MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Art Basel Miami Beach is a delicate organism. It requires sunlight, optimism and an abundant supply of collectors with open wallets. And while there’s generally plenty of the sun around here, the other two elements were in short supply last December, to the point where some wondered whether this fair could survive. It has, by adapting to the new environment. Crowds are smaller at this year’s fair, which runs through Sunday, and parties more intimate. Discounts are rumored to be larger. The noon stampede on Wednesday, when the fair opened to V.I.P.’s, was an orderly procession. Relief is the prevailing emotion; the irrational exuberance of two or three years ago feels very far away.Skip to next paragraphMichael F. Mcelroy for The New York Times
Art Basel Miami Beach is featuring many large works this week, including “Tangerine Dream,” by Jim Lambie, from the Rubell Family Collection. More Photos »
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The art, however, is big — much of it sized for museums, foundations and private warehouses. And the larger scene surrounding the event, which is now in its eighth year, remains daunting, with upwards of 15 satellite fairs and the usual calendar of dinners, parties, concerts and talks. From the evidence here, the art fair, as a species, is not endangered: collectors are too attached to its convenience and competitive vibe.
At the main event a clever redesign has distracted most visitors from the lower energy level, and has been generally well received. The most drastic change is the new centrality of Art Positions, a section of the fair dedicated to emerging galleries, which has been relocated from a nearby beach to a ring in the middle of the exhibition hall. Collectors seemed a bit disoriented at first, but no one missed the shipping containers that served as oceanfront booths in past years.
Blue-chip art by Americans is everywhere, from vintage work by Joan Mitchell at Cheim & Read and by James Rosenquist at Acquavella to Alex Katz’s new, eye-popping portraits on cheery yellow and orange grounds, which are at Pace and Jablonka. (The presence of so much high-quality work by sought-after artists may have had something to do with the thriving secondary market fed by collectors in need of quick cash.)
Latin American art is just as visible, both at and around the fair. Works from the circle of the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, whose Museum of Modern Art retrospective opens on Dec. 13, seem particularly widespread. And one of Mr. Orozco’s own pieces, a giant oval pool table, is a major element in the most talked-about off-site show, the Bass Museum of Art’s exhibition of works from the Jumex Collection. Based in Mexico City, it is Latin America’s most prominent private collection of contemporary art, and is being shown in the United States for the first time.
As usual, the Art Kabinetts, organized mini-exhibits within selected booths, are excellent. They range from a reprise of the Francis M. Naumann gallery’s recent show “Marcel Duchamp: the Art of Chess” to diagram doodles and zines by the painter Amy Sillman at Sikkema Jenkins.
Bright spots in Art Nova, the fair’s section for young galleries showing new art, include Lorraine O’Grady’s photographs at Alexander Gray and new paintings by Dana Schutz at Zach Feuer. Ms. Schutz’s paintings, each titled with three verbs, imply frantic activity. (By late afternoon of the day of the V.I.P. preview, the large ones had already sold, though smaller works were still available.)
Also in the Art Nova section, at Reena Spaulings, are Merlin Carpenter’s paintings of reviews from The New York Times. (We get it: critics are part of the market, whether we like it or not.) Other dealers who specialize in attitude and art fair shenanigans are noticeably absent — Gavin Brown, to name the most obvious one. Turnover was heavy. About 60 of last year’s exhibitors did not return, although others quickly replaced them; the fair added five galleries over all.
A different, less abrasive sort of institutional critique is emerging. Big-name artists take a gentle ribbing, exemplified by Jonathan Monk’s flaccid version of a Jeff Koons balloon bunny at Lisson. And a new category — self-loathing neon art — has been born. At Peres Projects, a neon drawing with text by Dan Attoe says, “We’re all here because we were too afraid to deal with problems in our real lives.” And at Ingleby, a neon wall text by Peter Liversidge reads, “Miami Beach is where neon goes to die.”
A smattering of dealers have rejected the moody and cerebral. James Fuentes has a riotous installation of sculptures by Agathe Snow: bulbous figures with likenesses of Homer Simpson and President Obama against a graffiti-scrawled background. El Anatsui’s shimmering red-and-gold wall hangings that resemble crumpled textiles enliven Jack Shainman’s booth. And Salon 94’s showstopping installation by Marilyn Minter and Wangechi Mutu has larger-than-life photographs of a gold-dipped tongue (Ms. Mutu’s).
Art Basel Miami Beach runs through Sunday at Miami Beach Convention Center, Halls B and D, 1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach, Fla.; artbaselmiamibeach.com.