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Beyond the booth: how artists flourish in the Meridians sector

Introduced in 2019, Art Basel Miami Beach’s Meridians sector pushes the boundaries of the traditional art fair format. From ambitious sculptures and monumental paintings to immersive installations, Meridians provides the opportunity to exhibit works that might not otherwise be shown at the fair. 

Curated annually by Museo Tamayo’s Director Magalí Arriola, this year’s presentation includes artists who specialize in large-scale works, such as Ebony G. Patterson, whose largest, single wall-based paper collage is being presented by Monique Meloche Gallery, and Julie Buffalohead, who is creating new narrative paintings exhibited by Jessica Silverman Gallery. 

The Meridians sector also allows other artists to expand their practice, such as Saif Azzuz, whose largest sculpture to date is being shown at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery. Joining these is Louis Stern Fine Art, exhibiting a study for a mural at Scripps College by Alfredo Ramos Martínez that has never been exhibited before. Others are taking more immersive approaches, such as Paula Cooper Gallery presenting an installation by Ja’Tovia Gary; Ryan Lee exhibiting Masako Miki; and Meredith Rosen Gallery staging a site-specific, 60-minute composition by Stefan Tcherepnin.

As the busy fall art season began, I spoke with seven exhibitors about the works they selected for the Meridians sector and the expansive format for their artists.

Why did you choose the artist you’re exhibiting for Art Basel Miami Beach’s audience?

Louis Stern: Alfredo Ramos Martínez, considered by many to be the founding father of modern Mexican art, created works that celebrated the rich connections and conversations between his native Mexico and his adopted home in the United States. I feel this spirit of cultural and artistic exchange is in perfect keeping with Art Basel Miami Beach’s diverse international audience. 

Monique Meloche: Our first Art Basel Miami Beach was in the Nova sector with Ebony G. Patterson and Maia Cruz Palileo. Ebony won the first-ever City of Miami prize, with a work now permanently on view in the convention center. Her major solo traveling exhibition at Pérez Art Museum Miami followed in 2018, and we’ve featured her in our booth every year in the Galleries sector ever since. She’s become inter4nationally recognized by private and public collections, and her current takeover of the New York Botanical Garden is a tour de force.

Steve Henry (Senior Partner, Paula Cooper Gallery): Ja’Tovia Gary’s Quiet As It’s Kept is an incisive exploration of The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison’s first – and arguably her most powerful – literary work. The gallery was determined to present this installation in Florida, one of many states where the book is widely banned. The themes of race and color, desirability, self-aware- ness, and beauty in Morrison’s book are expanded in Gary’s installation, which provides hard-hitting and necessary commentary on expression and civil liberties that are under dire assault in the especially fraught current social and political realms.

One of the goals of the Meridians sector is to push the boundaries of what can be displayed at an art fair. Steve, how do you feel Gary’s immersive work accomplishes this?

SH: Quiet As It’s Kept is an expansive installation incorporating film, sound, light, and ready- made sculpture. The work’s scale and message push the boundaries of what is expected at an art fair, providing a lightning rod for conversation about political, cultural, and deeply personal issues. Gary considers herself an installation artist, so Meridians has given us a terrific opportunity for the artist to present her work in the way she wants it to be experienced.

Louis, the opportunity to present on a larger scale seems particularly beneficial for Alfredo Ramos Martínez. Why has this mural study never before been exhibited?

LS: It has only recently come out of the artist’s estate, and due to its large size, it can be logistically challenging to exhibit. I am delighted to debut this work to a large global audience in a space designed to accommodate its magnitude. We had a very successful presentation of works by Ramos Martínez at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2021, including a smaller mural study related to the one we’ll be presenting. We are pleased to be able to present this monumental scale work in the Meridians sector, which will provide adequate space to display it to its best advantage.

What other themes will your artists’ works bring to the fair?

Jessica Silverman: Julie Buffalohead’s new paintings for Meridians explore themes of justice, considering how we share our world through interpersonal, spatial, and spiritual connections. With metaphor and humor, the artist’s visual stories are enacted by a cast of North American animals common to Native folklore.

Jeffrey Lee (Partner, Ryan Lee): Masako Miki’s installations of felt sculptures, wall drawings, floor vinyls, and sometimes bronze works are inspired by Shinto folklore and the idea that there are myriad gods in this universe, yet they can only fulfill their duties as a collective. The scale of the Meridians sector allows us to show an installation like in museums and galleries where individual elements are interconnected to form an alternative universe.

How do you hope visitors engage with the work?

JL: We hope the audience views Miki’s sculptures as characters to interact with. Her motifs reference intangible shape-shifting characters from the idea of animism. While there is a familiar connection with the colors, shapes, and material, an unfamiliar presence also alludes to something more. The installation sets up a unique starting point for crafting new mythologies.

Nicelle Beauchene: In Saif Azzuz’s private collection, there’s more than meets the eye. We hope that the work challenges expectations around privileged immediacy and access to art – especially in an art fair environment – encouraging viewers to develop new engagement protocols. Here, Saif controls how and under what conditions certain artworks are viewed and offers explicitly an opportunity for curiosity and intentional spectatorship.

Nicelle, I understand you’ll also have smaller works by Saif Azzuz in your booth. How does working on this larger scale expand his practice?

NB: His practice often considers installation as part of exhibitions, but this is his largest sculpture to date. Working on this larger scale allows Saif to integrate all elements of his practice – painting, drawing, assemblage and metalwork sculpture, installation – into an artwork that challenges conventions around viewing art.

Meredith, you’re exhibiting one of the most immersive works in the sector. What can visitors expect from the presentation?

Meredith Rosen: Stefan Tcherepnin will stage the piece live during the fair, performing a set of electric tracks based on his forthcoming cassette, Kvantum Appreciation Society Vol. 1-3. He will play baritone guitar, keyboard, Sonica, and vocals with Paul Sigerhall on drums. Performing and music are a large part of Tcherepnin’s practice and family. His installations unfold gradually over time with a repeating series of motifs, refrains, reversals, and distortions – a total experience beyond language.

What does having the opportunity to display a large-scale, ambitious work by your artist mean for them?

MM: Patterson’s piece for Meridians is over 50 feet long and was made for her solo show at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which unfortunately happened in 2020, so very few people saw it in person (including the artist herself). We feel a dedicated wall in Meridians is the perfect platform for this ambitious work to be given its proper due.

JS: Meridians is an opportunity for Buffalohead to expand the scale and broaden the narrative of her deeply allegorical paintings. An installation of two vast works side by side combines the storytelling power of a mural with the audacity of a history painting.

MR: Tcherepnin’s piece is a fine art object, is for sale, and could be exhibited in a different sector, but Meridians is a unique platform that lets the gallery push beyond the transactional nature of the art fair and allows the artist to engage with the public directly through performance.

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