Photography Highlights from Art Basel Miami Beach 2014

If you saw me working my way through the booths at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, you’d likely think I was doing my usual gig, looking at and tracking all of the photography that was on view at the fair, and in some sense, I absolutely was. What was different this year is that while I jotted notes on and took pictures of roughly 70 worthy photographs that were on display, I had already decided on the plane ride down that I would do less reporting and more criticism this time, cutting away the dutiful description of the new but predictable photographs by boldfaced names that we’ve all already seen and digested half a dozen fairs ago.

So instead of delivering an exhaustive crowd pleasing survey in multiple parts, I set for myself the tougher constraint of featuring only a total of 25 photographs from the entire fair (no more, no less) and doing more to actually explain why I found these particular photographs of interest. As a result, many solid works (and their artists and galleries) ended upon the cutting room floor, their innovations or enticements not enough to push others out of the top spots. As I reflect on this approach, I actually think this better represents the true life of a collector at a fair – there are always dozens of attractions, but the thornier problem is to single out the ones that are ultimately worth thinking about and chasing.

The slideshow below is not organized in hierarchical order, nor does it follow my path through the fair; it’s more of a stream of consciousness set of comments on images that grabbed and held my attention. For each work, the linked gallery/booth name is first, followed the notes that include the artist/photographer, the price, and other supporting descriptions and ideas. In the end, this is what was memorable and/or important for me at this year’s fair, and the rest just melted away into the jostling bustle of the crowd.


White Cube (here): This early Gilbert & George was a true showstopper. Made in 1975 (near the beginning of their joint career), it shows them playing with elementary black and white photography, adding a disturbingly psychological blood red tint (the work is titled Bad Thoughts 2), and reorienting the images to create linear patterns inside the formality of the grid (which they had recently started to explore). Put back in the context of the mid-1970s, it’s freshly conceptual and subtly radical/performative, and to my eye, both a transitional work in their artistic practice and one of their very best. Fully priced at £1.65 M, but certainly a museum-worthy treasure.

Menconi + Schoelkopf (here): Ralston Crawford is perhaps best know as a Precisionst painter, stylistically falling somewhere between Charles Sheeler and Stuart Davis. But photography was also an important (and underappreciated) medium for Crawford, and this solo booth presentation smartly paired paintings and photographs of similar subject matter (ships, New Orleans, etc.). This oversized image of the Grand Coulee Dam turns girders and shadows into flat geometric forms, the regularly spaced perforated holes becoming decorative dots; you can absolutely see his eye for planar reduction going to work. Crawford’s prints are rarely seen so large, and this one was undeniably gorgeous. Priced at $24000.

Mai 36 Galerie (here): This was the first working maquette I have ever seen by John Baldessari. It shows him combining small images of a woman on a couch with those from a weight lifter into an interlocked cross, the central overlapped image roughly reworked and overpainted. I liked it even more than a comparable finished large scale work, as it seemed to highlight more clearly his experimental thinking process. Very smart, and priced at $55000.

Wentrup Gallery (here): Time and again, I find the work of Miriam Böhm to be conceptually strong, and so I am continually mystified as to why her work isn’t shown more regularly in New York. These two new images start with seemingly simple constructed planes of green foam board, which are then rephotographed with an optically confusing white line drawing that traverses the planes and subtle shadows. The images are elegantly pared down, crisp, and sophisticated in their manipulation of how the camera sees. Priced at $11000 each.

Team Gallery (here): I’ve always liked the software-driven simplicity of Cory Arcangel’s gradients, so it was intriguing to see him loosening up his limitations in his more recent efforts along this path. He’s now gone from one seemingly random click (and its flood of technical documentation and details in the title) to two clicks, with more deliberate decision making in terms of compositional balance and scale; this introduces more of the artist’s touch to the mechanistic fills of the software, which I find increasingly thought provoking. Priced at $95000.

