All's Fair: Basel Miami (Sculpture, Installation)

If there were a bumper sticker that said "I Brake for Martin Puryear " I’d slap it on my Jeep. I love his work. So when I came across a large Puryear sculpture at Chicago’s Donald Young booth, of course I stopped.

(c) Joanne Mattera

Martin Puryear: Confessional, wire, mesh, tar, wood, 1996-2000

On view was a large, dark, full-bodied object. Puryear’s work often has an anthropomorphic quality to it, and this large piece was no exception. To me it was shaped like an elongated head, yet its mesh skin suggested—as his work often does—a basket or shelter. Like no other artist I know, Puryear’s work dips into the river of what it means to be human, by suggestion (the shape) and association (the forms we need for basic survival) as well as a higher calling (it’s art, after all).

Carlier Gebaur, the Berlin dealer, Michel Francois’s silver "balloons" are nicely contradictory to the open skin of Puryear’s work. Solid seeming, they hang suspended from nylon wires, unable to transcend gravity. It’s a shock to realize they’re blown glass—and thus extremely fragile—unprotected from the hoards of curious lookers. They’re also extremely beautiful, an earthbound, vitreous cloud.

Michel Francois, Souffles dan la Verre (Glass Bubbles), blown glass of different sizes suspended on nylon wire, at Carlier Gebaur. Detail below

Here’s what else I loved: Anish Kapoor’s large concave disc of polished stainless steel at Lisson Gallery, which distorted the reflection of its observers. Strangely it's not do much a funhouse-mirror thing as it is an opportunity to think about how we see. Did you see hisSky Mirror in Rockefeller Center a couple of months ago?

Anish Kapoor: Untitled, stainless steel, 2005, at Lisson Gallery

Across the corridor was a quiet and beautiful installation at New York’s Cheim & Read Gallery:a large pink-and-gray marble sculpture by Louise Bourgeois and three cast metal hemispheres by Lyndas Benglis. Both sculptors are masters of multiple materials. Indeed at Galerie Karsten Greve, Bourgeois was represented by drawings and a sculptural head of stuffed cloth.

Two views of Louise Bourgeois’s marble sculpture (foreground) and Lynda Benglis’s hemispheres on the wall, at Cheim & Read

After the weight of marble, a ring of tape kept aloft by dueling floor fans was a lark at Spencer Brownstone. I loved its mutability--a kinetic, dimensional drawing barely more substantive than a smoke ring or a circle traced by a finger on frosty glass.

Zilvinas Kempinas: Ring of tape at Spencer Brownstone, New York

At Galeria Luisa Strina, yet another Sao Paulo gallery, wooden trowels were stacked about the corner booth. The geometry of the installation--quite beautiful--was in keeping with the purpose of the trowels. Think walls, buildings, the Pyramids, even. Still, the reference to manual labor seemed ironic in a venue where the art was going for millions. Then again, perhaps it was a testament to laborers--artists included.

Marepe (I think): Installation of wooden trowels at Galeria Luisa Strina

The carnival atmosphere I mentioned earlier is personified by three galleries: the joyful installation at Mexico City's OMR Gallery, the nothing-is-as-it-seems environment of reflective and transparent surfaces at Berlin's Neugerreimschneider, and Emmanuel Perrotin's cheerful sideshow where that scatological contortionist drew smirks, gasps, quizzical looks--and probably a buyer.

Basel Miami: part festival (Galeria OMR)....

...part funhouse ( Neugerreimschneider, above), and part carnival sideshow (Galerie Perrotin)

After two days of heavy looking, I was approaching art overload, so it took me a moment to realize that this was not, in fact, a sculpture but fire safety equipment.

You know you're on art overload when you stop to look at the safety equipment. Well, it is sculptural

Basel Miami is a tumult of booths and people. You may start out trying to follow the grid of the map—I did, anyway, because on paper it’s orderly—but looking is rarely a step-by-step process. You follow your eye, not your plan. Talk about being distracted by color and shiny objects. Of course you stop to chat, and then you find yourself walking back in the direction you just traveled. But because you’re approaching the booths from a different direction, you’re seeing things you missed, so you stop to look. Then chat, then find yourself walking in another direction. In two separate visits to the venue, I think I saw everything but I’m not sure.

Which brings us to Gavin Brown's Enterprise. Holding down a prime corner spot, this New York gallery was bare except for gray industrial carpeting and two catty-corner benches at the periphery. There was a crushed and empty cigarette box in the middle of the floor. But wait, it was moving. First slowly and then faster. Stopping. Starting. Inching upward and then crashing soundlessly to the floor as people crossed the empty expanse. It’s an installation, of course. Art, manipulated high above the crowd by a complex mechanical arm that swung in a circle, then folded on itself to trace a smaller arc, pulling the invisible string up or down. That Camel box going in circles, doubling back on itself, soaring and then crashing seemed nothing so much as a metaphor for the Basel Miami experience.

As of December 7, according to that day’s issue of The Art Newspaper, two editions of this sculpture by Urs Fischer at Gavin Brown's Enterprise had sold for $160,000 each

Next up: All’s Fair: Flow