December 8th, 2008 5:33 pm | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Letter from South Beach: PDX at Art Basel Miami Beach 2008


Last year at this time, you couldn't turn a corner in Miami Beach without running into a Portland artist or gallery owner (read my report, here). This year's Portland presence at the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair wasn't as prodigious as last year's (blame the sucky economy), but there were still scads of Stumptowners stompin' around South Beach from December 2-8, in search of sun, sales, visibility, and yes, glamor.

While no Portland gallery was included in the über-exclusive Art Basel fair itself, two paintings by Chris Johanson were displayed in the fair by Roberts & Tilton Gallery of New York City and Los Angeles. Notably, the satellite fairs that augment Basel's offerings abounded with Portland talent. Elizabeth Leach, Quality Pictures, and PDX Gallery had booths at the Aqua Wynwood fair (scroll to the bottom of this post for photos), while Butters Gallery set up shop at Red Dot. Artist Anna Fidler's multi-media fantasias were featured at the Aqua fair on Collins Avenue; sculptor Matthew Picton, who shows with Pulliam Deffenbaugh, had works featured with Seattle's Howard House Gallery and San Francisco's Toomey Tourell. Eugenia Pardue displayed her white-on-white paintings at The Artist Fair, while Todji Kurtzman exhibited his forced-perspective sculptures at East Village Gallery.

Chris Johanson painting at Art Basel Miami Beach

Matthew Picton (right) with Brian Dettmer (left) in front of Bridge Art Fair on Collins Ave.


Jeff Butters and Kristina Butters at Red Dot art fair.

Eugenia Pardue in front of her paintings at The Artist Fair.

There was a group show called Portland Art Now, curated by Nathan Howdeshell, featuring work by a handful of Portland artists. Mounted at Bas Fisher Invitational, a gallery in Miami's design district, the show featured a neon piece by Contemporary Northwest Art Awards finalist Dan Attoe and a photograph by Sugar Gallery's Michel Demeo, among others.

Neon sculpture ("There Is Electricity In Your Head) by Dan Attoe at "Portland Art Now" in Miami's design district.

Other Portland sightings included photographer Liz Obert, making the rounds at fairs on Collins Avenue and the Wynwood arts district; painter Kelly Kerwick and arts impresario Heidi McBride, spotted poolside at the chic Delano Hotel; gallery owner Mark Woolley at the premiere of the new Philippe Starck-designed high rise, Icon Brickell, in downtown Miami. In addition to these Portland “celebrities,” there were some real celebrities on hand as well. Among those I personally saw were painter Chuck Close (lunching with colleagues at the NADA fair); art superstar Takashi Murakami (chatting amiably with fans at the Art Basel opening party); and rock star Marilyn Manson (dining at the premiere party for the Miami Mondrian Hotel).

Painter Kelly Kerwick, gallery owner Mark Woolley, gallery owner Heidi McBride, painter Vanessa Calvert.

Photographer and installation artist Liz Obert.

Quality Pictures owner/director Erik Schneider.

The question on everyone's lips at this year's fair has been: How were sales? Expectations were so low going into the fairs that some gallerists, such as PDX's Jane Beebe, reported surprisingly good returns. The more successful of the exhibitors concentrated on smaller, more affordable work rather than large-scale, high-dollar pieces. In general, the fairs also shied away from more conceptually challenging fare, favoring tried-and-true eye candy by established artists. To wit, at the main fair, there was a notable increase in Op Art (Bridget Riley paintings everywhere!) and sexy abstraction and minimalism by Sam Francis and Dan Flavin.

Other trends... As the spectacularly inventive Design Miami fair demonstrated, the field of design is arguably overtaking the visual arts in innovation. Design's imperative toward function demands a rigor sorely lacking in drawing and painting of the last 10 years, and the disparity is becoming painfully obvious. Also, let us stick a fork in and declare done any multimedia piece incorporating cigarette butts, skull imagery, or chandeliers; anything and everything that is collaged; and the entirety of the over-hyped “Asian art” trend, especially any painting featuring representations of Mao Tse-tung juxtaposed with Mickey Mouse or Marilyn Monroe.

As the beautiful people mill about sipping Voss water—the men with their open gauzy shirts, the women consisting solely of hair, legs, and shoes—this much becomes clear: Economic vicissitudes ebb and flow, but human beings will always covet beautiful objects to fill their homes (and sometimes their souls) with. Furthermore, drizzle-shriveled Portlanders will always jump at the chance to exchange dreary December rain for sunny, sexy, South Beach. Portfolios swell and retract, but art and palm trees are forever. At least that's what this year's fair-goers were trying to convince themselves, with a valiance that bordered on poetic desperation.

Jill Guild, gallery assistant (left) and Jane Beebe, owner/director of PDX Contemporary Art (right) in front of a painting by Adam Sorensen at Aqua Wynwood.

Elizabeth Leach (right) with unidentified client at Aqua Wynwood.

Artwork ("Victorian Holiday") by Anna Fidler at Johansson Projects, Aqua Wynwood.

All photos by Vanessa Calvert.
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