Art Basel Miami affirms local artists are on right track

For a number of years, local artists David Bridgeman and Chris Mann have been attending one of art’s largest and most prestigious regional fairs – Art Basel at Miami Beach, held annually in December. They speak with the Journal about their joy at discovering that their own artwork fits in well with the current broader contemporary art scene, as they discovered when visiting the 2013 event. And while both artists have their own distinct tastes, there was also a shared enjoyment of many of the works.  


Under the guidance of new curator Nicholas Baume (who is also the director and curator of New York’s Public Art Fund), Art Basel Miami was given a fresh new look for its 2013 fair. 

In particular, Chris Mann and David Bridgeman say, the recent event was centered more on the South Beach area, where huge hangar-like marquees were erected to house individual exhibitions, thereby making more art accessible for the two Cayman artists, who had only a weekend in which to soak up the creativity. 

“While Art Basel has usually been confined to downtown Miami, it has still been a bit of a trek getting from one exhibition to another,” Mann says. This time, “it was great to be able to visit a few exhibitions as they were each situated right on South Beach itself.” 


Showcasing new art 

While both Mann and Bridgeman enjoyed touring the main conference center, in which Picasso, Matisse and Francis Bacon were exhibited, among others, it was to the smaller, niche exhibitions that they were particularly drawn. 

“There were two exhibitions – ‘Scope’ and ‘Untitled’ – which caught our eye,” Mann says. “The main conference center tends to house work from well-known artists, whereas ‘Scope’ featured artists rising in the art scene, and ‘Untitled’ shows up-and-coming artists who have just emerged onto the scene. It is at these exhibitions, particularly at ‘Untitled,’ where we were able to chat with gallery managers and sometimes even the artists themselves, which was great for us as artists.”  

Mann and Bridgeman have been attending Art Basel in Miami for some years now, and thus they say they have managed to become more selective in their approach to the event. 

“It can be quite overwhelming if you haven’t attended Art Basel before. I used to attend and literally tick off each piece of artwork that I had seen, following the catalog,” Bridgeman says. “Nowadays, we focus on just a few exhibitions and go with what catches our eye.” 

“It’s different every year,” Mann adds. “Because of its scale, there is something there for everyone and lots of opportunity to discover work that is new and exciting. In addition, there’s live music, film, interviews, forums and so on. The skill is in negotiating the venues selectively so you are not overcome.” 

At “Scope.” Bridgeman says, he was drawn to the work of Canadian artist Janet Werner and British artist Clare Woods.  

“Werner uses painting to deconstruct the everyday reality of the photographic image,” he says. “Woods works in oil on aluminium. I was particularly attracted to her piece entitled ‘Strange Meeting’ as I have done several paintings on aluminium. It also has that eerie landscape feel to it,” he says.  

Woods was commissioned by Contemporary Art Society Consultancy for a major commission at the Olympic Park, London, in 2012. 

The work of Danish artist Sally Hass also caught the eye of both artists. She is a printmaker whose work includes organic forms with rock-like imagery, as well as small wall installations of fine construction similar to scaffolding. 

“The construction process especially resonated with me,” Bridgeman says. “Her work was like a 3D drawing.”  

“We were both very taken by the work of Sally Hass,” Mann says. “I think that was because it resonated with the interest we share in landscape themes, in the broader sense.” 

Mexican artist Jacqueline Lozano’s “Pyramid cast in Grey” 2011 was also a draw for Mann, “for the stark simplicity of her pared-down images referencing ancient architecture.”  

At the convention center, Bridgeman says he enjoyed work by Walter Dahn called “Immer Trinken.” 

“In the 1970s, Walter Dahn studied with Joseph Beuys at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf. After exploring a variety of different mediums, including a stint as a punk rock musician, he now concentrates on painting, taking inspiration from found images, song texts and poetry,” he says. “I liked this one as I have completed a few pieces recently using skeletal imagery.” 

An avid screen printer himself, Bridgeman says he also enjoyed American artist Richard Prince’s “All You Can Eat,” a 1995 silkscreen and acrylic on canvas. 


Eye-catching installation art 

For Mann, his interest was roused in the “Scope” exhibition by a remarkable installation piece of a man seemingly flying through the air following on from a collision with a stag. 

“For me, it was like a still from a movie,” Mann says. “A moment in time captured as a sculptural installation.  

“In a similar vein, another sculptural installation that featured a student punching through books seemed to me like a movie character, from a horror film perhaps. He appeared to be fighting books or being possessed by books, destroying them.” 

Mann says he enjoyed a particularly witty piece that appeared as if it were on its side. 

“It’s the right way up; it is supposed to be on its side,” he explains. “It’s a photograph that has been overdrawn and overpainted on grid paper. Essentially an extension of Cubist principles, this collage technique of photography worked over and presented on its side reveals the dishes and the diner, the soup becomes the face, the arms are drawn and painted and the shirt buttons appear on the grid patterned shirt.” 

Other work on show at the exhibitions didn’t quite hit the mark for Mann, however.  

“Some of the work tended to be similar to work we had seen in the past,” Mann says. “Pattern work, for example, started appearing about 15 years ago and has become more popular, pop patterns and doodles taken to a fine art finish. I find it hollow and a dead end. Graphic artwork is also appearing more frequently and has its roots in graphic novels and comic books and appeals to the gaming generation.” 

Bridgeman agrees. 

“In the Reith Lectures produced by the BBC, artist Grayson Perry said that art has reached a point at which it is at the end of all the ‘isms’ and that there was nothing new to see, that everything has already been done,” he says. “I think the artwork that attracted us the most was where we could make an emotional connection with the work.”  

One piece in particular made an impression on both artists, a work that Mann believes references Goya’s “Los Caprichos” series. 

“David, myself and a number of other artists are in the process of reinterpreting this for an upcoming exhibition opening in May, so we were particularly excited to see this work,” Mann states. “I think we both felt pleased that our work would not look out of place at Art Basel. We felt it was an affirmation of our work and that we are definitely on the right track.” 

The artists also had time to enjoy some musical entertainment, attending a Boy George concert at a “pop up” nightclub, also part of Art Basel 2013. The artists watched a 45-minute set, which included a song from the past – “Karma Chameleon” – and covers by David Bowie, T. Rex and songs from his latest album “This is what I do.” 


Broad spectrum of art on show 

Art Basel Miami, a sister event to the Basel art show in Switzerland that was founded in 1970, has been held each year since 2002. It has quickly grown to become one of the most important art events for the region, a celebration of established artists and new and up-and-coming artists who have yet to break into the big time.  

The event covers all artistic genres, from installation to realism, sculpture to oil painting, treating visitors to a full spectrum of artistic delight.  

Galleries from north and Latin America showcase the work of their artists alongside work from European galleries and, for the first time last year, an Art Basel fair took place in Hong Kong. The 2013 Art Basel Miami featured a considerable amount of work from Asian galleries as well.  

In addition, Art Basel includes a film night and lectures by artists and art critics leading up to the main art fair. Miami museums and art galleries, such as the Bass Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, also join in to promote Art Basel Miami.

An example of graphic artwork appeals more to the gaming generation; not so much to Bridgeman and Mann.