-obscured figures. In the same booth, a characteristically humorous lightbox self-portrait by Rodney Graham, Basement Camera Shop c. 1937, recast the artist as yet another figure from a vaunted art-historical past.

My Decoy, a 2011 sculpture by Brian Jungen of elk hides stretched over two cone chairs, was showing at the booth of New York’s Casey Kaplan Gallery, as was Shadow and Grow, a tall, typically precarious figure by Geoffrey Farmer made out of wood, fabric, a cardboard box, a magazine cutout, LED lighting and a hat.

Vancouver artist Ken Lum was represented at the fair by a 2003 mirror work, Ohhh baby. You are looking good! which was popular with fair photo-takers at the booth of Paris’ Galerie Nelson-Freeman.

Toronto’s Evan Penny, whose survey “Re Figured” is touring Europe and is soon to open at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, continued to fascinate fair viewers with his hyperreal sculptural practice as exemplified in Young Self: Portrait of the Artist as he was (Not) Variation #2, a 2011 work on display at the booth of New York dealer Sperone Westwater.

Finally, works by internationally revered Vancouver artist Jeff Wall continued to flourish. Marian Goodman Gallery sold a 2009 photograph by Wall, Vancouver, 7 December 2009: Ivan Sayers, costume historian, lectures at the University Women’s Club. Virginia Newton-Moss wears a British ensemble c. 1910, while White Cube had his 2005 lightbox Hotels, Carrall St, Vancouver on prominent view and was also offering his 2008 work Intersection.

THE CONTEMPORARY-ART DEALERS
A few of Canada’s contemporary-art dealers did show at key Miami satellite fairs: NADA, Art Miami, Aqua and Scope.

At NADA, a hotel fair considered by some to be a stepping stone to ABMB, Vancouver’s Blanket Contemporary Art, Toronto’s Jessica Bradley Art + Projects and Toronto’s MKG127 all had booths.

“It’s PR,” said Natalia Tkachev of Blanket when asked why they do the fair. “We don’t really advertise, so we have to do something to show our face, to let people know what we do. And there’s a lot of Canadians here, so it’s killing two birds [with one stone], in a way.”

Tkachev said several paintings by 23-year-old Emily Carr University grad Brian Kokoska, who recently moved to New York, had sold in the first days of the fair: “It’s sort of a first entrée into the art market for him, so people are excited because it could be something important. And he will be, I trust that, that’s why I do this.” Blanket, which was also showing photographs by Canadian Jeremy Shaw and American Brett Lund, will do a solo show of Kokoska’s work in January.

Like some other Canadian galleries at the fairs, Blanket received support from the Canada Council’s Assistance To Professional Canadian Contemporary Art Dealers Pilot Program that helped fund its trip to NADA. The program “absolutely” enabled Blanket to attend the fair, Tkachev said. “It would be very, very hard” to do the fair without this funding, Tkachev added. “It would create significant strain on our functioning.”

MKG127 received a good deal of popular attention at NADA (as well as some from the press) for its prominent display of Black Klan, a Klansman sculpture by Canadian artist Dean Drever that was created out of thousands of stacked sheets of paper and was priced at $127,500.

Gallery owner Michael Klein, having his first booth in Miami, said sales by midday on Saturday included smoke drawings by Adam David Brown as well as the photo Last Billion Years to Eternity and the sculpture Test Pattern, both by Dave Dyment. The booth also featured watercolours by Bill Burns, paintings by Roula Parteniou, photos and the staple-portrait Che by An Te Liu, typewriter drawings by Ken Nicol, and more. Klein said his inaugural experience was positive and he would return if given the chance.

Jessica Bradley Art + Projects was exhibiting for her second year at NADA, with plans already to return. (“The main place people look at art now is art fairs,” she explained.)

Bradley’s booth featured many new works: a sculpture by Zin Taylor, 20 Thoughts about a Knife manifested into a form; a collage/painting by Sarah Cale, Portrait #4 (Bridget); an altered print by Paul Butler, Introspection; and a woven-paper by piece by Luanne Martineau, The Rider. Also showing were a Kristan Horton Orbit print, Shary Boyle’s ceramic sculpture Triumph of the Will, Hadley + Maxwell’s collage Idiot Cover 1 and some Derek Sullivan drawings.

Art Miami, the city’s longest-running contemporary art fair (predating ABMB), was held in a 125,000-square-foot tent in the Wynwood art and design district. It featured more than 100 exhibitors, among them Vancouver’s Jennifer Kostuik Gallery, Toronto’s Nicholas Metivier Gallery and Toronto’s Lausberg Contemporary—the latter of which, in a strategy unique to Canadian galleries, retains a year-round employee in Miami.

