Basel is Back

Norman Lewis (1909-1979) Pink Boogie, c.1975 oil on canvas 49 1/2” x 67 1/4”, signed Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

Showcasing a younger generation of galleries and thriving art scenes across the Americas, in its 15th year, the international fair Art Basel Miami Beach will highlight new galleries and show how Miami has evolved into a true art destination.

By Linda Marx

Art depicting life plays a more important role than ever: The pulse of jazz can be felt through a great deal of modern music; information technology and travel are as ubiquitous as our smartphone cases; color and ideograms (emojis) transform our daily forays onto social media; and feminist concerns are on the front pages of our newspapers and the subject of blogs.

For this year’s Art Basel in Miami Beach, contemporary art and sculpture, some presented in creative new forms, will illustrate these passions in bigger and better ways. Celebrating its 15th year in Miami Beach, the international art fair offers 269 leading galleries from 29 countries, with half of the exhibits having spaces in the Americas.

There are also 21 new galleries showing a variety of works. “We have some very exciting galleries participating in the Miami Beach show for the first time,” says Noah Horowitz, Director of Art Basel for the Americas and an accomplished art historian and expert on the global international art market.

Some international examples include Gaga Fine Arts in Mexico, Leo Xu Projects in China, Galerie Greta Meert in Belgium, and Galleria d’Arte Maggiore G.A.M in Italy. New American galleries are Di Donna and Callicoon in New York and Marc Selwyn Fine Art and Various Small Fires in Los Angeles.

Running from December 1 through 4, Art Basel Miami Beach will also reflect on the city’s steady evolution as an art destination and the growth of art across the Americas. There are 35 galleries in Nova, which is dedicated to younger galleries showing new work by one to three artists; 16 exhibitors in Positions, a sector for solo presentations with a specific project; 14 participants in Survey, the area of curated presentations of historical works prior to 2000; and 11 exhibitors in Edition, targeting works in multiple.


“I personally enjoy getting to know new artists presented in Nova and Positions,” says Horowitz. “Rita Ponce de Leon and Ishmael Randall Weeks at Ignacio Liprandi and Max Hooper Schneider with High Art come to mind in particular.”

Obviously, Art Basel, which covers a great deal of territory in Miami Beach and around the city of Miami, offers more than any one viewer can see. Plus, there are adjunct art fairs, design shows, lectures, panels, gallery and museum exhibitions, fashion events, product introductions, parties, book signings and other glamorous gatherings.

But for collectors and true art connoisseurs who meet in Miami to eat, drink and scrutinize the art, the caliber of work this year is exceptional and educational.

For example, the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York is celebrating jazz, improvisation and its impact on 20th century American art by bringing works from the late Norman Lewis (1909-1979), an African-American abstract impressionist and politically conscious activist born in Harlem, and Jan Matulka (1890-1972), a Czech-American modern artist from Bohemia.

The impact of jazz on American art and its culture is widespread and illustrated well in the fair by these two artists. Lewis’ Pink Boogie (oil on canvas) painting has vibrant color and resembles a wild dance party for jazz enthusiasts who enjoy a celebration. Matulka’s representational Musical Instruments (oil and sand on canvas) makes the viewer feel happy, jazzy and ready to groove after studying the various instruments which could be sitting in the corner of a hipster jazz club.

In other artist exhibitions, versatile abstractionist Frank Bowling (born in 1936 in Guyana) was inspired and influenced by the world of abstract expressionism and the New York School painters. Raised in London, he moved to New York in 1966 for his inspiration.

Bowling later became interested in the cartographic and began work on his praised maps paintings—large scale canvases of which he painted the outlines of continents and countries, often stenciling images on the maps with personal significance. Then he would paint over the forms with color. His South America (acrylic on canvas) painting is a remembrance of those travels in the early 1960s.

Artist Mika Tajima, born in Los Angeles, and now a resident of New York, presents new large scale work this year from his Negative Entropy series, including Abmb (cotton, wood and acoustic baffling felt). 

Günther Förg Untitled, 2007 Acrylic and oil on canvas 69 x 84.5 inches (175 x 215 cm)

According to the artist’s information, with the gradient abstract patterns derived from audio recordings of computer data centers or factories that employ industrial textile Jacquard looms, Tajima’s art visualizes the sound of data centers and production sites, and more recently, individual workers.

