The life of a major art fair is a short one: born on a Wednesday or Thursday, they burn brightly for a few days, before the inevitable decline in visitors leads to that late Sunday hush. As fairs pick up pace, heading into the weekend, the art tends to take a slight back seat; it often makes a dignified retreat from centrestage to backdrop, as conversation turns to the best parties and events. As the weekend of Art Basel Miami draws nearer, and the celebrity voyeurs of the art world exchange rumours about Leonardo DiCaprio’s evening with Kendall Jenner, at Unit London we remain focused on the art. Here are five pieces from Art Basel Miami that we think are particularly noteworthy.
Faith Ringgold - The Slave Rape Portraits (1971) - Quilt
After a Serpentine gallery retrospective, a pairing at the new MoMA with Pablo Picasso and representation from Pippy Houldsworth, it’s fair to say Faith Ringgold has experienced a resurgence in 2019. Her work is testament to art’s ability to appear precognitive, to remain relevant years after its creation and continue to be co-opted by future generations who tailor its message to fit their own contextual narrative. Ringgold’s work is a politically charged threnody to black American history and remains deeply relevant.
Ringgold is renowned for her narrative quilts, three of which are showing at Art Basel, having been taken from storage after fifty years, earlier this year. The Slave Rape portraits (1972) depict naked women, moddelled or Ringgold and her daughters, fleeing unseen oppressors through dense, stylised undergrowth. It’s deeply moving work, made all the more poignant by the use of quilting which anchors the piece as part of a female tradition. All three Slave Rape pieces: #1: Fear Will Make You Weak, Slave Rape #2: Run You Might Get Away, and Slave Rape #3: Fight to Save Your Life all sold before the fair opened.
Maurizio Cattelan - Comedian (2019) - Banana and duct tape on surface
Although we’re sure this hasn’t past you by, a list of Art Basel Miami works without Cattelan’s Comedian wouldn’t be complete. The now infamous banana taped to a wall could, at a stretch, be deciphered as a comment on the deleterious impact of human society on the natural world: an innocent natural object, shoved against a wall by a synthetic, man-made material until it perishes. However, as the artist isn’t towing this particular line, we’re loathe to - it’s just a banana taped to a wall.
The work is one edition of three (and the banana can be changed when needed). Gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin told the Miami Herald: “I’m in serious discussion with a very important collector to buy it. His reaction was very positive.” Two of three editions have since sold, each priced at $120,000. Cattelan has been in the public eye this year as his work America, an 18-karat golden toilet, was stolen from Blenheim Palace - sparking suggestions the artist had stolen it himself. He certainly knows how to get noticed.
Woody de Othello - Cool Composition (2019) - Installation, bronze, clay, ceramic stools, citrus trees
Cool Composition explores the history of still life work and modernist grids while also alluding to global warming and the psychological associations of temperature. Othello is a young, Miami born, sculptor of Haitian descent. He creates large scale, clumsy sculptures of everyday household objects. Cool Composition consists of a typical home fan, modeled in clay and cast in bronze, and is accompanied by several ceramic stools and citrus trees.
De Othello claims his sculpture reference air quality and tap into a mindful consideration of the air we breathe. “I wanted to do something subtle, where if you didn’t have that train of thought, you could look at that AC unit as a formal thing. It’s weird, its center is sunken, it’s having a hard time. Imagine what it would sound like if it were an actual working thing? I like to think that a lot of the stuff I make is a catharsis.”
Amoako Boafo - Cobalt Blue Earing (2019) - Oil on canvas
At Unit London we’re huge fans of Boafo’s work. It’s rare that somebody paints with such flair: managing to combine an evident awareness of the narrative of art history with real originality and verve. Cobalt Blue Earing depicts a black woman, wearing yellow, standing louchely in front of a swirling, emerald green background. Boafo’s gestural style, created through the application of oil paints with his fingers, captures light and the contours of skin beautifully.
The primary idea, Boafo claims, is “representation - documenting, celebrating, and finding new ways to approach blackness.” The Ghanaian is producing stunning work of serious conceptual clout, all with a refreshing lack of pretension. We’re sure to be seeing his work for some time.
Wu Chen - Portrait of Old Codger (2015) - Acrylic on canvas
Wu Chen’s iconoclastic work chimes with us at Unit London, in challenging the sanctity of famous art historical figures, Chen is opening up the art world to a larger, more disparate pool of ideas and potential. He takes these figures, distorts them and places them in unfamiliar environments. In doing so the artist aims to address the excessive importance we attribute to symbols and images.
Old Codger, for example, depicts image Henri Matisse as a faded, withered figure of washed out colours, barely able to support his own weight. Chen’s project at Art basel Miami will build on a fictional dialogue between himself and Matisse, pondering the value of artistic identity and production.