Galerie Kicken Berlin (here): While Christer Strömholm is perhaps better known for his intimate portraits from Les Amies de Place Blanche, this wall abstraction is an excellent reminder of his Subjective Photography/Fotoform efforts – it’s a delicate sea of white textures, in overlapping squares. With a date of 1952, it leaves me hankering for the show that matches Callahan and Siskind with similar time period works from the Europeans. Priced at €11000.

47 Canal (here): This booth held a number of new works from Michele Abeles, mixing street photographs of pedestrians and handbags with architectural drawings and additional imagery. The result is something collapsed and veiled, where public and private intermingle and enlarged textures are layered and combined. I liked their indeterminate shifting reality, like personas that show and hide. Priced at $8000.

Regen Projects (here): These were brand new works from James Welling, pushing his previous wispy investigations of floral photograms into denser, more color dominant territory. Printed on metallic paper, the layered shadows shimmer in the light, the richness of the color jumping out with more improvisational force. I felt some positive kinship here with Ruff’s recent photogram innovations (especially the play with depth), but with a more all-over compositional imperative. Priced at $30000 each.

Salon 94 (here): There is something expansive about this deceptively simple collage from Lorna Simpson. The found image is billowed up by the watercolor painted hair, like dissipating smoke rising from an inferno. Priced at $20000.

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art (here): These lush platinum prints were from a series of works by Adriana Barreto, documenting a performance of intermingled balls and bodies. There is a seductive elemental grace to these hands and curves, the images executed with quiet compositional sophistication. Priced at $4900 each.

Ruth Benzacar Galeria de Arte (here): Carlos Huffman’s stew of garbage has an unexpected energy. Portions of the image have been pixelated into soft dots, while digitally drawl lines and gestures seem to interact and communicate an incomprehensible narrative. Tiny blotches of paint bring a physicality to the surface, mixing in with the snippets of color in other layers of the picture. This work is messy and loose, but there’s something vibrant about the weaving together of digital and analog that Huffman is trying to achieve. Priced at $2500.

Edwynn Houk Gallery (here): It’s pretty hard to beat this ethereal Stieglitz nude of O’Keeffe. What gets me isn’t her pose or the object she is holding so much, it’s the delicate light through the textured curtain in the background, its swirled decorations faintly visible. Priced at $650000.

Kaufmann Repetto (here): I continue to be impressed by Shannon Ebner’s photographic investigations of language, text, and symbols; she’s headed down a path no one else seems to be on, and that’s exciting. This new work (an isolation of a found & symbol) turns the form into a lit construction, changing the way we understand its intended message. While the graphic itself is eye catching, the subtleties of all that it represents are more engaging to decipher. Priced at $10000.

Galeria Vermelho (here): This work by Claudia Andujar takes the usual visual trope of electrical wires silhouetted against the sky and extends it into a sculptural plane. Some of the wires have been physically scraped away to reveal the white paper underneath, while others seem to grow outward, transformed into real black wires that cast shadows and twist into snarls. The whole composition brims with vitality. Priced at $5000.

Miguel Abreu Gallery (here): This was one of a selection of new works by Eileen Quinlan on view in this booth, continuing her investigations of process-driven destruction and image dissolution, but this time exploring nudes and bodies as subject matter. While it was hiding in the back room, I thought this one was the best image on display, with its eroding river of unruly chemicals bisecting the form. The more these works break down into flashes of expressive chemical abstraction, the more unusual they become. Priced at $9000.

Galeria Millan (here): Miguel Rio Branco is a powerful (and perhaps underappreciated) colorist. This triptych of images from the early 90s (printed in 2014) shows him using unexpectedly deep saturated red to give the circus a gaudy, seedy mood of danger. Priced at $48000.

Espaivisor (here): The booth was a solo presentation of the documented performances and interventions of Lotty Rosenfeld. Using the simple visual interruption of a cross aligned white line on the roads of Santiago, she was able to make a surprisingly powerful conceptual/artistic statement. Priced at $17100.

Galerie 1900-2000 (here): This was a 1950’s print of Man Ray’s iconic 1926 Noire et Blanche, apparently drawn from a private collection in Spain. Priced at $325000, but still thoroughly impressive, especially in the bright highlights on the hair and mask.

