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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Bigger Than Ever, Art Basel Miami Beach Takes a Conservative Turn

Even taking into account 22 satellite fairs and countless off-site projects, pop-ups, performances and parties, Art Basel Miami Beach remains the nucleus of Miami Art Week. Though it’s often described as the gaudy foil to the prestigious annual Swiss art fair, the atmosphere at this year’s Miami iteration is decidedly more conservative, perhaps due to the fair’s efforts to invest in the quality of its pre-existing programs rather than establish new ones. Annual programs like Art Basel Miami Beach’s Conversations and Salon series and its Edition sector have become anticipated attractions instead of gimmicks.

While much of the fair is heavily geared towards mid- and late career talent, Art Basel Miami Beach also gives a platform to new voices with its Nova and Positions sectors, both of which highlight young gallerists and artists. The programming for these sectors, located on the periphery of the fair, is more adventuresome — and in some cases more challenging — than elsewhere. Newcomer Mathew Gallery’s booth for Positions features “Meat Locker,” an illuminated installation by the artist collective Villa Design Group. Inspired by the murder scene of Gianni Versace, “Meat Locker” depicts the gruesome legacies of history’s most infamous homosexual serial killers across a maze of steel security doors, exploring the relational aesthetics of violence and design. Also notable is video-based work by the Gulf Arab artist collective GCC at Project Native Informant’s Positions booth, which is focused on the visual vocabulary of nation-state branding.

The artist collective Villa Design Group’s “Meat Locker” depicts homosexual serial killers across a maze of steel security doors. CreditCourtesy of Art Basel

Video and digital projects are few and far between in the main fair, but works like Bill Viola’s “Becoming Light” at James Cohan and Ori Gersht’s blossoming three-screen installation at CRG Gallery are certainly worth a pause. For the fair’s in-house film program, Art Basel film curator David Gryn selected over 50 films to fit this year’s theme, “Our Hidden Futures.” Projected on the 7,000-foot exterior of Miami’s New World Center, the work of artists like Rineke Dijkstra, Sue de Beer and Tracey Emin becomes larger than life. Within the walls of the fair, visitors are also encouraged to take a closer look at new media in the quiet Film Library, where 80 selected works will play on repeat for any fairgoer patient enough to sit down and tune into one of the six monitors that have been provided.

Although flashier solo shows dominate the specialized sectors, the main aisles feel decidedly more tame this year. Veteran exhibitors like Mary Boone Gallery, 303 Gallery and Lisson promoted new work by their more established artists. Fresh works by contemporary favorites like Doug Aitken, Sylvie Fleury and Brian Calvin are a safe bet but one that pays off — these outshine recognizable older pieces at the fair. Now in its 14th year, Art Basel Miami Beach’s popularity has become a double-edged sword for those seeking an insider’s experience. This time around, there’s an uncharacteristic scarcity of immersive installations and Instagram bait to be found amongst the headlining exhibitors — perhaps a self-conscious step by exhibitors to reprioritize the market over pure spectacle.