Greetings from Art Basel 

Checking in with Bay area artists and galleries who exhibited at Miami’s massive art fair.

Last week, the art world converged in Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual football stadium-sized art fair where well-heeled collectors rub elbows with the hoi polloi to catch a glimpse of the latest in contemporary art.

Amid the insanity — which includes dozens of satellite art fairs, staged in hotels on Miami Beach and galleries and warehouses in Wynwood and Miami’s Design District, public events, private parties and hellish traffic snarls — I checked in with some Tampa Bay area folks. This year’s contingent included galleries C. Emerson Fine Arts and Mindy Solomon Gallery, print studio Bleu Acier, artists Neil Bender and Jono Vaughan, and architect Mark Weston, among others—all venturing down to Miami for a chance to display and promote their art to thousands of art lovers.

UNTITLED. This brand new fair made its debut on the beach — literally — in a tent lined with windows overlooking sand and waves. The gesture was much appreciated by some visitors (including this one), who typically spend Basel week too occupied with art indoors to luxuriate in Miami Beach’s surf. Inside the tent, galleries including Bleu Acier exhibited their wares. The Tampa Heights-based printmaking atelier and steel sculpture studio was showing sculptures and prints by Dominique Labauvie, the French-born artist who co-inhabits Bleu Acier with wife and master printer Erika Greenberg-Schneider.

Inside their booth, Labauvie’s abstract tabletop sculptures balanced on slender steel legs, while a portfolio of prints offered collectors a chance to browse the couple’s latest collaborative work. Schneider, who is a veteran of many art fairs, called UNTITLED the best she had participated in as owner of Bleu Acier.

“The space and light were well designed and allowed an exhibition space, not just a selling space,” Schneider said. “For sculpture it was ideal.”

SELECT Art Fair. At the Catalina Hotel on Collins Avenue, SELECT also emerged this year as a new fair. Artist Neil Bender shared a hotel room turned gallery space with Noelle Mason, John Byrd, Dick Keaveny and Chad Abel. (All but Keaveny live in Tampa.) Bender’s polymorphously perverse drawings and collages and Mason’s photographs of psychotropic mushrooms growing out of books decked the walls, while Bender and Byrd’s collaborative ceramic sculptures sat atop pedestals.

Mason also staged a public art project in the form of an airplane banner text visible overhead on Miami Beach during the fair. The plane’s trailing banner bore a message suggesting a mock to-do list for the wealthy and powerful: “Dog to vet. New silverware. Wash limo. Declare war.” By coincidence, Mason’s plane intersected with a concurrent airplane banner project featuring texts by established artists Jack Pierson, Allen Ruppersburg and Mel Bochner. (At least one art blog covering the fair assumed that Mason’s text had been part of the larger project, which was sponsored by Art Basel Miami Beach.)

Art Miami. On Friday afternoon, St. Pete gallery owner Mindy Solomon was entertaining a throng of collectors eager to discuss the work of painter James Kennedy inside her booth. The artist’s large-scale geometric abstractions adorned the walls along with abstract expressionist canvases by William Pachner and ceramic sculptures by Sunkoo Yuh and David Hicks. Red dots indicating sales appeared next to several pieces.

“This has been a very good fair,” Solomon said. “Serious collectors, great energy. I’m happy here.”

Verge Art Fair. Verge featured emerging artists like Jono Vaughan, a recent graduate of USF’s MFA program, and USF architecture professor and public art designer Mark Weston, who were in separate booths. A selection of Vaughan’s gender-bending pencil drawings of his own hair in various cut and dyed states joined a new, larger piece — a faceless self-portrait of the artist’s flowing locks and body in silhouette surrounded vintage fabric patterns. Weston’s booth showcased his latest designs-in-progress. A perforated aluminum screen that could be used to filter light into a building hung on one wall; a large ceramic sculpture akin to a giant, hollow seedpod occupied the floor. (The latter could be stacked into a tall, decorative cooling tower to channel hot air out of a building, Weston says.) Wood veneer models of innovative building forms rested on pedestals as small sculptures.

“This stuff is sort of the shrapnel of research into sustainable materials,” Weston said.

SCOPE. At the popular Wynwood fair, paintings, drawings and prints by emerging artists filled Lori Johns’s C. Emerson Fine Arts booth. Jason Snyder’s surreal canvases of evocative, feminine eyes peeking out from swirls of brown hair stood out in the space. Their high gloss oil surfaces and elaborate wood frames (built by the artist) demanded a second and third look.

“The emotion he can get from them is incredible,” Johns said.

Drawings by Justin Nelson — the Tampa artist recently featured at the St. Pete gallery in a two-person exhibition with Daniel Mrgan — collage-paintings by Miami artist Rocky Grimes, photographs by Austin Nelson (no relation to Justin), and works by Clayton Chandler and Donna Haynes rounded out the display. After a slow start early in the week action at SCOPE picked up, Johns said, including a visit from rap star Sean Combs (aka, P Diddy) and — separately — an argument between art dealers that escalated until someone used pepper spray.

One more thing: I missed seeing it in person, but St. Pete’s own Tes One painted a mural live at the Raleigh Hotel, one of the swankiest addresses on Collins Avenue, during a cocktail party hosted by AD Oasis. Check out pics online at facebook.com/tesone.net.

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