Fair and Fair Alike: Miami 2009. Are We Out of the Woods?

Fair and Fair Alike coverage so far:

ABMB: Pierre Malphettes, Un Arbre Blanc, 2009, wood and neon; at Kamel Mannour, Paris
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll post reports from the various fairs, but for this post I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the most recurring image and object in evidence throughout all the fairs was . . . trees!

As I walked through Art Basel Miami Beach, the big fair at the Convention Center, on Wednesday when I arrived, I saw trunks, branches, twigs and roots—a theme that would be repeated over and over at the various other venues. (And a theme that I covered recently
here, here and here.)

Trees are a big part of landscape painting, of course, but landscape painting is not typically a big part of the visual agenda at the fairs. So what’s in the zeitgeist that accounts for such a strong arboreal presence? (The eight-pound catalog only hinted at the bosky abundance the fair had in store.) Since most exhibited work is new—made in the past year—I assume it’s a reaction, conscious or not, to an economy that was violently uprooted. Trees can reach up only because they have a root system as expansive as their branches. A metaphor for stability, perhaps?

ABMB: Roxy Paine, Containment 1, 2009, stainless steel; at James Cohan Gallery, New York

Are we out of the woods? It’s significant that the trees are, for the most part, isolated, not part of a grove or forest. Or is it that we can’t see the forest for the trees? I’m looking to metaphor and free association because I think these object and images spring creatively from that need-to-make place, rather than as a result of offering formal issues to explore. Then again, maybe artists are just thinking green.

In terms of symbols, the roots go deeper. The Tree of Life, common in all cultures from earliest times, unites heaven and earth—wholeness—and its fruits sustain life. Kabbalah is depicted as a tree. Wood is the primary material of the universe in Vedic philosophy. And, thanks to the Druids, this time of year Christians and commercialized enterprises throught the Western world are decorating a you-know-what.

Above, ABMB: Ernesto Caivano, Untitled, 2009, oil on linen; at Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Below, Pulse: A peek at the booth of Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, where all the work had a sylvan theme

The director of a blue-chip New York gallery showing at ABMB raised his eyebrows when I mentioned the trend and noted that his gallery was showing two such works. “We didn’t plan to show trees,” he said, “but that’s what our artists gave us.” At Pulse, on the other hand, San Francisco’s Rena Bransten Gallery created an entire booth around the theme.

Thinking about the tenuousness of the economy: A tree is that thing money doesn't grow on. But while no one was plucking bills from any branches, there were plenty of deals being made.

Here, take a look. A lot of images follow. What do you make of this trend?

The use of humble materials, often repurposed, was another recurring element in all the fairs
Above, ABMB: A lovely recycling of furniture back into a tree by Gelitin, a Viennese collaborative; at Greene Naftali Gallery, New York
Below: Whitney Lynn, Untitled, 2009, wood, wire and army blankets; at Patricia Sweetow, San Francisco

Above, ABMB: Giuseppe Pennone, Foglie de Zucche, 1982, bronze, with detail right; at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Below, ABMB: The trunk that occupies the whole booth; at Galerie Enrique Guerrero, Mexico

ABMB: Ai Wei Wei, Map of China, with detail below; at Mary Boon Gallery, New York

ABMB: The seating arrangement at Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris

ABMB: Lawrence Weiner; at Marian Goodman, New York
Below, ABMB: Installation at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Projects, New York; with Kunie Sugiura, Winter Branches, right

ABMB: Jorge Mayet; at Galerie Horrach Moya, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Aqua: Steve Tobin, Bronze Root; at Bridgette Mayer Gallery, Philadelphia

ABMB: Yayoi Kusama, Prisoner's Door, 1994, mixed media; at Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Pulse: Evelyn Hellenschmidt, Leben im Baum, 2009, bronze and brass; right, Xavi Munoz, 21 Drawings; at Galeria Raquel Ponce, Madrid
Hellenschmidt detail below:

Pulse: Igor Eskinja, Albero, C-print on plexi; at Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco

Scope: Park Ji-Hyun, Winter, 2008, mixed media; at Gana Art, New York

Art Miami: Doug and Mike Starn, Structure of Thought #10, inkjet print on mulbery paper with wax, encaustic and varnish; at Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm

Art Miami: Daisy Craddock; at David Lusk Gallery, Memphis

Aqua: Jake Longstreth; at Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco

Pulse: David Huffman, Tree Huggers; at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, San Francisco

Red Dot: Lana Shuttleworth, Cone Grove 1, for Klimt, 2008, safety cones, shoe polish, wax, nails; at George Billis Gallery, Los Angeles
Detail below

ABMB: Sean Landers, Plank Boy Hurt, 2009, oil on linen; at Capitan Petzel, Cologne

Pulse: Marci Washington, Escape Into the Woods, 2009, watercolor and gouache; at Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco

Pulse: Gabrielle Basch, Taunus, 2009, spray paint on cutout; at Galleri Thomassen, Sweden
I responded to a number of small works, a few paintings but mostly work on paper, that explored the theme. If blog space (and personal time) had allowed, I would have included at least two dozen additional images.