PPOW Gallery (here): These prints came from David Wojnarowicz’ Sex Series portfolio, where explicit gay sex scenes have been superimposed on top of ships and cities, forests and paratroopers, all in negative tonalities. The combinations have the feel of surveillance with hidden activity going on underneath, all doused in a powerful tinge of shadowy illicit unease. Priced at $300000 for the set, with some images available individually.

Nils Stærk (here): Ed Templeton’s wall filling installation in this booth was both pared down and exuberant. His usual array of raw portraits, nudes, and swimsuited boardwalk pedestrians has been isolated by colorful overpainting, removing the surrounding context and leaving behind the black and white bodies like silhouettes. In several images, swirls of smoke seem to leave the mouths of his subjects, transformed into speech bubbles with wry text. Seen together, it’s energetic and lively, with a subtle dark undercurrent. Priced at $180000.

Galería OMR (here): Jose Dávila had made an artistic career out of thoughtful removal, and I found this installation to be particularly clever. Starting with the artworks of Flavin and Turell, Irwin and Eliasson, Wheeler and Sugimoto, he has meticulously removed the light in each one, leaving behind frames and surroundings that give us clues to the missing elements. To take artists and artworks that center on light and to then conceptually invert them by removing that very essence had me nodding my head in approval. Priced at $55000.

Timothy Taylor Gallery (here): Josephine Meckseper’s new works are leveraging the inkjet printing revolution to push on visual collaging. Here she takes gestural paint marks, an image of a flattened can, a book cover, and a graphpaper background and collapses them into one plane. It’s as if compositional lessons from Rauschenberg are being reconsidered, and then pulled somewhere new. Priced at $20000.

Bureau (here): This is a new image from Erica Baum’s series of feathered paperback books, where mysterious fragments of pictures emerge from the sea of page edges. The richness of the color in this one caught my eye, the deep red offering an unexpected sultry blast from the surrounding yellowed paper. Priced at $4000.

Charim Galerie (here): This three image lenticular print from Alfons Shilling from the late 1960s combines a police officer, a gas mask, a peace helmet, a flower girl, and Jean Genet into a jittering mix of charged symbols. Lenticular prints can sometimes feel overly gimmicky, but this one used the technology intelligently to bring clashing forces into a single juxtaposed whole. Priced at $22000.

303 Gallery (here): In the past few years, Elad Lassry has been on a furious rampage of photosculptural experimentation. What started with matchy matchy frames quickly morphed into pleated silk coverings, and on to twisted wires, balls, and other adornments and interruptions. New works from Lassry on view in this booth brought dangling enameled shapes into his repertoire, as well as the use of several inch think Plexi (as seen in this work), where the black and white print floats in the clear substance, with silver balls, wires, and painterly colored areas contending for attention. While I can’t say that I found all of this entirely visually compelling, I’m certainly intellectually curious about what he’s up to. Priced at $30000.

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Read more about: Adriana Barreto, Alfons Schilling, Alfred Stieglitz, Carlos Huffman, Christer Strömholm, Claudia Andujar, Cory Arcangel, David Wojnarowicz, Ed Templeton, Eileen Quinlan, Elad Lassry, Erica Baum, Gilbert and George, James Welling, John Baldessari, Jose Dávila, Josephine Meckseper, Lorna Simpson, Lotty Rosenfeld, Man Ray, Michele Abeles, Miguel Rio Branco, Miriam Böhm, Ralston Crawford, Shannon Ebner, 303 Gallery, 47 Canal Gallery, Bureau Inc., Charim Galerie, Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, Edwynn Houk Gallery, Espaivisor, Galeria Millan, Galería OMR, Galeria Vermelho, Galerie 1900-2000, Galerie Kicken Berlin, Kaufmann Repetto, Mai 36 Galerie, Menconi + Schoelkopf, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Nils Stærk, PPOW Gallery, Regen Projects, Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte, Salon 94, Team Gallery, Timothy Taylor Gallery, Wentrup Gallery, White Cube, Art Basel Miami Beach

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