Art Basel Miami Beach took place a week and a day later than usual this time around, and that was a good thing. It meant that early arrivals could spend a couple of days of with the exhibitions already on view ahead of the hectic fair-hopping.

You could travel all the way to West Palm Beach to visit ARTnews Top 200 Collector Beth Rudin DeWoody’s collection or take in closer ones like those of the Rubell Family and Jorge Pérez. At the museums, the offerings range from a disappointing solo for Miami-based Hernan Bas to a standout survey for Charles Gaines at the Institute of Contemporary Art. 

Below, a look at some of the good and the bad on view in South Florida ahead of the fair.

Collectors with an Eye

DeWoody and her curatorial team, Maynard Monrow and Laura Dvorkin, are on a roll this year. Those who made the trek to West Palm Beach to visit her private exhibition space, the Bunker Artspace, could find a group of spectacular exhibitions that acted as a testament to the depth of DeWoody’s collection. Thankfully, those shows also don’t take themselves too seriously.

The best of them was “Utility,” set in a gallery decked out to look like a utility closet. It was filled mostly with sculptural pieces depicting everyday household items, like a Target bag by Lucia Hierro, an iron by Willie Cole, and a copper FedEx box by Walead Beshty. But the starriest show was “Family Affair,” the result of a yearlong dialogue between DeWoody and dealer Peter Harkawik.

“Family Affair” is a maximalist, salon-style exhibition that is teeming with gems, some of which are placed in conversation with one another. There’s a wall devoted to works by members of the Saar family: Betye and her daughters Alison and Lezley. And there’s a section for the Mullicans: Lee and his wife, the painter Luchita Hurtado, plus their children Matt and Lucy. Harkawik, in an essay accompanying the show, says that his exhibition has “no curatorial position, nor does it make attempts at comprehensiveness, concision or timeliness.” Rather than making a grand statement about the art included, it makes the case for how creativity is passed down among the generations.

DeWoody kept especially busy this year, and with Monrow, Dvorkin, and Zoe Lukov, she curated the exhibition “Gimme Shelter” for the Historic Hampton House Museum of Culture & Art. A former Green Book Hotel, the venue was Miami’s only luxury hotel for African Americans during Jim Crow–era segregation. Presenting contemporary art upstairs—by the likes of Richard Mayhew, Carrie Mae Weems, Nick Cave, Terry Adkins, Lauren Halsey,Christopher Myers, Bony Ramirez, Kandy G Lopez, Devin Reynolds, and Moises Salazar—alongside two preserved rooms where Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali once stayed was truly special. That the sense of history was palpable and its meeting cutting-edge, contemporary art poignant. That the Historic Hampton House was almost demolished more than 20 years ago shows just important it is to hold onto history like this.

Two abstract paintings hanging on a wall.
Jorge Pérez’s El Espacio 23 has on view a show called “To Weave the Sky.”

Also in Miami proper, Jorge Pérez’s El Espacio 23 has “To Weave the Sky,” expertly curated by Tobias Ostrander, the Tate’s adjunct curator for Latin American art. Here, textiles meet abstract works, resulting in pure beauty. A recently acquired Lee Krasner work from 1951 and a 1973 Joan Mitchell hang near a woven floor piece by Ximena Garrido-Lecca. Elsewhere, an Etel Adnan tapestry is shown alongside her enamoring paintings.

The close-by Rubell Museum has given over several rooms to LA-based artists, including Patrick Martinez, Danie Cansino, Mario Ayala, Noah Davis, Sayre Gomez, Alfonso Gonzalez Jr., and Lauren Halsey. You will want to spend time with them all. And in the Design District, Craig Robins hosted a reception to see the works on view from his collection in the offices of his Dacra Development, while the Juan Carlos Maldonado Collection has recently moved to a new space and has on view works from his deep holdings of international geometric abstraction, including Gego, Josef Albers, Kenneth Noland, Noboru Takayama, César Paternosto, Glenda León, and Alexander Apóstol. Miami’s private collections continue to play to their strengths.

The State of Museums

While I was in West Palm Beach, before heading to the Bunker, I checked out the Norton Museum of Art, which has a significant collection of European, American, and Chinese art. While the older stuff is middling at best there, it’s clear that the museum has built up a formidable contemporary art collection. Works by Awol Erizku, Gisela Colón, and Cheyenne Julien—all acquired within in the past few years—show that the curators have their fingers on the pulse.

The state of museums in Miami and Miami Beach, where quantity trumps quality, is direr. Take the Bass in Miami Beach, which is staging so many shows that one devoted to Etel Adnan, an important artist whose spare landscapes are enchanting, ended up in a glorified hallway. An exhibition about Nam June Paik and his connections to Miami also didn’t feel scholarly enough to merit much attention.

A painting of a man standing in a studio besides many of his creations.
Hernan Bas, Conceptual artist #37 (he exclusively paints portraits of conceptual artists who have never existed), 2023.

The most buzzed-about Bass show, a solo exhibition for Hernan Bas, was another big disappointment. I’ve never been a fan of Bas’s painterly aesthetic; his handling of the figure is a bit uninspired, and his focus on specifically white gay subject matter has started to feel retrograde. But I went into the exhibition with an open mind, hoping to be swayed. I left feeling even less convinced than I was before.

Titled “The Conceptualists,” this series has Bas imaging different types of conceptual artists who take exacting approaches. The work that opens the show is also the first in the series, an artist who “exclusively mixes his paints with water from Niagara Falls,” per the work’s title. I’ll admit it made me chuckle. But further along was less compelling subject matter: artists who work with popsicle sticks, make snow angels out of blood, take Polaroids of themselves and put them on milk cartons. Conceptual art is an easy punching bag, and these tableaux featuring interchangeable white twinks are low blows.

Ironically, the biggest work in the show, the 21-foot-wide Conceptual artist #37 (he exclusively paints portraits of conceptual artists who have never existed), seems to assert Bas as a conceptual artist. In it, an artist stands in his studio surrounded with the various studies for the other artists as well as the calling cards of their practices. Good conceptual art is all about ways of working—how one executes an idea. Ironically, Bas doesn’t seem very interested in thinking much about it all. If he tried any of these approaches, he’d realize how bad the art is.

By the way, it’s worth remembering that although Art Basel Miami Beach is a selling event, museums are not immune to the whims of market either. Several works from this series have already been shown in the past year at two of the artist’s galleries, Victoria Miro in London and Lehmann Maupin in New York, who also provided support to the show. A few of the works at the Bass have been scooped up by collectors, who can now boast that their painting has the bona fides of being shown in a museum.

Across Biscayne Bay, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, most shows also promise more than they offer. Exhibitions for the Egyptian-born nonagenarian Ahmed Morsi and the young Brooklynite Sasha Gordon are being billed as firsts for these respective artists, but they’re formless and small. These are mainly just milestones to put on the artists’ CVs. In the case of Morsi, a 13-painting show isn’t going to reveal much that hasn’t already been covered by his acclaimed 2017 retrospective at the Sharjah Art Foundation. As for Gordon, I was hoping to be learn a bit more about why the art world is buzzing so much about this young artist, but failed to do so.

There is, however, a solid Charles Gaines survey at the ICA. Focusing on works from the early ’90s to today, the two-floor show is highlighted by Falling Rock (2000–2023), a grandfather clock–like structure in which a 65-pound chunk of granite is lowered toward a sheet of glass every ten minutes. When I entered the gallery, the granite happened to crash into the glass, shattering it. It provided a welcome shock to the system amid mostly bland museum offerings here in Miami.