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It doesn’t seem to make sense to have yet another art fair in the maddening mix of Art Basel Miami Beach week. But when a new fair comes in with determined young artists supported by intrepid galleries, sense is fully restored. Directed by Jeffrey Lawson and curated by Miami’s own Omar Lopez-Chahoud, Untitled delivered the sort of alternative experience relished by those tired of the blatant commerciality of Art Basel, the faint whiff of hipster pretentiousness at NADA, or the outright sub-par quality presented by the smaller fairs. Not to say that Untitled has claimed the crown of the art fair week in Miami, but judging by the enthusiastic critical, popular and (yes) commercial response, its beginning the long upward climb with a big step.
“I always wanted to create a fair like this,” Lawson says, “the quality of programming and the location is much more elevated.” Journalists from The New York Times, The Observer, The Miami Herald, ArtFag City and ArtInfo were all on hand to probe the array of galleries hailing from New York, Los Angeles, Milan, Miami, London, and Berlin. Before the other art fairs had their first visitors trod the floors, Untitled hosted its Vernissage on Monday, December 3rd in conjunction with online auction platform Paddle 8. The fair, itself, reported visitors in excess of 20,000 with its opening-night queue stretching onto the sands and sidewalk along Ocean Drive and 12th Street. In the sales sector, DODGE Gallery sold out their solo presentation of Jason Middlebrook’s painted-ring tree slabs, while London-based CARSLAW St*Lukes reported a sellout of Paul Chiappe’s drawings exhibited earlier in the year at Tate Britain.
Sales and hype aside, this fair’s priority one (by the looks of it) was curation and selection. ADA Gallery showed a small work from the late George Kuchar and emotionally vigorous paintings by John Lurie. Ryan Brown’s fractured, Modernist experiments were shown with Y Gallery, Tofer Chin’s geometric illusions and black-lacquered obelisk were sound choices for Lu Magnus Gallery, and Jim Richard’s collages with Jeff Bailey Gallery were subtle and moody. Miami’s own Dimensions Variable delivered a seamless configuration from founders Adler Guerrier, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, and Frances Trombly.
Specially-commissioned projects for Untitled included The Empty Plaza/La Plaza Vacia, a single-channel video by celebrated Cuban filmmaker Coco Fusco, reanimating the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana with the simple power of a journalist’s narration and the shifts of daylight. Undoubtedly the fair’s most complex, engrossing setup was a modular environment created by The Skull Sessions (comprised of Brooklyn artists Tim Hyde and Andrea Galvani). Surrounding a sculpture called “Hexagon, Pentagon,” the artists and their visitors could sit surrounded by works courtesy of the artists and collaborators Saul Melman and Alice Miceli. Investigating the inherent curiosities of organic life and how biological systems can be molded and manipulated to serve both scientific and aesthetic purposes, Hyde and Galvani invited a trained physician (Melman) to present his work in the form of photographs (taken from his performance of gilding MoMA PS1’s underground furnace) and live performance (consistently arranging bricks made of horse skin dust and water) in the booth, itself. Miceli’s images of restricted zones at Chernobyl were developed using conventional and unconventional methods; one image was created by the film strip being buried onsite, recovered and then developed having absorbed the permanent presence of gamma radiation. To dissect this project in its entirety was (and still is) impossible, but Hyde says “its meant to be a conversation, a dialogue. Andrea and I wanted to create something that bridged our different backgrounds and consistently challenged us.”