Contributed by Lindsey Cummins
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Miami Art Week. My second year attending South Florida’s ever-growing art extravaganza was filled with visions of airbrush aesthetics, basketballs, spectacle, and a barrage of art that reminded me we are all chronically online. The sheer quantity of work that was on display had me continuously puzzled—how could it be physically possible for me, or anyone else, to attend a fraction of the fairs, parties, and openings that seemed to be popping up left and right?
As a young curator from a smaller city, Louisville, Kentucky, I am slowly becoming acquainted with the ins and outs of the “Art World” (whatever that is exactly). I had noticed the invasion of NFTs, cryptocurrency, AI, and other newfangled tech jargon during Miami Art Week 2021. At the time, it was news to me that this had not been the norm. Instead, tech genres were an emergent trend in the art scene. What struck me this year was the way that the art world seemed to have decided it would reciprocate tech’s advances. Across mediums, and particularly within painting, the traditional art circuit seemed to be weaving itself into a new ecosystem, one that values the digital, the absurd, the commercial, and the culturally relevant.
Beyond noticing the tech infiltration and my sustained aversion to neon signage (and the incredible manner in which it has snuck its way inside gallery displays), what stood out to me most as a young, femme, queer curator—normally unimpressed by much of what the commercial art world has to pander, was the rise in work that often proved to be contrarily unimpressive to my straight male counterparts. I was awash in art that dipped its toes into themes of surrealism, horror, vulnerability, and the female gaze. While I, as all art week participants do, was parading photos of my time in Miami, much of the work I raved about was receiving side-long glances by older, straighter, male fairgoers.
I found myself comparing photos with friends and colleagues. We realized that the sheer volume of work on display across venues meant that even though we were in the same space at the same time, we had come away with different experiences. The comment, “Where was that? I never saw it,” came up again and again. My own Miami expedition left me reflecting on themes that seemed to transcend individual fairs, booths, and artists—permeating the collective experience of art week.
The stereotype of Miami holds true, for better and for worse. Glitz, glam, parties, superstars, neon signs, and bright colors—Miami loves a spectacle. The day I attended the main Art Basel Miami Beach fair, I arrived not ten minutes before Kim Kardashian, surrounded by an entourage so large that I couldn’t catch sight of the 5’2” celebrity, even if I really wanted to. Droves of mostly younger followers flocked behind her during her very brief visit to the fair. I was later inundated on Instagram with photos of celebrities like Madonna and Venus Williams who made their way to Miami. But it wasn’t just celebrity sightings that revealed the absurdity curated into Miami Art Week. The installation that seemed to be making its rounds through the media circuit, an ATM leaderboard by Brooklyn art collective MSCHF allowed fair-goers to see the cash balances of participating galleries, ranking revenues the way an arcade game ranks top players. After several attempts, due to the amount of curious onlookers that surrounded it, I never managed to get a picture of the leaderboard. Additionally, I noticed that celebrities had worked their way beyond visiting and collecting, to presenting projects themselves. Gufram Design Studio’s booth at Design Miami was a collaboration with rapper A$AP Rocky. Together, they created a series of ceramic cacti and mushrooms. In one corner of the trippy environment sat a robotic figure in green cactus tactical gear. One Hypebeast article claimed that the installation of works, titled “Hommemade” was “challenging reality.” I’m not sure that I felt reality was challenged, but instead was reminded of the fever dream that is on the rise in exhibitions that lean in to leveraging star personalities.
My speculation about the basketball phenomenon pervading Art Week is less of a critical analysis and more of a plea for someone to help answer the question: “Why all the basketballs?” After some amateur Googling that resulted in scarce results and wondering whether or not I missed a major moment in the zeitgeist, I’ve landed on the theory that this year’s affinity for the basketball is a reflection of art’s shift toward what New York Times reporter Andrew Keh comments on as a “gradual, belated diversification of art spaces and institutions.” The trend that seemed to exist across venues, galleries, and artists ultimately signified to me the overall effort by established art institutions to engage in a cultural discourse outside of the confines of traditional, exclusive art spaces. From emerging galleries to the mega-gallery-to-rule-them-all, Gagosian, basketballs held strong. A personal favorite of the trend was the installation shown at Untitled by Detroit’s Library Street Collective. Tyrell Winston’s “Snow Bird” is one of a series of found-object basketballs that the artist has utilized to, as the gallery states, “explore the concept of embedded history and how an object’s past can become abstracted. … In an age where connections are intangible and we’ve lost sight of material consequence, Winston’s assemblages are a reminder that the things we neglect don’t disappear simply because we’ve moved on.” While this analysis emphasizes a neglect inherent in the nature of found-objects, I find that their apparent overwhelming presence in Winston’s neighborhood and integration in his work, details a caring recirculation of material that connects a community. The basketballs and their origins imply the story of something more nuanced than a culture captivated by sports-mania. Winston’s basketballs may be deflated, but their new existence is filled with tender documentation of community at play.
