After overcoming two hours of infernal traffic, and then parking and entering Art Basel Miami Beach, the local trek felt like a personal triumph. This is the time of year when the city collapses. It shows its fragility. Its inhabitants escape or crouch down, hiding in their homes, as if facing yet another hurricane. In a way, that is what Art Basel is—even though this year one saw fewer people than in previous years, something that would be confirmed shortly after the fair wrapped up.
In its 15th edition, the fair is a microcosm beating to a First World pulse. Sped-up, chaotic, dizzying, success-driven, banal, scary, apocalyptic. According to its management, the giant international art fair has doubled its original size, and it’s responsible for putting once-sleepy Miami on the map.
What’s clearly true is that to explore it fully (it showcases 269 galleries) is a challenge to the eyes and feet. The ideal scenario is to escape the proverbial madding crowds, and doing so is possible. Not only can it be done, but for people with certain temperaments, it must be done–the better to allow for surprises, to look for the substantial and find the many treasures hidden between the colorful superficialities and the merely fashionable, which bores after a minute.
At the Galerie Thomas of Munich, a René Magritte dove next to an Alexander Calder served as North in our metaphorical compass. Perhaps there was less Latin American art than usual, although there was a strong Brazilian presence, including the inescapable Mira Schendel, Wanda Pimentel and Lygia Pape.
The absence of Galeria Sur, from Montevideo, Uruguay, this year was a surprise, but Mary-Anne Martin showed an atypical Gunther Gerzso from 1953, as exceptional as the Leonora Carrington that presided over the stand.
This year, the Survey section was home to some of the better work. Galleria d'Arte Maggiore of Bologna, Italy offered the opportunity to enjoy a small museum experience with about 20 superb works by Giorgio Morandi. It was an oasis. Next to it, the late Domenico "Mimmo" Rotella did his mischief. Across the way, at the Garth Greenan booth, three immense early landscapes by Howardena Pindell dazzled. These are paintings in a class by themselves. Meanwhile, at London's Vigo, the prison work by Sudanese pioneer Ibrahim El-Salahi made one shudder.
At Annely Juda, the nine perfect screens of "Winter" by the always surprising David Hockney, were hypnotic. At Galerie Karsten Greve, one was dazzled by Claire Morgan's taxidermy cubes and Georgia Russell's clouds.
Galerie Gmurzynska, from Zurich, had a good coup-de-theatre anticipating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution with an avant-garde banquet put together by Claude Picasso. More impressive, because of being more recent and thus closer to us, was a monumental charcoal and ink study by Robert Longo, inspired by Sergei Eisenstein's "October" at the Hans Mayer gallery from Düsseldorf, Germany. Its almost prophetic statement took your breath away. It's the kind of testimony that summed up the feelings of many at this Art Basel.