It’s a wrap for Art Basel Miami Beach 2019! But we are marking the official end of this year’s edition on our calendars only—we know the surreal things that made this fair more unique than usual will make waves in the art world for a long time. Art fiends, collectors, dealers, VIPs and anyone who has a seat at the art world table stormed the Southern city for the annual American international fair of modern and contemporary art— perhaps the most influential in the art world, and definitely the wildest. ArtSquare.io could not miss it! We got lost in the maze of booths set up by over 200 of the world’s leading international modern and contemporary art galleries and explored artworks by over 4,000 artists, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photography, film, video, and digital art. This last category had its own dedicated premier art fair during Miami Art Week, the CADAF art fair. ArtSquare.io’s founders were thrilled to contribute to a panel discussion on Blockchain and the art market that took place at CADAF on December 7th alongside representatives of ArtTech companies that are cooking up a storm in the art world. You can read more about the panel in this recent blog post.
We haven’t quite cooled off yet after a week-long string of arty parties, shows, art talks, exhausting art fairs strolling and equally long sun-kissed walks along the ocean, so this review of the 3 best, weirdest, and most memorable booths from Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 will be anything but carefully and objectively pondered. Surely though, it will be spectacular. Are you ready for things to get weird?
1. Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” at Perrotin Gallery, or How A Duct-Taped Banana Is Driving the Art World Nuts
The 2019 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach will make it to the art history books for one thing: the sale of Maurizio Cattelan’s world-shaking artwork Comedian (2019). The newest “potassium-rich” artwork, as the New York Times called it, by the Italian contemporary artist consists of a ripe banana —yes, a real one— taped to a wall. Two out of three exemplars of Cattelan’s bananas have been sold during Art Basel Miami by international gallery Perrotin for $ 120,000 each. The third one is expected to fetch $ 150,000.
The reference to Andy Warhol’s banana silk print series, including the one on the cover of the Velvet Underground’s album “Sunday Morning”, is almost to easy to catch—but beware, Cattelan turned the banana on its head, quite literally. The use of tape on a wall is consistent with Cattelan’s fascination with attaching objects with ropes, strings, tapes, hanging and strangling them with utterly violent and disturbing results. The use of food produces in art is also nothing new—Giovanni Anselmo nested lettuce inside a block of concrete and called it “Eating Sculpture” fifty years ago. So why have you been seeing Cattelan’s duct-taped banana all over social media and newspaper front pages, complete with cries of indignation side by side mentions of “genius”? I believe we will try to answer this question for a long time to come.
“The banana is supposed to be a banana”, Cattelan says (thank you, Cattelan, now we understand). The artist has also provided instructions to his collectors that they replace the banana every ten days. Others say Cattelan’s artwork is a challenging, revolutionary conceptual piece that embodies, in all its perishable and ironic nature, the value system of today’s society. What is certain is that Comedian gained visibility and notoriety in an unprecedented way, crossing the boundaries of the art world and dominating the front pages of tabloids as well as people’s Instagram stories.
We were there to see the crowds of art fair goers savagely fighting their way through to get a glimpse of the banana, posing with it, sometimes taking a selfie. It was madness (see the video below). We are used to seeing such excited crowds eagerly trying to get as close as possible to a work of art only with the Monnalisa in the Louvre Paris. But what if Cattelan’s duct-taped banana was precisely the Monnalisa of our times? The attraction lies in its enigmatic status and mocking appearance. In 1917, Duchamp put a urinal upside-down, called it a fountain, and said it was a work of art; his act gripped the public imagination as much as Cattelan’s banana is doing right now. The price of Comedian is part of its defiant appeal, too, and its ability to offer a mocking commentary on the status of the art world. Cattelan is attacking the system from inside by placing its equivalent on a wall— a dropping fruit on the verge of rotting—for us to consume it, visually and materially, feed it, and reflect on it. Perhaps, once the marketing bubble is gone, we will reconsider Cattelan as a courageous artist rather than a prankster. With Comedian, Cattelan let the commercial factors that structure any form of artistic practice nowadays become the artwork itself, exposing the impossibility of making art sincerely and disinterestedly in today’s society. We were thrilled to be part of such a pivotal moment in the history of contemporary art.
2. Company Gallery Bubblegum-Pink Extravaganza
Raúl de Nieves and Cajsa von Zeipel have created what might be Art Basel in Miami Beach’s most spectacular booth. Bubblegum-pink shag carpeting coats the floor. Von Zeipel’s figurative sculpture My Feminine Energy (2019) hangs from the ceiling amid balloon-shaped lights; the mannequin-like form resembles a punk queen dressed in shiny, punch-colored pants and leopard-print heels. She sits on a furry pink throne, wielding a plastic gun. De Nieves, in keeping with his exuberant, craft-based practice, has created a series of beaded sculptures. One representative work, Try cry try (2019), features what the wall label calls “artist worn shoes.” The sculpture is a pair of legs from the knee down, posed in bead-covered high heels that rope around the calves. They stand on a stained glass–esque, turquoise-and-pink lightbox. Altogether, the works undermine gender norms and suggest a glitzy, wild party.
3. Purvis Young’s Primordial Portraits at Hirschl & Hadler Modern
Purvis Young was a self-taught African-American artist known for his expressive collages and paintings. Made on found objects, including scrap metal, book pages, and discarded envelops, his richly colored depictions of trucks, figures, and coil-shaped abstractions, described a fraught yet inspired experience of living in the poverty stricken Overtown neighborhood of Miami. “What I say is the world is getting worser, guys pushing buggies, street people not having no jobs here in Miami, drugs kill the young, and church people riding around in luxury cars,” he once remarked. Born on February 4, 1943 in Liberty City, FL, he learned to draw from his uncle at a young age but never had any formal art training. It was during his incarceration at the Raiford State Penitentiary from 1961–1961 as a teenager, that he began drawing prolifically. Years after his release, Young’s creative output attracted the attention of Bernard Davis, the owner of the Miami Art Museum. Davis subsequently brought the artist’s work into the public eye, and by the 1970s, tourists and collectors regularly visited Young in Goodbread Alley where he lived and worked. Inspired by books on Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, El Greco, and Paul Gauguin, as well as documentaries on American history, Young’s work grew in scope and formal invention throughout the latter part of his career. The artist died on April 20, 2010 in Miami, FL. Today, his works are held in the collections of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and the de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco, among others.