“We’ve been coming to Art Miami since 2006,” said Jennifer Kostuik. “There’s two reasons: one, the international clientele, and two, the fair is really well run.”

At Art Miami, Kostuik sold Vancouver designer/sculptor Brett Comber’s Shattered Sphere—crafted from multiple pieces of red cedar—for a reported amount of $12,000. Prints by Vancouver photographer David Burdeny were selling well also, and there was interest in Calgary artist Curtis Cutshaw’s digital prints based on evocative drawings made with dowsing rods.

Lausberg Contemporary, which opened in Toronto in 2006, is already an international enterprise, having spun off of Galerie Bernd A. Lausberg, which opened in Dusseldorf in 2002. But Miami is an important site for the gallery too, said Toronto director Brian Torner, as “the aesthetic we have and the realms of art we deal in have many of its greatest pioneers and producers in Central and South America.” The gallery also seeks out year-round Florida opportunities for its artists: both Lluis Barba and Herbert Mehler are having shows there this winter.

Toronto’s Nicholas Metivier Gallery was hard to miss at Art Miami, having been provided with a large, prominent booth at the north entrance of the fair. It has been showing at Miami fairs for seven years and at Art Miami for four.

By Day 2 of the fair, Metivier had reportedly sold five Edward Burtynsky prints, including a sale of Dryland Farming #13 for $40,000. Gallery representative Rita Stuart said that many American viewers responded well to Burtynsky’s Breezewood, Pennsylvania, a scene of a busy US highway rest-stop from the Oil series.

Also showing at Metivier’s booth was a new work by Michael Awad, Laneway Graffiti, Toronto; The Length of Days, a 24-hour film by France-based American artist Jeffrey Blondes which also had two editions sold by the final day of the fair; two paintings by Stephen Appleby-Barr; and a drawing by John Scott, among other works.

At Aqua, an intimate and relatively relaxed small-hotel fair, three Canadian dealers were exhibiting: Pierre Francois-Ouellette art contemporain and Galerie SAS, both of Montreal, and Narwhal of Toronto.

Galerie SAS owner Frédéric Loury, who was showing in Miami for the first time and decided to try Aqua at the suggestion of Pierre-Francois Ouellette, was enthusiastic about the fair.

“In Toronto it could take an hour to sell a piece,” said Loury, “Here is it five to ten minutes. After 24 hours, we’d paid all the fees.”

Loury was showing photos and text from Montreal artist Jean-Francois Bouchard’s intensively researched series on life-sized sex dolls and their owners—risqué fare that, in Canada, “people would be interested in but never buy,” Loury said. By the Saturday afternoon of Aqua, Loury had sold four Bouchard prints. He was also enjoying interest and sales of ceramic works by Laurent Craste and multi-media works by Patrick Bérubé.

Pierre-Francois Ouellette, for his part, decorated his gallery’s hotel-room-cum-booth in leopard print to match the set for Safari, a collaboration between Oscar-winning director Denys Arcand and Montreal artist Adad Hannah that was the focus of Ouellette’s Miami presentation.

Starring employees from the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the occasionally stilled nightclub-set scenes of Safari allude to the emergence of AIDS and the proliferation of cocaine addiction in the 1980s.

For Narwhal’s Aqua presentation, director Kirstin Weckworth, who attended Aqua in a different venue two years ago, decided to play on the nostalgic feel of the hotel with a group show, Memento Cabana. The exhibit included ceramics by Julie Moon, a painting by Lauchie Reid, a sculpture by Tibi Tibi Neuspiel, paintings by Carly Waito, and wooden sculptures by Noel Middleton, who was also helping to staff the booth.

“Part of the reason we’re doing this is none of these artists is known outside of Toronto yet,” said Weckworth.

Narwhal was actually doing double duty in Miami by staffing another booth at Scope. There, Narwhal was having success with assemblage works by Toronto artist Jacob Whibley. Based in the palettes and print ephemera of the 1920s, Whibley’s sculptures evoke the graphic novels of Chris Ware, among other influences. Six out of 9 had sold by the last day of the fair. Prints by Toronto artist Alex McLeod and more Middleton works were also showing at the booth.

Now in its 11th year, Scope was housed in a large tent shared with the Art Asia fair. It featured two other dealers from Toronto: Cooper Cole and Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects.

Scope also marked the art-fair debut of Cooper Cole Gallery, the recent reinvention of Toronto’s Show & Tell. Owner Simon Cole said the stamina required for the Scope fair, which opens on Tuesday and runs until Sunday, was indeed a bit of a grind—“kind of like having a six-day opening.” (Most of the fairs open Wednesday or Thursday.) But Cole was happy about his sales, like the Crystal Bridges Museum’s purchase of a sculpture by American artist Jen Stark and a Japanese collector’s acquisition of a work by Toronto’s Jesse B. Harris.

