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Notes from art basel miami.

GOING TO MAJOR ART FAIRS IN MIAMI DURING THE week of Art Basel can turn out to be a hectic experience, especially if one has a goal. That is not to say that the experience of Miami Beach is less frantic at any given moment. My intent was to see and document all works that may, to any extent, connect with the field of ceramic art. The major fairs, such as Art Basel and Art Miami, have been shifting in terms of share presence of the media over the last several years since I have been visiting. In 2013, it felt different.

Between Art Basel, Art Miami, Scope, Untitled, Aqua and Design Miami there was so much to see and comprehended at the same time that even trying to focus on a specific medium turned out to be quite a challenge. Each fair seemed to have its fair share of objects from 'the dirt', including galleries that featured exclusively ceramics. Some pieces that were on display may be considered as being outside the realm of ceramics, but still utilised the material to different ends. While I will not attempt to take any critical or theoretical stand I will try to report on a scope and diversity of displays that grabbed attention.

What I found to be the most interesting in 2013 is that there were not so many 'bluechip' masterpieces as in previous years; it appeared that the majority of works belonged to a generation that is still active. One gallery whose display struck me as unique and which also focused only on ceramics, was Jason Jacques (New York City) at Design Miami. Each booth at this fairly small art fair, traditionally located right across from Art Basel at the Miami Beach Convention Center, is, as its title suggests, designed.

Display, setup by digifabshop, was appropriately organised resembling a water-slide park with long cascading perforated surfaces floating over their industrial supports. They carried objects of different shapes and sizes, from turn of the last century potters Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat and Emile Decoeur to contemporary works by Gareth Mason, Michael Geertsen, Morten Lobner Espersen and Eric Serritel la. There were so many vessels organised in such a way that, despite the diverse periods and aesthetics that were shown, this booth appeared more as an installation piece rather than an exhibition of works by individual artists. Jason Jacques gallery organised their space in one of the most interesting ways I have seen across the fairs I visited and it was certainly the most prominent display of ceramic objects. It was amazing how strikingly different traditions of vessel making worked well together.

Another booth that stood out was Todd Merrill Studio Contemporary (New York City) at Art Miami. It featured works of five women artists: Beth Katleman, Molly Hatch, Katsuyo Aoki, Niamh Barry, and Shari Mendelson, three being ceramists. The gallery is focusing on interior decoration, offering a fusion of contemporary furniture, fine art and craft objects. Its debut at Art Miami exemplified a strong taste for porcelain works with decorative elements rooted in Baroque. A lavish ornamental triptych, Girls At War, held a central position in the space. It was displayed against a white background, while the 'darker' corner of the space featured a series of Katsuyo Aoki's skulls against the black. What made this booth interesting was not so much in the display but in the combination of featured works that appeared so similar in style, yet with different aesthetics.

On the other side, Art Basel is too 'big' and some may say mainstream, to feature anything of a sort. Previous years works of 'legends' such as Voulkos, Fontana, Arneson, as well as various Ai Weiwei pieces Made in jingdezhen made up for the majority of clay objects. Of course, it is a place for superstars. But although it is, there was a hint of an interesting shift this year. Fresh work emerged as part of Positions, a series of project spaces at Art Basel. These fairly small white cubes organised around one of the corners of the main convention hall held 17 galleries that were selected globally. Their displays, or in some cases installations, were more experimental than commercial in nature. But ceramics also excelled in fiscal terms, with the sale of Robert Arneson's, Homage to Philip Guston with a price tag of $360,000.

PSM Gallery (Berlin) featured an interactive installation by Nadira Husain titled Fragments and Repetition: Onomatopoeia. Passing by the space, I noticed a younger person in soft slippers sliding over the tile floor. He appeared to be ice skating on top of the composition achieved with white hexagonal ceramic tiles custom decorated with a glaze. The cartoon-like imagery on the ground reminded the viewer of an illustration from a children's book, but it also seemed to partially reference the spatial organisation of an oriental kilim. It was quite exciting for the participants, which in small groups glided over this flat 'landscape'.

Last year was the first time I visited the Untitled art fair located on Miami Beach next to Scope. Contrary to the other fairs, it did not feel as crowded. It was organised with more space between booth aisles so it felt more open. The mood was also different as the crowd appeared too cool to be busy in their pursuit of examining the works. The Sandra Gering Inc booth was located in a corner space in close proximity to a busy bar. The space showed stark contrasts between black, white and gold. Michael Scott's gray-scale paintings with stripes were displayed against the white walls, while Julia Kunin's medium format ceramic sculptures stood on traditional white pedestals. I thought that the highly reflective surface on Kunin's objects nicely broke up an otherwise monochromatic and minimal surrounding.

Eosin glaze glowed and reflected recalling the appearance of Christmas ornaments; common for the time of the year if you were not in a place where you could literally walk out and join the crowd on the sand of South beach within a matter of few minutes. When talking about bright colours and glitters it is hard not to mention another artist whose work was on display across the fairs. Takuro Kuwata vessels with drooping or fragmented shiny surfaces fused over the intensively coloured pots seemed to be quite popular. This younger Japanese ceramist was featured both in Salon 94 (New York City) at Art Basel and Pierre Marie Giraud (Brussels) at Design Miami. What is interesting about his work, which. clearly belongs to the contemporary scene, is the way in which it simultaneously embraces and denies the function. Pots adorned with strong colours are simply overtaken by silver chunks or gold drips achieved by unorthodox decorating methods--the vessel mutated. A $1500 cup and a bowl that sold for $8000 are phenomena in themselves. Whether or not we can consider them pots is arguable. Is Kuwata's insistence on making function relevant to his vessels coming from the reversal of the role of a potter, or is it a strategy? For now, let's just say that genie of the "Mad Potter of Biloxi" is still outside its container.

It is hard to tell whether ceramics is gaining more visibility within the global art market or it just happened to be a growing trend at the moment. During the last several years the number of ceramic works that are featured at fairs in Miami has been slowly but steadily rising, but the fairs are also expanding. Last December, it was apparent that galleries focusing on ceramic art were more present then before. After all, the scope, variety and opportunities at the art fairs in Miami can not be compared to SOFA's. Without a doubt this is a positive trend for the discipline. My take has always been that ceramics as a field needs to be considered both by the larger pool on the outside and to open itself within. Certain artists strategically have adopted a stand to move away from media specific events in order to escape the label of 'the craft', while others function across that divide. One thing is for certain, the market seems to be accepting clay works with more enthusiasm than it appeared in the recent past and that is an opportunity with a potential to be built upon.

Article by Ivan Albreht

Ivan Albreht is an artist and professor at University of Miami, Florida, US. All photos by Ivan Albreht.
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Author:Albreht, Ivan
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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