“If you can’t laugh in this hell-scape then it really is hell,” says artist Chelsea Culprit.
At the beginning of December, the glitterati descended on Miami for Art Basel, which, if not the world’s biggest art fair, is undoubtedly the most glamorous. The fair opened with a press conference in which Miami Beach’s mayor described Art Basel as “the art world’s Superbowl.” The annual event sees works by over 4000 artists displayed at the Miami Beach Convention Center and satellite galleries —and tens of thousands more on display throughout the scorching, bikini-clad city as part of Miami Design Week’s related events.
This year also marked Basel’s (the cool kids drop the ‘Art’) Miami edition’s 20th anniversary. Hosting the fair in Miami — a city previously synonymous with the drug trade thanks to pop culture mainstays like Scarface and Miami Vice etched in our brains — was seen as a bold move two decades ago. But the Miami iteration of the fair (which also has chapters in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Paris) has been a resounding success. It has also done wonders for the city, turning what was previously (perhaps unfairly) considered a cultural wasteland into an artistic hotspot swarming with collectors, journalists, and celebrities each Winter (not that you would know it was winter in Miami).
As a philanthropic publication, we would be remiss not to mention the convention’s donation to the STEAM + program, which aims to bring artists into Miami beach’s public schools, thus increasing Basel’s reach beyond the one percent to local kids.
As always, behind a sheath of celebrities, yacht parties, and checkbooks (or crypto apps) stood an innumerable number of thought-provoking pieces, from sculptures to paintings and, of course, NFTs. But amid a world where the constructs confining gender and sexuality are constantly shifting and an America (particularly a Florida) where women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights are under threat, it was the pieces tackling gender and sexuality where Basel shone brightest.
Below, we outline the artists who best combatted the gender and sexuality minefield at Basel, from feminist tapestry artist Erin M. Riley to Brazilian concept artist Jonathas de Andrade.
Jonathas de Andrade
Jonathas de Andrade’s irreverent sculpture Lost and Found was exhibited at Meridians, a section dedicated to large-scale artworks at this year’s Art Basel. It depicts clay male torsos clothed in speedos the artist found in the changing rooms of swimming clubs in Recife, Brazil, over the past decade. Legs akimbo, strewn in kitsch swimwear, at first glance, the sculpture is amusing. But Andrade was tackling something deeper, “I like how the installation can be at the same time curious, or even funny and naughty.” he tells Mission. “But also there’s a violent atmosphere in it, calling for attention when we see chopped clay bodies with lost speedos “moving” around. The lgbtqia+ agenda is still struggling to guarantee basic rights and respect, and I’m interested in driving the general public to these urgent issues in an inviting way.”
Although Osinachi’s For This Is My Body was displayed at SCOPE, a modern art exhibit on Miami Beach, as part of Miami Design Week, its commentary on abortion rights and their mutually destructive relationship with religion warrants its inclusion here. The moving digital artwork depicts a Black virgin mary holding a coat hanger “in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade.” “This is 2022, and it still beats me that the highest court of the land is basically policing women’s bodies, saying a woman shouldn’t have control over her own body,” the Nigerian artist wrote of the piece on Instagram.
Kentucky-raised artist Chelsea Culprit has long been tackling sexuality and the queer experience in her work. For her piece at Art Basel, she combined this topic with a critique of capitalism through a sculpture of a pole winding lazily from ceiling to floor, titled Relaxed Pole/ Pole on Break. “[It] expresses the fatigue of every symbol and object that holds women down and defines gender according to transactional commerce, or that makes people into pawns,” Culprit tells Mission. “It expresses the sheer physical exhaustion of underpaid overtime and pretending that oppression is sexy —which for the majority of the population all over is necessary to survival. It’s also funny. Because if you can’t laugh in this hellscape, then it really is hell,” she quips.
Erin M. Riley
Tapestry artist Erin M. Riley’s work centers around the female experience, with a specific focus on sexuality. A 25′ tapestry (the artist’s largest ever) combating domestic violence and the teenage experience was also displayed as part of Meridians at this year’s fair. “I wanted to make work from the perspective of the child inside me, so I was using images of me from my childhood, as well as reflecting upon the body I now inhabit and the words impacting me now,” Riley informs us. “I think we are all walking around telling stories without all the details, mostly to protect the ones that hurt us because most often someone hurt them (though that’s not excusing it). The work is hopefully a place where people can infer a story and maybe start putting together the pieces of the stories they’ve compartmentalized over time.”
Rafa Esparza’s Art Basel adjacent work was more of a performance piece than a purchasable artwork. His contribution came in the form of him morphed at the waist into a chrome cyborg/ meets lowrider car. Corpo RanfLA: Terra Cruiser was a collaboration between Esparza, Image magazine, and Commonwealth and Council. “I wanted to tease some of those conflicting feelings that I had with lowrider car culture. I still have very vivid memories of cruising on Whittier Boulevard with my brother and my cousins…I was thinking about cruising specifically, and then, obviously, just saying the word “cruising” and what it connotes for me — how that word lives in my body. I came of age to my sexualities by cruising at Elysian Park — that was the first time that I had a consensual sexual encounter with another man.” Esparza wrote of the piece in an essay for the Los Angeles Times.
Homepage image courtesy of Nara Roesler Gallery and Galleria Continua. Inside image courtesy of Erin M. Riley