After Tajima renders the data as an image (soundwave), the textile design is woven on a Jacquard loom, an automated process with technology that informed early computers, highlighting the shift from a production-based economy to one predicated on information. Tajima then mounts the fabric on sound deafening panels which further emphasizes the impending silence. This symbolizes the future mechanization or even obsolescence of certain industries.

More visual excitement is found this year with the late Moira Dryer’s works. An artist born in Toronto and later moved to New York, Dryer greatly influenced other painters. She created works that were visually alive with a constantly changing identity.

The Debutante (1987 case in, lacquer on rubber and wood) has the feeling of being present. Using dots and vibrant color, she created a work that the viewer will not tire of studying, especially with its creatively constructed shape. Dryer once said she wanted her art to be “constantly transmuting into a new identity.”

In other entries, German born painter, graphic designer, sculptor and photographer Gunther Forg (1952-2013) painted the Untitled, 2007 (acrylic oil on canvas) presented by Galerie Lelong of Paris and New York. Both an artist and intellectual, Forg’s abstract style was influenced by American abstract painting. His geometric, heavily-dyed pictures are long on decoration.

The New York Times once described his large scale paintings as “obliquely grandiose,” art not simply as art but as commentary. Some of his abstract work has been compared to acclaimed artists like Cy Twombly and Ellsworth Kelly.

Another work being shown this year leaves a great deal to the imagination of the viewer. Resembling a vignette of vases or dancing legs, Yunhee Min’s Movements (arabesque 2”), acrylic on linen, is colorful, energetic and charmed. Min, born in Seoul, Korea, educated at Harvard University, and now living and working in Los Angeles, explores the myriad of possibilities in abstraction.

Her sophisticated use of color—brilliant red, neon green, royal blue, subtle pink and sunny yellow—creates a sense of depth and complexity on the canvas. The viewer can gaze at the canvas and imagine anything from drum majors marching, preppy golf bags, or oversized piano keys painted for delight.

Joan Mitchell’s Tondo, 1991 (oil on canvas), illustrates this artist’s genius in abstract impressionism. The Chicago born painter divided her time between homes in New York and the Paris countryside where she died in 1992. Mitchell, the daughter of a doctor and a poet, was part of the second generation of American abstract impressionists although she spent a great deal of time in France.

Critics noted that her total absorption of the lessons of Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh led to a mastery of color inseparable from the movement of light and paint. Art curator Klaus Kertess said that “her ability to reflect the flow of consciousness in that of nature, and in paint, is all but unparalleled.”

Jan Matulka (1890-1972)
Musical Instruments, c.1927
oil and sand on canvas
35 7/8” x 29 5/8”, signed

German painter and graphic artist Konrad Klapheck, born in Dusseldorf, has a stye combining realism, surrealism and pop art. The son of a pair of teachers, he studied under the painter Bruno Goller. His Les exigences de la morale (oil on canvas), shows a mastery of machinery and everyday objects, including typewriters, water taps, sewing machines, telephones, irons and saws. (He painted his first typewriter in 1955.)

Influenced by superstars Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Max Ernst, his work is filled with irony, and steaming with sexuality and psychology.

For feminist followers, the work of the next two artists are not to be missed.

Becky Kolsrud of Los Angeles likes to bring viewers pleasant portraits of anonymous women. She studied her own collection of photos from the 1960s and 1970s  as source material for her current art.

Her new painting, She Shed (Dot Eyes, oil and acrylic on canvas), is mysterious and playful and begs for interpretation from the viewer. Kolsrud’s work often focuses on women with newly liberated identities, according to critics who have studied her art.

She likes to place women in specify places yet anonymous backdrops. They can be in a park, garden, behind a well landscaped mansion, or simply posing in her studio.

And finally, Austrian born and educated New York resident Ulrike Muller is a contemporary visual artist associated with the feminist group LTTR. Her work has been described as addressing contemporary feminist and genderqueer concerns, including feminist movements.

Born in 1971, Muller engages relationships between abstraction and bodies and a concept of painting that is not restricted to brush and canvas. She has used text, sculpture, video, performance and drawing, in addition to painting. At Art Basel, she is offering a new work, Others (vitreous enamel on steel).

According to an art book published by Dancing Foxes Press, Muller uses “abstraction as an idiom that can be figuratively appropriated, emotionally charged and politically connotative.”

Art Basel’s 2016 offerings show viewers the wonders of diversity, technology and music by illustrating what life and love are all about.