At prestigious Art Basel Miami Beach, America’s biggest modern art fair, galleries are taking on Donald Trump.
Los Angeles gallery owner Susanne Vielmetter is going out of her way to convey a strong political message with numerous provocative displays.
With a nod to Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ about women, a cardboard artwork by Andrea Bowers screaming ‘Don’t touch me’ flashes wildly on the wall. Perhaps it’s also a nod to Trump lieutenant Corey Lewandowski’s notorious CNN confrontation in which he snapped “Don’t Touch Me” at Christine Quinn.
Guests, iPhones firmly in hand, flock with a mixture of bemusement and interest. Some get it. Some don’t. Nevertheless Bowers’ piece, made from cardboard in homage to placards used by protesters, sold for $32,000.
Another Bowers display centers on the Dream Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which aims to help children illegally brought across the border, something that may be under threat from a Trump Presidency.
“My gallery has always been very political, it’s part of our mission statement,” Vielmetter told Heat Street. The gallery owner is also shopping a striking portrait by Karl Haendel of Hillary Clinton for $32,000.
“The drawing began at a time when we all thought Hillary would win,” added Vielmetter. “The portrait next to it is blacked out and left up to the viewer’s imagination as to how they can interpret that. We haven’t sold any yet, though. I guess it makes people sad.”
The tumultuous political landscape is impossible to escape. Walking around the vast, world-renowned fair which is staged annually in Miami Beach and the Wynwood Art District, the emotions felt by millions are projected in wild and wonderful ways.
With the champagne flowing at $22 a glass, many well-heeled visitors happily emptied their bulging wallets with rare abandon. The total value of art on sale at the fair, which finishes today, is estimated at well over $2 billion.
Vielmetter added: “We have been open 16 years and have been through a few elections, but this year following everything that has happened, we wanted to make a particularly strong, committed statement. It makes you realize the potential that artists have in voicing dissent and opinions about what is happening in the United States at the moment.
“The piece by Andrea was made in reaction to what happened recently and has been popular with the Instagram crowd. I made sure it was on the outside wall because I wanted to make a statement.”
Protest was a massive seller. A huge charcoal portrait by New York painter Robert Longo of the St. Louis Rams holding up their hands for the “Black Lives Matter” protests following the Ferguson riots of 2014 was sold for an incredible $850,000, while a striking 8 foot red neon sign by Sam Durant with the words “End white supremacy” scrawled across it earned attention.
“The piece was created in 2008, but, of course, there was a reason we put it at the front of our display,” admitted Alix Frey, who works for the Blum and Poe Gallery.
Latin American art is represented in 31 of the 269 galleries here. A graphic photo by Colombian Carlos Motta of a naked man bent over with ‘America’ scrawled on half his backside and ‘Latina’ on the other, which forms part of Henrique Faria’s booth, leaves little to interpretation.
“It is important for us not only to exhibit art which is abstract, but to be able to communicate something through the art itself,”said Faria who had sold two of five photos in the series at $7,000 each. “It’s a strong image, although I don’t believe it is vulgar at all. On the contrary, it’s a clear statement about what has happened in Latin America for years and years, even since colonization.”
He added: “In today’s political climate, it resonates in this ongoing situation. It even refers to the way our President Elect has treated the people on the other side of the border.
“I think the aesthetic of the gallery is beautiful but it’s important to communicate messages. That’s what art does.”