art basel miami beach 2018 best works
Josh Sobel

Every year, the first weekend of December brings a cacophony of hype to Miami, like an early kickoff to festival season that brings “the culture” out in full force. Virgil Abloh regularly whirls through an ungodly 10-plus parties in the span of four days. A party on the beach features a Young Thug performance and somehow every human in the 305 ends up at E11EVEN Miami.

The actual art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, has been going since 2002. It takes place at the Miami Beach Convention Center and is the nexus where you can see George Condo and Jean-Michel Basquiat works on the same day you catch a glimpse of Kanye West attempting to land an ollie. It’s the most literal embodiment of the term “pop culture” out there.

If you prefer to focus on the art and missed out on this year’s get-together, we’ve swerved the parties to round up our favorite works from Art Basel Miami Beach 2018. Check them out below.

KAWS, New York, 2018

Gallery: Skarstedt Gallery, New York and London

Brooklyn-based street art legend and Highsnobiety favorite KAWS pays a dark kind of homage to the Big Apple with his work New York. The man born Brian Donnelly has always deployed a layer of subversion within his cartoonish style, and this piece is no different. Elsewhere, you can catch KAWS’ “GONE” exhibition until December 19 at New York’s Skarstedt Gallery.

Takashi Murakami, Forest Companions, 2017

Gallery: Perrotin, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, New York, and Hong Kong

Takashi Murakami is always on our must-see list, and his work at Art Basel Miami was no exception. Global gallery Perrotin, which is currently hosting the Japanese artist’s first-ever show in mainland China, chose to exhibit his 2017 work Forest Companions. The large canvas is dominated by one of Murakami’s signature bear characters, with a small shoutout to his flower motif, all in a slightly muted (for Murakami at least) color palette. But it’s the sheer detail at work in this piece that made it a standout.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Whole Livery Line, 1987

Gallery: Edward Tyler Nahem, New York

Basquiat is probably best known for his graffiti-inspired paintings, and more recently the copious amounts of clothing to have featured his imagery, but the late New York legend’s earlier SAMO work is among his best. The above work, made the year before he died, originated as a SAMO graffiti before making its way onto canvas.

Deana Lawson, Binky & Tony Forever, 2009

deana lawson art basel art basel miami beach 2018
Rhona Hoffman Gallery / Deana Lawson

Gallery: Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago

You’ll probably recognize the above image as the album artwork for Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound, but the work predates the 2016 album. In fact, Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes told Deana Lawson that her 2009 image inspired the entire album. Much of Lawson’s work focuses on what The New Yorker calls “hyper-staged portraits of black love.” As natural as Binky & Tony Forever seems, every last detail was arranged by Lawson, from the couple (who weren’t actually dating) down to the Michael Jackson poster on the wall.

Do Ho Suh, Specimen Series: Refrigerator, Unit 2, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2015

Gallery: Victoria Miro, New York

Korean-born, New York-based artist Do Ho Suh’s work explores ideas of home, displacement, and physical space by replicating objects from his domestic life using a transparent polyester material. For Art Basel Miami, New York’s Victoria Miro gallery showed Refrigerator from his larger “Specimens” series. After seeing such a beautiful fridge, you’ll never look at your own appliances the same again.

Leandro Erlich, Traffic Jam (Order of Importance), 2018

Gallery: Ruth Benzacar, Buenos Aires

Even if you’re not into art, it’s hard not to love Leandro Erlich’s sandy carvings of a traffic jam. The Argentine artist is known for his whimsical sculptures, creating an optical illusion swimming pool and even his own hilarious-looking sport.

Made using sand and three different kinds of salt (for a hardened crust), Traffic Jam (Order of Importance) is detailed right down to its realistic mix of cars, including taxis, SUVs, and police vehicles. And if that’s not enough, at next year’s Art Basel, Erlich is set to make a life-sized version of this work on Miami Beach.

George Condo, Elastic Figures, 2010

Gallery: Lévy Gorvy, New York and London

George Condo, perhaps most popularly known as the man behind the artwork for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was exhibited at multiple galleries in Miami this week. His “Artifical Realism” approach is a mishmash of various artistic schools, melding the cartoonish elements of pop art with touches of Picasso-esque cubism and the expressionism of Matisse and Jackson Pollock. Elastic Figures, pictured above, is by turns humorous, bizarre, disturbing, and inscrutable.

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective, 1995-2003

Gallery: neugerriemschneider, Berlin

Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei’s work is famed for being critical of social injustices, human rights violations, and systemic violence. Debuting on his blog between the years 2005 and 2009, his Study of Perspective photographs are a visual “fuck you” to famed landmarks around the world, such as the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and Tiananmen Square.

Keith Haring, Untitled (Burning Skull), 1987

art basel miami beach 2018 best work
Josh Sobel

Gallery: Lévy Gorvy, New York and London

Among his well-known colorful figures and radiant babies, Haring’s Untitled (Burning Skull) stands out as something starker. Made the year before he was diagnosed with AIDS, the skull is made up of miniature figures and reflects the darker side of life in ’80s New York City.

Of course, after his death from AIDS-related complications in 1990, Haring’s work has lived on, deployed in recent years by brands including A Bathing Ape, Joyrich, Dickies, and Uniqlo, and exposing his inimitable style to a whole new generation.

William Coupon, “Heroes of the New Wave,” 1978-1988

Gallery: Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

If anything, celebrities are over-documented, but there’s something different about William Coupon’s work. His photographic style fits somewhere between painterly and school portrait. Whether he’s taking pictures of major New York figures, as above, ex-presidents, or even Donald Trump, there’s a striking quality to his work that makes it hard to look away.

This series, “Heroes of the New Wave,” includes portraits of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, and Mudd Club owner Steve Mass.

In other art news, “Young Thug as Paintings” started as a meme and now it’s at Miami Art Week.

  • Contributor: Rae Witte
News & Culture Editor

Berlin-based writer and Rihanna enthusiast.

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