What We Saw
At Art Basel Miami Beach 2012

The thing about Miami is that what you see when you do head down for the annual art and design extravaganza can often be frustratingly little. Between the city’s grueling traffic, the lure of its glittering beaches, the daytime pool parties, and the later-than-usual nights, it’s a wonder anyone can make it through the entire convention center and its neighboring Design/Miami tent, much less the satellite art fairs, the Wynwood galleries, the museum shows, the new boutiques, and the odd day trip out to see new work installed in places like the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. At the same time, as a journalist, you really have seen it all before, what with the endless previews and press releases. And so you’re caught endlessly swinging back and forth between anticipation and letdown, which you conclude can only be cured by a wine-soaked lunch on a patio overlooking the ocean, or an hour spent by the pool. (Are you getting a sense of our week yet?) Of course, some work had to be done, so though a few of our favorite projects went undocumented, we managed to catch the majority of the rest on film.

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Much was made this year about the rejuvenation of the Design District (there were huge signs on every corner pointing the way to “Luxury Boutiques” just in case you didn’t get the memo). To our eyes, the amount of work on display there seemed on par with previous years, but the district did have the distinction of being home to our favorite project, Architecture for Dogs. Spearheaded by Kenya Hara, the project asked world-famous designers and architects to create open-source, breed-specific houses for 12 different kinds of pups. (That’s Konstantin Grcic’s mirrored perch for a toy poodle, modeled by Monica, above.)

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Sou Fujimoto’s No Dog, No Life house for a Boston Terrier, made from square panels of Japanese cypress and transparent acrylic board, creates storage for dogs or humans. In the background is Kazuyo Sejima’s super-fluffy papasan-style house for a Bichon Frise, which we frankly wouldn't mind having for ourselves!

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We weren’t so sure about Reiser + Umemoto’s face-covering Cloud for a Chihuahua, though the architects swear by it: “[It] responds to the Chihuahua’s love of burrowing and playing ‘hide and seek.’ In the Cloud the dog is warm, protected, and secure. Furthermore, it serves as a veil that neutralizes preconceptions about the size of Chihuahuas.”

LV1

Nearby at Louis Vuitton was a delightful collection of travel accessories called Objets Nomades, though don’t let their diminutive nature fool you: Most of the prices could compete with the blue-chip artworks on view across the bay. Shown are Barber Osgerby’s solar-powered Bell Lamp ($3,350) and the Campanas’ hanging travel cabinet ($51,500).

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The most surprising piece was this posh, relatively straightforward update of a stadium seat, in prototype form, by Maarten Baas. “It doesn’t look like it’s melting!” was Monica’s shocked assessment.

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After staying for the week in a quad room with bunk beds at the new Roman & Williams–designed hipster hostel The Freehand, we were intrigued to see the airiness of Le Cabanon, a 1:1 reproduction of Le Corbusier’s one-room French seaside retreat, on view at the Cassina showroom. Let’s just say the man had a serious way with built-ins.

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Faux windows replicating Le Corbu’s view.

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Back at Design/Miami, everyone was talking about the Snarkitecture-designed canopy entrance (which somehow managed to stay classy, despite evoking bawdy comparisons to two kinds of gender-specific organs). We also liked these funny, ghost-like lamps by the Brooklyn-based duo on view with our old friends Claire and Sam at Volume Gallery.

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Two booths down, fellow American gallerist Patrick Parrish of Mondo Cane was showing work by Sight Unseen favorites RO/LU. We’ve been coveting that bookshelf on the left since it launched, but apparently we’re about $18,000 too poor for it: It sold for $19,800 to another New York dealer with impeccable taste, Paul Johnson of Johnson Trading Gallery.

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Another crazy amazing RO/LU masterwork.

JTG

Speaking of Paul Johnson, as the American emeritus at the fair, he took a break from commissioning new work and instead showed a personal collection by the late artist and design picker Robert Loughlin, who painted the same brooding figure over and over again on furniture and canvas. We’re slightly obsessed with the car seat edition of this series.

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At Galerie BSL, these cabinets by Lebanese designer Charles Kalpakian were among our favorite pieces at the fair, though our images hardly do them justice.

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At the Victor Hunt booth, Belgian designer Sylvain Willenz showed more beautiful results of his collaboration with the French glass research center CIRVA. The star of the collection was a side table called Shift, whose asymmetrical shape requires a complicated glass-blowing process. But to us, the scene-stealers were these office accessories (above) whose bumpy texture is the result of casting glass in expanded polystyrene foam.

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To show off the glass works, Willenz and gallerist Alexis Ryngaert devised maybe the best display system we’ve seen to date: For tabletops, Ryngaert used slabs of translucent roofing material he found in his gallery’s bathroom, and placed them atop heavy-duty — and seriously gorgeous — scaffolding by the Italian company engraved here.

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Great ceramics by California artist Tony Marsh on view at Pierre Marie Giraud.

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And vintage ones, from a small French village called La Borne, at Magen H.

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Walking to the fair one day, we stumbled across a fantastic exhibition of public art in the courtyard of the Bass Museum of Art, including this geometric cement and stainless-steel screen by Mark Hagen.

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In the main fair, we saw lots of mobiles and huge kinetic sculptures; we even overheard one Hamptons family debating how quickly they could disassemble their George Rickey should another Superstorm hit the East Coast. But we were smitten with the teeny tiny works of art we saw as well, including this palm-sized Ken Price sculpture.

Nada_jim

On our last day in Miami, we hit up NADA, which is where the cool kids of the gallery world set up shop. We loved this project, by our friends at W/--- Projects, who distributed disposable cameras to two-dozen artists, then sold them — undeveloped — at the fair.

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Eye Bowls by Karin Gulbran at White Columns gallery. Expect a Sight Unseen story on her soon!

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Jack Hanley Gallery was showing work by longtime Cindy Sherman assistant Margaret Lee, who was the winner of Artadia’s first-ever NADA grant. Lee also gets the award for best-named work: “Cucumber (On the Wall), 2012.”

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At Canada Gallery, most people likely took the flooring as some sort of high-brow installation, but in fact these were berber rugs for sale by Yousef Idia, the Moroccan-born husband of one of the gallery’s artists.

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Unknown work, unknown artist. If anyone has the answers, please let us know. We like!

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One of the last things we discovered were these ceramic vessels, which were the result of an installation at Miami’s Locust Projects by the up-and-coming artist Theaster Gates. Since November, Gates has run a "factory" at the gallery consisting of four pavilions occupied by “skilled makers.” These vessels represent only some of their output, and while the factory itself is on view until December 21, there was no time for us to visit. If you’re in the area, you should!

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The last thing we coveted wasn’t even part of the fair itself, but a googly-eyed Jim Drain piece that the girls from Locust Projects sneaked us a peek of. At only $1,500, we briefly contemplated investing in our first real piece of art. After all, who wouldn’t want a Jim Drain Wiggle Stick?