Edgy US political climate reflected at Art Basel in Miami Beach

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MIAMI BEACH, United States, Dec 7, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The volatile political
climate in the United States reverberates at Art Basel, the international art
fair held in December in Miami Beach, with some artists portraying a country
on the “verge of chaos,” populated by “phantasmagoric” minorities.

Miami Beach, a barrier island facing Miami, is celebrated for its beaches
and its unbridled party atmosphere.

Young tourists can be seen “twerking” on the roofs of their rented cars,
and on long weekends a drunken mass of humanity often spills into the
streets, in unruly scenes punctuated by gunfire and police checks.

But during “art week,” which is held every year during the first week of
December, flip-flops are replaced with designer clothes, beer with champagne,
and suddenly the slender island is populated by a horde of trend-setting art
lovers and dealers from around the world.

In this dressed-up version of Miami Beach, 268 galleries from some 35
countries will put works on display from Thursday through Sunday — from the
abstract or conceptual to the frivolous.

Social commentary on the world of politics — and particularly US politics
— abound.

“Expect to see many political positions in galleries from all over the
world,” said Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel, at a news
conference on Wednesday.

“Many of those galleries will exhibit new work which is directly tied,
directly made in response to the current context.”

An example is the latest series “American Quilts 2018” by American artist
Rob Pruitt, which Kyla McMillan, of the Gavin Brown gallery, describes as “a
commentary on the current political status of the US.”

One of his pieces is a 8 by 5 feet (2.5 by 1.5 meter) US flag composed of
hundreds of hand-painted match sticks whose red, white and blue heads give
the image its color. It is called “Pledge Allegiance (Flammable).”

“It’s really commenting on the state of the American political climate on
the verge of chaos,” McMillan told AFP.

From the same artist is “wall ($),” a piece made with US bills and coins to
represent the impenetrability of the world of the one percent. Three other
works symbolize the US border with Mexico, behind bars, at different times of
day.

– Silenced minorities –

In the same vein, US artist Teresita Fernandez, whose parents are Cuban,
exhibits a map of the United States whose borders are delineated with pieces
of coal that leave “phantasmagoric” traces on a white background. It is
called “Untitled (Specter).”

“It’s representing ghosts in the sense of those individuals and minorities
that are not being heard, that are metaphorically being silenced,” said Sarah
Levine, of the Lehmann Maupin gallery.

The work is the product of “the politically charged moment in this
country,” she said.

Abraham Cruzvillegas of Mexico also is using the art fair to protest, in
his case, the drying up of his country’s lakes — which he attributes to
climate change.

He represents the situation with a fishing net raised over a piece of
smoked cheese.

Social themes like the migration crisis are taken up by artists like Robert
Longo, an American, and Silvina der Meguerditchian of Argentina.

Longo is exhibiting a dramatic work in ink and charcoal which, with
photographic realism, depicts a group of sub-Saharan refugees sinking in the
Mediterranean, while Der Meguerditchian weaves a wool quilt with pictures and
documents of old immigrants.

The annual fair, which also is held in Switzerland and Hong Kong, has
become the principal forum for showing art in the Americas since it was
extended to Miami in 2002.

Last year’s fair drew 82,000 visitors to Miami Beach, according to the
organizers.

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