Friday, December 04, 2009
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Above, Workshop Workshop at Design Miami
The brutal 6am flight to Miami via Baltimore became worthwhile when I stepped off the plane into 86 degree heat, a welcome change from the waning temperatures in Indiana. I dropped my bags, devoured a plate of fish tacos (the kind that you get in the south with cabbage and vinaigrette), removed my socks and diligently headed toward the art fairs.
For those not familiar with the Miami art fairs, let me say this: They are THE events in the US for art galleries to showcase and sell new work. Here is a link that I am using with a comprehensive look at the fairs, just to give you an idea of the scale: http://www.boydlevel.com/pdf/MiamiGuide2009_FinalV3.pdf. Take these 24 fairs and multiply by VIP parties, brunches, lectures, and book release parties, and you get a sense of the overwhelming nature of this week.
First stop – the Design District to catch Photo Miami and Design Miami.
This is my first trip to the fairs in Miami, so I have little context for the changes which have occurred year to year. I’m told by friends that some photo dealers have left Photo Miami for the other contemporary fairs Pulse and Art Miami. Knowing some of those galleries, I could see their absence as lessening the overall impact of Photo Miami.
As a conceptual fine-art photographer myself, my first pass through photo Miami left me disappointed for a few reasons: First, because there was so much large-scale diasec-style (front-laminated print to acrylic) work which had so little substance – a trendy presentation method with little photographic mojo to back it up. Secondly, there were so many highly-romanticised photoshop-created works which relied upon misty sepia tones or depth-of-field manipulation or fauvistic color to create a dreamy yet contrived surrealism… I just couldn’t stomach most of these, yet I know that people buy them. People buy precious moments figurines too. Third, there was so little work that was about anything. Maybe I’m the one falling behind, but I find substance and depth in serial works of photography that dance around a concept. One more thing – and this is a straight up diss from me personally, a large-format photographer: If you’re shooting 35mm or medium format or even digital, don’t blow your prints up to 6’. Why would anyone intentionally lose the quality in their image to gain some massive proportion? Bigger is not better. Better is Better.
All that said generally about the fair, there was some great work to be seen. The work shown by Stephen Cohen Gallery (Los Angeles) was strong. In particular, I really liked the images of Icebergs in Greenland by Olaf Otto Becker.
They were peaceful and beautiful and relevant. I also liked Austrian Josef Hoflehner’s images of posts and sticks – immaculate and finely printed work which reminded me of Harry Callahan’s work, but a bit broader and more interesting.
Of the more abstract work, I admired (but was not totally taken by) the work of Nicholas Ruel, represented by Galerie Orange of Montreal.
These layered images are printed on aluminum or stainless steel, which can be entirely gimmicky. But these were the first I’ve seen that tonally blended well with the metal, utilized interesting photographs (which might stand alone) as layering material, and just presented a comprehensive and interesting image a la Rauschenberg, but different.
My favorite gallery and artwork of Photo Miami was MR Gallery (Mother River) of Beijing, China. Work by Tibetan artist Mo Yi (pictured below)
documents cultural phenomena of his neighborhood in objective series. I was also very fond of the work of Qiang Jin, who photographed Chinese villagers in reenactments of iconic catholic religious history, including the birth of Jesus and the last supper. At first I thought these were constructed images which spoke to the nature of China and how it’s growth and change was subsuming American Culture. Then, when speaking to Mr. Toni Nan Li from MR Gallery, I got the real story. These remote villagers from Liuhe Village had been converted to Catholocism 200 years ago and were devout. The photographer discovered this, and asked the villagers to re-create these historical Biblical scenes, which they did to glorify God and serve Him. I found this story very interesting in light of China’s changing culture… not to mention that the pictures were immaculate.
Also notable was the disturbing series of images from Jasper Debesier titled ”Udongo.” Irvine Gallery from Washington DC showed nice work by Phil Nesmith titled “Flight Patterns,” which were exceptional photograms on emulsified black glass, as well as some incredibly rendered fictional photographs (yes, photoshop constructed!) by Kahn & Selesnic.
I really loved Design Miami. My friend Dung Ngo, a Senior Editor at Rizzolli International publishers, curator and all-around design guru, told me that the fifteen or so exhibitors at the fair was about ten less than last year – a sad consequence of the economic downturn I’m sure. Below I'll post some of my favorites from Design Miami without much elaboration due to my time constraints - but great design speaks for itself as you will see.
After the fairs, I hit a whirlwind of mixers including a Rizzoli book launch party for "Indochine-Stories" at the fabulous Mondrian Hotel; Next met up with Chicagraphers Brian Ulrich, Matt Siber and John Gitelson at a really mediocre event party hosted by the Scope Fair where the muscle at the door turned away VIP Scope guests (me included) who failed to procure a blue wristband during the day; And finally we hit a party hosted by David Byrne promoting his work with bicycles at the amazing Standard Hotel. We didn't get to meet David, but we did sip cocktails waterside in the ocean breeze and geeked out with our iPhone apps for a great end to a long day.
Lamp and Table by Tom Dixon:
Amazing work by Maarten Baas:
"Tassenkast" by Lotty Lindeman:
Now, back out into the wilderness for more...