Wax at the Miami Art Fairs

Text and photography by Joanne Mattera

I love the week of Post Conference, when I get to slow down and spend time listening to artists. This is what I’ve heard them ask over and over again: Where can I see good work in wax outside of the Encaustic Conference? How come there’s so little figuration in encaustic? Why is there so little sculpture? Where are the men?

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Marina Abramovic at ABMB, 2012, showing with Lia Rumma, Milan and Naples: All sculptures are titled The Communicator, dated 2012, black or white wax with embedded quartz crystals on glass pedestals

Visiting a large art fair would answer some of those questions, as I hope this photo essay will. At Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) and the 20 or so satellite fairs that take over the town the first weekend in December, there’s plenty of figuration, a lot of it sculptural. There’s plenty of painting, a good deal of it abstract. There’s plenty of wax! And beyond our hearty band of Conference colleagues, there are many more men working with wax. Indeed, exhibiting at this level there are at least as many men as women, sometimes more.

The artists showing at these fairs—such as Wolfgang Laib, Johannes Girardoni, and Amy Ellingson—do not define themselves by medium as they do not work exclusively in wax. Besides, it’s no coincidence that when the adjective gets chucked the career gets bigger. (I’ve said the same thing about fiber, here and here.) These artists don’t deny the stuff of their artmaking, but they use it as a means to an end rather than a badge of identity. I’ll add that the art fairs are not only chockablock with wax but with a huge number ofunconventional or challenging materials—from foam, concrete and Astroturf to beads, wood scraps, and carpet squares.

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Wolfgang Laib at ABMB, 2012, with Buchmann Gallerie, Berlin: Untitled, 2007, beeswax, wood

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Detail. From the identifying placard: “The triangles refer to the shape of the pollen mountains and together form a landscape.”


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Johannes Girardoni at Pulse, 2013, with Tomlinson Kong Contemporary, New York City: Dripbox-Blue, 2013, beeswax, pigment and wood; 12 x 44 x 6 inches

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Corner detail.

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Amy Ellingston at Art Miami, 2013, solo installation at Eli Ridgway Contemporary, San Francisco: Variation/Mutation (scribble), 2012, oil and encaustic on two panels, 42 x 132 inches.

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Surface detail. Showing image built in layers.

Work at the bigger venues, such as ABMB and Art Miami, is sophisticated and ambitious, typically large in scale or big in idea, because artists and galleries know a viewer may see 10,000 artworks over the course of four days, and they want to stand out. At the satellite fairs—such as Aqua Art, Context, Miami Project, NADA, Pulse, Scope and Untitled—where work is more likely in the low-four to high-five figures (as opposed to six and seven at the bigger blue-chip venues), the scale is typically more modest, but no less interesting. This is where many of the artists and galleries that are not “big names” (and some who are, or will be) get to show.

While there are many ProWax artists whose work has been included in the fairs, large and small—and ProWax gallerists, such as Kenise Barnes, Miles Conrad and Marcia Wood, who have been participating exhibitors—I’ve made a point of mostly going outside our group to show work that you may not have seen before. Here’s a look at a tiny slice of work in wax or encaustic that was exhibited in Miami in 2012 and 2013, plus one impressive piece from the Armory Fair in New York City in 2012.

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Francesco Sena at Pulse, 2013, with Eduardo Secci Contemporary, Florence, Italy; Mille Rivoli, 2011, wax on polystyrene forms slightly larger than life size. The translation of the title into English is A Thousand Streams.

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This sculpture and painting are part of the larger installation, which received the Pulse Prize, one of several annual jury-awarded cash grants “given to an artist of distinction featured in a solo exhibition at the fair,” according to the Pulse website.


11. Dupont,Nitsch, Armory, 2012 (4)

Richard Dupont at the Armory Show in New York City, 2012, with Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art, New York City: Untitled, 2012, cast beeswax, 24 inches high

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Catherine Jacobi at Context, 2012, with the Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago: Hive, 2012, wax, honeybee carcasses, 28 inches high

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Berlinde de Bruyckere at ABMB, 2013, with Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy: Romeu “My Deer” V, 2010, wax, but no additional information provided

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Domenico Bianchi at ABMB, 2012, with Galleria Christian Stein, Milan; Untitled, 2012, wax and palladium on fiberglass

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Rana Rochat at Art Miami, 2012, with David Lusk Gallery, Memphis: Untitled L804, 2012, encaustic on panel

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Sandra Vasquez de la Horra at ABMB, 2012, with Kewenig Galerie, Berlin; Various titles, graphite and watercolor on paper in wax; various dimensions, installed with straight pins

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  • Photography: Wherever possible I’ve tried to give you an installation view so that you can see how the work was presented and, not incidentally, to gauge scale. The lighting varies wildly from venue to venue, and often there’s daylight in the mix, which confounds my little point-and-shoot camera. While the frames suggest a fair devoid of people, it’s only because I’ve shot in the brief moment between hordes. I’ve cropped and Photoshopped the images to eliminate distracting elements.
  • Additional artist information: Most of the galleries and artists can be found on Google.
  • Art fair information: Eight years of art fair coverage can be found on my blog. If you’re thinking about going, there’s a plenitude of useful information—along with expansive coverage of most venues each year.


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