Art Basel Miami Beach 2019:

Access and Success for Detroit and
Chicago Artists


Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 just ended, and I survived. Since its debut in 2002, this gargantuan art sale, trade convention and cool kids’ party in the Miami Convention center has spawned over twenty satellite fairs—PULSE, SCOPE, Untitled, Aqua Art, Spectrum, Red Dot and this year, Pinta, to name just a few.  Purely in self-defense against this tidal wave of art, I prioritized Chicago and Detroit galleries for extra attention. Here’s what I found.

The main fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, is playground and shopping mall for the top 0.1%, where the haves go to have more. Four galleries—Rhona Hoffman, Richard Gray Gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey and Kavi Gupta—represented Chicago in the main exhibitors’ section.

In Corbett vs. Dempsey’s booth, Lui Shtini’s lovely painting Under Water stood out. I was also happy to see Margot Bergman’s small, charismatic picture, Isabell. Her paintings, like bumblebees, shouldn’t fly—but they do.

Richard Gray Gallery featured one of Jaume Plensa’s huge, silvery heads with its characteristic perspectival distortion, similar to one that currently rests on the front steps of the Toledo Museum of Art. I noticed Gladys Nilsson’s painting, Repose, outside Rhona Hoffman’s booth, as well as a terrific piece, Shape in the Green, by Wassef Boutros-Ghali, an artist whose work was new to me. There was relatively little photography at Art Basel Miami Beach this year, but Hoffman had on hand Deana Lawson’s intimate posed inkjet prints of African American subjects.

Two Chicago galleries, Monique Meloche and Mariane Ibrahim, found their way into Art Basel Miami Beach this year in the Nova section, one of several special project areas intended to render the main fair more accessible to emerging gallerists and artists.

Monique Meloche brought two Chicago-based artists to Nova: Jamaican-born Ebony G. Patterson and Maia Cruz Palileo. Mariane Ibrahim presented virtuosic, graphically powerful paintings by the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo. Both the galleries and their artists got some love from the people of Miami Beach by way of the Legacy Purchase award. Patterson’s lyrical, shadowboxed evocation of nature “…as the garden secrets a swarm of monarchs feast……a john crow awaits a carcass’ fall while scavengers gather to feast below, as we did between the cuts…below the leaves…beneath the soil" was chosen by an online public vote for purchase by the city. Boafo’s Cobalt Blue Earring was also purchased by Miami Beach.

There were no Detroit galleries represented at Art Basel in the Miami Beach Convention Center, but I found David Klein Gallery comfortably ensconced nearby at Art Miami, in an enormous light-filled space near the beach. Art Miami predates the whole Art Basel phenomenon, and the gallery has had a booth there each year since 2008. They brought work by several of their best Detroit artists as well as recent paintings from some talented newcomers.

Kelly Reemtsen’s monumental Rise Up anchored the collection, the billowing taffeta skirt of her genteel but assertive debutante seeming to catch the warm Miami breeze. The light in the heavy white impasto surrounding the figure felt a little different on the beach than it had when I saw the piece in Detroit.

Two large portraits by accomplished figurative painter Mario Moore brought a bit of Motown to Miami. His confident, casually dressed subjects looked comfortable in their skins and in their environment. Though David Klein Gallery has routinely shown the work of African Americans, the gallery now seems particularly on trend. Images by and of people of color were front and center this year throughout all the fairs.

Rosalind Tallmadge and Marianna Olague, two recent graduates of Cranbrook Art Academy, were represented by David Klein in Miami in 2019. Tallmadge’s formal mica, glass bead and metal leaf encrusted artworks seemed to shimmer in the ambient Florida sunshine, while Marianna Olague’s self-contained and pensive young women inhabited pictorial space suffused with the warm light of her native El Paso.

Nada Miami (, located in Miami’s Ice Palace Studios, is generally acknowledged as the place to look for up-and-coming talent of the future.  That is where I found by far the greatest preponderance of Detroit and Chicago galleries and artists. Many of the Chicago galleries at NADA were new to me, but my encounter with Western Exhibitions felt like running across an old friend. Also showing work from Chicago were Patron, Regards, M. LeBlanc and MICKEY.

Two Detroit galleries found their way to NADA in 2019: Simone DeSousa and Reyes|Finn. (And in the NADA Projects section, a sort of junior NADA, I encountered Detroit Presents, sponsored by Detroit Art Week and showcasing work by Anthony Giannini.)

This was the second year at NADA for DeSousa, and she brought work by two Detroit artists. Neha Vedpathak’s  ritually-derived, warmly colored freeform artworks contrasted nicely with Iris Eichenberg’s light-absorbing, idiosyncratic and subtly humorous objects.

A more conceptual vibe prevailed at Reyes|Finn,  under the frosty glow of Detroit-born Maya Stovall’s hermetic neon signs, which refer to year dates significant to the artist and reference coincident meaningful cultural touchstones. Co-exhibitor Nick Doyle’s scaled-up objects—a giant wall outlet, a huge, discarded coffee cup, a snapshot camera—were rendered in denim blue, a color both common and cool.


Orkideh Torabi, Follow your heart, 2019, in the Western Exhibitions booth at NADA. Photo by K.A. Letts.


The street art aesthetic that is so prevalent in Detroit was noticeably absent from the established fairs, with the exception of SCOPE, where I saw a pair of Chicago galleries, Vertical and Line Dot Editions, that carried the flag for that way of thinking and making. The Wynwood neighborhood was the place to go for rude, risky, vital work. Some of the most impressive artwork that I saw in this vein wasn’t in a fair at all, but at Mana Contemporary, where Miami’s local art community has a home. There I saw art that hasn’t (yet) made it into the mainstream, unless you count a small piece by Karl Wirsum that I glimpsed in the back room at Corbett vs. Dempsey in their Art Basel Miami Beach exhibit.

The week I spent at Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite fairs was aesthetically exhausting and physically demanding. It was also a great way to see a huge amount of art, much of it excellent. One wonders, though, whether Miami Art Week is environmentally sustainable in the long run; it’s a little hard to ignore the perils of climate change while looking at art on a vulnerable beach.

K.A. Letts

K.A. Letts is a working artist ( and art blogger ( She has shown her paintings and drawings in galleries and museums in Toledo, Detroit, Chicago and New York. She writes frequently about art in the Detroit area.


Monique Meloche installation in Nova Section at Art Basel Miami Beach. Ebony G. Patterson’s “…as the garden secrets a swarm of monarchs feast……a john crow awaits a carcass’ fall while scavengers gather to feast below, as we did between the cuts…below the leaves…beneath the soil” (2019), the Miami Beach Purchase Award-winning artwork on right. Photo by K.A. Letts.

David Klein installation in their booth at Art Miami wtih Kelly Reemtsen’s Rise Up in the foreground. Photo by K.A. Letts.



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