When Hostility Turns Into Mannerism, Subtle Simplicity Offers Respite
Aqua 13, International Contemporary Art Fair, Aqua Hotel, Miami Beach
December 4 to 8, 2013
1530 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139
At the Aqua Art Fair this year I was told in so many words, or by unmistakable gesture, to fuck off by several pieces of art on display in three different rooms. I won’t go into details – the prospect of riling someone enough to write about these pieces was largely the point, I suspect – but I will say that even hostility has turned into a mannerism at this point in contemporary art history (see thumbnails, below). Maybe an aspect of the avant-garde project has always been to offend bourgeois sensibilities, but the species of bourgeoisie traipsing through the fairs is just going to skip over such lazy offenses and find other things to regard. Of which there were, aplenty.
After seeing as much art as the fairs provide, simplicity starts to look refreshing. Thus the subtly colored collagraphs by Sarah Hinckley, on display at Pele Prints, a collaborative print studio in St. Louis, were like an invitation to sit down and put your feet up. (The graceful colored loops of Joanne Freeman’s paintings at K. Imperial of San Francisco offered similar relief.) Pele’s proprietrix Amanda Verbeck hails from a program at Washington University in St. Louis that was also present at Aqua in the form of Island Press, who had a striking print on the wall by Memphis-based Greely Myatt of a pile of word- and thought-balloons, each with its own hue and pattern. Aqua started out with a program to emphasize the West Coast and has since expanded it to include the middle of the country, and it remains the go-to Miami fair for seeing all the interesting art being made there.
Gary Baseman, long known to the world of illustration (he designed the board game “Cranium”) and revered by the lowbrow set, has taken an unexpected turn. In the Shulamit Gallery (Venice, CA) space he has created a installation in which his paintings of big-eyed, sausage-nosed homunculi are hung from birch branches set upright as trees, which are embellished with faux moss to make a forest scene. It is an homage to his father, a partisan who spent three years hiding from the Nazis in the woods of Poland. The cavorting figures typical of his paintings have a new participant – a woman wearing a robe adorned with Hebrew letters and magic eyes. Baseman’s mirthful imagery always harbored a darker edge, but this is a foray into psychological and historical territory that’s unprecedented in his career.
One of the chaises longues on the second floor of the Aqua Hotel afforded a literal opportunity to put our feet up at the end of the day. The journey through insult and exhilaration had been a long one.