“Because we don’t have experience, it’s hard to gauge what will work in this environment,” said Cole. As a result, he also brought in works by American artists Ryan Wallace, Maya Hayuk, Cleon Peterson and Steve Powers.

Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects focused exclusively on American artists at Scope, partnering on a booth with Brooklyn gallery Creative Thriftshop that featured works by David Kramer and Eric Doeringer. A particular highlight given the fair context was excerpts from Doeringer’s Bootleg Series, which reproduces iconic works of art by Basquiat, Hirst, Prince, Haring and other well-known artists at a small scale.

ARTISTS AND ARTWORKS ELSEWHERE
Canadian representation at Miami’s satellite fairs wasn’t just the domain of dealers, but of innovative self-directed artist enterprises as well.

Blunt, a Toronto artist collective consisting of Ross Bonfanti, Gillian Iles, David Joron, Matthew Schofield and Natalie Waldburger, did solid business in its booth/room at Aqua, with all members selling works by the third day of the fair. (Bonfanti’s concrete iterations of plush toys were particularly popular, nearly selling out an inventory of 20.)

“Sales are good here,” said Schofield, a finalist for the 2011 BP Portrait Award. He and the other members have shown and sold their works at a variety of fairs, including NEXT in Chicago, the Affordable Art Fair in New York and the Artist Project in Toronto, as well as the 2010 edition of Aqua.

Meanwhile, Night Gallery, a Los Angeles platform co-founded by Montreal-born, Toronto-trained artist Davida Nemeroff, was running both a tiny booth and an (unofficial) hotel-room installation at NADA.

Night Gallery’s space in Los Angeles is only open nocturnally, from 10pm to 2am; as Nemeroff says, “we wanted to transfer the ethos of the gallery to Miami. And since we’ve never been here before, we were sort of wondering how to negotiate that.” The solution: lots of black-velvet draping and tempered lighting throughout the hotel-room installation, which included a painting by Toronto’s Jay Isaac, a sculpture by Montreal’s David Armstrong Six, and video documentation of a performance by Toronto’s Steve Kado. These and other works were rotated throughout the fair down to the gallery’s microbooth on the show floor, which was painted a bold sky blue.

The satellite fairs also boasted an assortment of works by Canadians at the booths of American dealers.

At NADA, the booth for San Francisco’s Silverman Gallery fielded frequent inquiries regarding a series of textile-based works by Toronto artist Hugh Scott-Douglas; these were purchased early on in the show. Nicelle Beauchene Gallery of New York sold several new paintings by Toronto-trained, Manhattan-based artist Kristine Moran. On the multiples front, Los Angeles emporium Ooga Booga sold many pieces of crocheted metal jewellery by Vogue-featured Montreal-based artist Arielle De Pinto, as well as zines by Toronto’s Jesjit Gill.

At Art Miami, New York’s Mike Weiss Gallery reported that it sold 12 Kim Dorland paintings ranging from $4,000 to $15,000 in price, as well as a painting by Montreal artist Marc Séguin. Both the Dorlands and the Séguins were prominently displayed in Weiss’s large booth.

Over at Aqua, San Francisco’s Eleanor Harwood Gallery featured a new Tapestry series work by Toronto’s Niall McClelland and Fouladi Projects, also of San Francisco, showed paintings and excerpts from a new print/drawing series by Vancouver’s Graham Gillmore. Boltax Gallery of Shelter Island also highlighted new paintings by John Abrams that continue his practice of re-presenting cinema stills.

At Scope, the new Aperture monograph for Toronto-trained, New York-based artist Penelope Umbrico was celebrated at the photo foundation’s booth, with her prints on display and a public conversation December 3. Montreal drawing collective En Masse presented a public-spaces wall works installation in partnership with Galerie Pangée. And Edmonton-born photographer Scott Conarroe showed prints at the booth for Light Work, an artist-run, non-profit photography and digital media centre from Syracuse.

Unfortunately, some Canadian artists also had a tough time in Miami this year. On December 2 (the night it was to open) the Pool Art Fair, which features on independent artists, was shut down by Miami Police. Police said the hotel in which the fair was to take place, Sadigo Court, did not have a license, and that Pool, on top of that, did not have a special events license.

Canadian artists affected by this upset—and who each paid upwards of $2,000 for a Pool booth—include Anne-Marie Cosgrove, Ben Woolfitt, Robert Bigelow, Richard Fogarty and Sandy van Iderstine. Though the fair’s artists were eventually invited to relocate to a condo on the 45th floor of a downtown Miami tower, several of them simply relocated on their own to other fairs or left, with the Pool fees not recovered or refunded at press time.

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