Art Basel in Miami Beach | Art in the Age of Anxiety & Rage

Artwork: Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Cast of Characters), 2016. Digital print on vinyl, 60 × 120 in. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers.

Emotion is one of the strongest forces on earth, capable of rendering people paragons of power or utterly vulnerable to external influences outside of their control.  If 2016 has taught us anything, it is the ability to manipulate the masses by preying upon their weaknesses and shoring up support through fear and rage.

Also: The Full Showcase of Stories for Art Basel in Miami Beach

Unfailingly art speaks a thousand words without ever making a sound, reaching the innermost recesses of our being through sight alone. In this way, it can communicate to us—and for us—when words fail to articulate the sense that we’re going to Hell in a handbasket. Crave spotlights a selection of works at Art Basel in Miami Beach that give voice to the shadows that have seemingly come to life.

Sam Durant, End White Supremacy, 2008. Electric sign with vinyl text, 96 x 136 in. Edition 3 of 3 at Blum & Poe.

The first thing most visitors will see when they enter Art Basel in Miami Beach is artist Sam Durant’s massive electric sign glowing on Orange Alert that demands “End White Supremacy” in black vinyl letters on the outer wall of the Blum & Poe booth. It creates a curious and compelling spectacle at the fair, one that both underscores and undermines the issues at hand.

During the VIP preview, which brings together some of the wealthiest from all corners of the globe, there is a notable lack of non-white people in attendance outside the service sectors of the fair. Will the white elite join forces to tear down the power structure that finances and maintains their wealth? Does the white elite recognize their complicity in the scheme, or will they continue to practice cognitive dissonance, proudly patting themselves on the back for not being a member of the Nazi party of the Klan? Do they want truth, or just the appearance of it? Stay tuned….

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Cast of Characters), 2016. Digital print on vinyl, 60 × 120 in. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers.

Come through Barbara Kruger and leave no stone unturned. Call them all out, one after another, so they recognize themselves in the word: “FATUOUS FOOLS, BLOATED EGOS, LOVERS, SINGERS, SPEAKERS, SYCOPHANTS”—the list goes on in capital letters, white raging against black for Untitled (Cast of Characters) (2016) on the outer wall of the Sprüth Magers booth, cattycorner to Blum & Poe.

It makes a wonderful contrast to the work of Sam Durant, for it takes on the complexities of human experience and the way we use words to identify ourselves and others—for better and for worse. Crave fave Kruger has long made her name with the aggressive use of words, demanding we process her ideas in the visual and verbal realms of the brain at the same time. She has never shied from the challenge to tell it like it is, forgoing the pleasantries of appearances in favor of the gut-wrenching truth of politics. She spares no one but rather acts as an Oracle, spreading the word so that at the least we might have the decency to save our souls.

Rodney McMillan, Untitled (Flag IV), 2012. Burlap, thread, plaster, and latex, 80 x 169 in. Maccarone.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most important achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, was gutted and as a result the government worked to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in the 2016 election in key swing states. The London Economic did an incredible interview with investigative reporter Greg Palast, revealing the systemic election rigging against African American, Latino, and Asian American voters.

But for many, a scheme of this grand scale is too impressive to believe; they would prefer to deny the facts and evidence to maintain their illusions about reality. Fortunately, Maccarone takes this head on with the work of artist Rodney McMillan, who created an American flag that speaks to this very issue in a story woven in red thread, telling of a Vietnam vet that was disenfranchised because he could not pay $900 worth of fines. It’s a quiet story, one that is as often ignored as the larger story Palast reported just a few weeks ago.

Atelier Van Lieshout (Ravenstein, Netherlands, 1963). Thin Man, 2011. Bronze, 90 x 120 x 1122 cm. Edition 1 of 8 with 4APs. Photo by Miss Rosen

Galería OMR pulls no punches with Atelier Van Lieshout’s bronze sculpture, Thin Man, thoughtfully placed at the booth’s entrance. Heads swerve, then look away, its likeness too real and grotesque for the comforts of the fair. Not too far from it is an American flag rendered in black on black with sparkly undertones that calls to people as some sort of salvation, I suppose.

Jack Pierson, THIS YEAR, 2016, Metal, plastic, 53 × 107 × 3 in, courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

And now, in December, on the first day of the last month of 2016, something seemingly innocuous yet telling all the same: THIS YEAR (2016), a new word sculpture by Jack Pierson at Cheim & Read. Throughout the course of 2016, we’ve been subject to the mythologizing of this year—long before it completed it’s course, as though, in fact this kind of madness is new. It’s not, but it would appear this way, for the torments of history are forgotten in the torrents of digital media and its effluvia.

Jack Pierson has brilliantly seized upon our obsession with ourselves, feeding our sense of longing and loss, nostalgia and disillusionment with a wicked sense of humor that calls us out for self-aggrandizement.  In this case, what is happening now in the United States, the United States has long been doing to others around the world (and within this country) for hundreds of years. Pierson understands and show he shows “THIS” in alluringly desiccated gold, for all that glitters from a tower over on Fifth Avenue, while “YEAR” is a shown in black and a rusty-reddish brown. Make of it what you will, for many shall do as much, posing beside it for selfies destined for annals nowhere to be found.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.