DARK AND FANTASTICAL
In much of what I saw this year in Miami, there were macabre and fantastical undertones, often woven through feminine iconography. I was reminded of the literary influences of some of my favorite Gothic fiction authors like Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. Tropes of horror and the mythological captured my attention in vampires, guillotines, Frankenstein, and a many-handed smiling creature that reminded me of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. The exploration of the creepy, scary, and weird is not new, as evidenced by the time-enduring fascination with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893) and Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” (1503–1515). Despite the enduring presence of moody subject matter through art history, it is evident to me that art, in the present moment, is again captivated by the strange, and has translated the sentiment into contemporary forms. This was reiterated in the work I witnessed across time and space in 2022, including the Venice Biennale, “The Milk of Dreams,” and the Frieze New York Fair.
The internet takes over. What I refer to as Digital Surrealism was by-and-large the overwhelming bulk of art on view in Miami. The influence of NFTs, meme-culture, cartoons, graffiti, anime, and other internet subcultures have been translated into figurative characters that ooze contemporary pop-culture. Within the return to the figurative, forces of digital abstraction present themselves in faces that remind viewers of store-front mannequins or emojis, reduced to translate emotions on a tiny-phone-screen scale. Artists like Hunter Potter and Evgen Čopi Gorisek portray these simplified faces in ways that convey a sense of lack and what sometimes verges on the uncanny. Endearing and playful, yet also melancholic and introspective, the figures reflect the aesthetics of a life that occurs more than ever online. In conversation with High Snobiety, Gorisek comment on this fact, stating that, “a smile is also a mask; an IRL emoji easily plastered on to hide a person’s inner turmoil.” Beyond style, these pieces also seem to share a choice in mediums. Over and over, acrylic and spray paint are the choice. Immediacy of material has shown itself to be the most ideal way to reflect a culture that is moving faster, and faster, and faster. How will we all keep up? Some of my favorite pieces, when presented to friends and colleagues, received the most mixed reviews. Polarizing as it may be, this stylistic movement was in charge this year in Miami. The world has shifted toward the virtual over the past decade. With an accelerated ramp up from the Covid-era as well as the technological precedent set in 2021, Miami Art Week 2022 responded in full-force.
This year’s New Art Dealer’s Alliance (NADA) fair had no shortage of notable performance work and special programming. What stood out beyond almost everything I had seen in Miami was a performance piece by married artist collaborators Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger taking place in the Western Exhibitions booth. I was enchanted just by watching the two work diligently on “Untitled (Pink Tube)” which has been in progress for around 20 years. The couple was happy to answer my many questions as they knitted a piece that both entangles the two while also driving them materially farther apart as they work. I learned that “Pink Tube” hinges on codependent simultaneity. Should one get up to go to the restroom, knitting stops until the other returns. The work, the two told me, is not to be displayed sculpturally in an institution; it is exclusively a performance-driven object. Additionally, the two have come to an agreement that when the time comes that there is only one of them, the remaining partner has a year exactly to begin the process of completely unraveling the piece. Much of the artist duo’s oeuvre seems to revolve around the autobiographical archiving of their day-to-day lives and their relationship, shown through other works on display at Western Exhibitions, such as bound books of used butter wrappers and coffee cup stains. The intimacy and partnership on public display felt like a breath of fresh air or a light in art week’s tangled forest of art. I would willingly have missed every party in Miami in exchange for time chatting with the couple about their work.
ZINES IN MIAMI
Running a zine project in Louisville means that while in Miami, I was on the hunt for any zines or artist books that I could get my hands on. I found my fix with Dale Zine, an artist zine/book shop and independent publisher, operating in Miami since 2009. From a pop-up in Time Out Market, to their Radio Variety Show at NADA, to their storefront in Little River, Dale was everywhere, and that was okay with me.
The title of this post, Hillbilly at an Art Fair, is a nod to our contributor’s Miami Art Week companion, Kentucky artist Ceirra Evans. See below, Evans’s “Hillbilly at an Art Auction.”