ABMB: Benjamin Butler, Untitled Tree (Green), app. 16 x 20 inches; at Galeri Martin Janda, Vienna

Pulse: Sabine Finkenauer, Space, 2009, work on paper; at MasArt Galeria, Barcelona

ABMB: Jorge Macchi, one of six framed works in an installation; gallery unknown

Scope: Eko Nugroho, Studi, Figur, Fantasi, acrylic on canvas, app, 14 x 12 inches; at Ark Galeri, Jakarta

Pulse: Amy Wilson, watercolor (?) on paper; framed app 16 x 14 inches; at Bravin Lee, New York

Pulse: Neil Farber; at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Aqua: Paul Wackers, Slow Light, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 28 inches; at Eleanor Harwood Gallery, San Francisco

Art Miami: The grandaddy of tree painters, Wolf Kahn, Tones of Yellow and Green, 2009, oil on canvas, 68 x 80 inches; at Rosenbaum Contemporary, Boca Raton


Mink said...

Dam, thats a lot of trees. my favorite
was Benjamin Butler's painting.

funny because I'm taking a landscape painting class right now and trees are not my thing.

Liz Hager said...

Joanne, I'm guessing from the plethora of photos you've included that the ├╝ber-theme hasn't cropped up in Miami before??? In any case, as to the why, I'm voting for collective angst about the state of the planet or just plain and simple gimmick. (If you can't make green art, how can you make art green?)

For all of us who can't get to the center of the (art) universe this month, thanks for the superb reporting!

embodiment said...

Great curatorial posting... and astute observation Joanne. Yes! Trees are our air filters and producers of oxygen, our source for fuel, houses, furniture and books... a metaphor for strength and weathering the ravages of time, as they out last us sometimes by centuries... they connect us to our past (our roots) and future.... in these unstable times a good metaphor for constancy. ...Rene

Laura said...

I've been noticing this bare tree phenomenon too. I'd like to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe artists are gravitating toward easy forms to work with because everyone's too danged busy holding it all together to come up with anything more unique? I don't mean it as a put-down - these are compressed times, and it's important to find a way to keep the studio practice going, and the tree is a very accessible metaphor. Thanks for another great post, Joanne.

Best, Laura

jami said...

Great Post! Maybe it's because trees are a calming constant, reminding us to breath in this fast speed, high tech, flat screened, media driven, ever changing, digital world.

Nancy Natale said...

Great idea and great photos! Thanks for keeping us updated.

Anonymous said...

"Out of used furniture, she made a tree." An Anne Sexton quote.

Anonymous said...

As diverse as these tree images are, I'm a bit surprised to see how naturalistic they are. It would have been interesting to see more conceptual reprtesentations of this theme.

When it's all said and done, I still think Mondrian transformed the identity of a tree more powerfully than anyone. Afterall, he took the tree form and transformed it into an enduring iconic grid design...He made nature artificial.

I second the comment regarding your curatorial eye. Thanks for providing this excellent post!

Cindy Morefield said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing your observations and photos from Miami - I'm enjoying the vicarious visit to the fair. The tree theme is really intriguing. No conjectures at this point about what it might signify, though intuitively it seems quite fitting. As an artist who has worked with tree imagery for years, I'm really glad to see it!

wil said...

mmmm, i love trees, it isn't a tred in the netherlands, yet....

Casey said...

I have a tree series of paintings that I will enjoy working on indefinitely, though mine are rather imaginary. For me, trees are comforting. A basic symbol of nature that encompasses strength and shelter. I really enjoyed seeing this diverse selection of tree images.
Thanks, Joanne

Unknown said...

I loved this post! I especially enjoyed your free association upon finding this plethora of trees. Thanks!

RVA Artblog said...

I like all of the metaphorical-conjecture-conversation happening in these comments- trees are so accessible, as imagery virtually 100% of the planet's population has had some experience with.

I'll add my two cents in wondering if this possible tree trend has something to do with the cyclical nature of trees, particularly deciduous trees that shed their leaves in colder months. The art world certainly recently experienced "colder months," as money is figuratively and literally not growing on all of these depicted branches.

Fortunately, spring is always on the way.

Joanie Gagnon San Chirico said...

My most recent six commission projects have all featured trees. Working on yet another one now. Definitely a trending topic.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little skeptical of all of this tree . A few of the artists are really pushing the boundaries, but most of this tree imagery is about one thing...accessibility and making a sale. Most of these "Fair" trees really only represent one thing, the idea of making paper... the green kind.

CMC said...

This does seem so strange. I've been painting trees and tree forms myself over the past year. I just attributed it to moving out to the countryside and being surrounded by them.
Maybe it is just in the 'air' be painting natural forms.

nemastoma said...

Branches are also a metaphor for reaching out.

Michala Gyetvai (Kayla coo) said...

Hi, I have just found your post and found it very interesting.
I started painting landscape and trees in threads in 2007 and it has become an obsession in my work which led to a major exhibition.
David Hockney has had a big exhibition at The Royal Acedemy in London, the subject trees and landscape!