What artist Stuart Sheldon is stoked about at Basel this year

We asked a few movers and shakers on the Miami arts and culture scene to tell us what they’re most excited about as Art Week and Art Basel descend on the Magic City. Here, artist Stuart Sheldon shares a bit about what he’s looking for from this year’s extravaganza and what shows he’s most excited about.

I need this year’s Basel to escape, ever-so-briefly, the pain of the world. To fall into the arms of the artists, for whom truth and hope remain ever-present goals. There’s nowhere I’d rather be a working artist than Miami right now. Everywhere you look, really smart, young-spirited people, many of whom I’m delighted to call friends, are producing fresh, fearless, thought-provoking work, unfettered by the typical institutional restraints. This is the work I seek out, singular and free of derivation. 

My work has taken a decidedly political turn. And that is only going to deepen in the years ahead. My 100-foot mural next to Panther Coffee in Wynwood, a collaboration with Hank Willis Thomas and For Freedoms, the first artist-run super PAC, speaks directly to the raw state of race relations in America and invites everyone to write in what they desire “Freedom Of” and “Freedom From.”

My current series, I’m With The Banned, can be seen at SCOPE Miami Beach (Macaya Gallery). These large collages attack the corrosive power of false narratives in political discourse (lotta good that did). I emphasize what happens to a nation when so-called leaders lie repeatedly to a gullible public who chooses to believe and act based on this dubious “information.” Humanity’s greatest calamities stem from such false exchanges: slavery, the Holocaust, Iraq. Yet, here we go again. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, I’m “urging people ‘at a granular level’ to start over, with less fear and more optimism.”

There are a few local shows I’m most excited about this year and two that really stand out: Autumn Casey at Primary Projects and Alexis Gideon at Locust Projects. They happen to be right across the street from one another in the Design District.

Autumn’s show, “Balancing Infinity, While Hanging Upside Down. Watching Lovers Fall from Grace, Underneath the Ground,” showcases her ever-clever sculptural and installation works, along with seventy-eight (78) collages inspired by a famous 1910 tarot deck known as the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck.

I know nothing about tarot cards, though I believe the New Orleans adage, “Don’t mess with the voodoo.” I do know Autumn’s practice, having had the pleasure of working side by side with her at Fancy Nasty last Basel. Her work oozes raw irony and elegant discord. Her sculptures emit power and quiet confidence. Wisdom beyond her 20-something years.

Apparently, you don’t buy tarot cards, they come to you. Not to say that you can’t buy them, but it’s unadvised. Autumn received hers when she was 18, at a Christmas party, and was thus initiated into this future-telling world. The deck she produced for this show is the product of three year’s work. Or, says Primary Projects, “three year’s life. Its creation ran alongside Casey’s other work – her art, her music. It was the downbeat, the noise between the notes.”

Alexis Gideon is an artist’s artist. Self-taught. Self effacing. The guy next door that you always enjoy seeing on your way to work. But beneath this quiet Clark Kent exterior lives an undaunted, way-out-in-left-field, creative Superman. Gideon’s multimedia work, ”The Comet and the Glacier,” is an installation that combines live music performance, video, animation, clay reliefs, and paintings on glass. It covers a lot of ground.

Gideon trained as a composer and performer under avant-garde jazz legend Anthony Braxton and built his laudable reputation composing and performing his “video operas” at venerable museums worldwide, from Boston to San Francisco to Málaga, Spain. His current work takes us inside his delightfully hyperactive imagination, where “reality and fiction are confused and interspersed along the many stratified layers of his story.”

Because it’s so dense and immersive, the work defies description. You simply need to go and watch Gideon perform live. At it’s core is a semi-autobiographical fairy tale set in Gideon’s own childhood bedroom, populated by puppets and a stop-motion animation, all pancaked within a bizarre life-sized, hut-filled room, with Gideon’s live guitar licks and rap songs poured over like sweet-hot maple syrup.

According to Locust Projects, “At the center of the exhibition is a multi-layered narrative surrounding a peculiar, fictional book titled The Almanac: an unpublished, nineteenth-century manuscript written by the imaginary Swiss author Fredrick Otto Bühler, and recently discovered in the home of his last living descendant. Narrated by an artist character named Alexis—based on Gideon himself—the story presents the dilemma of the protagonist’s impossible recollection of the book’s events.”

In other words, just go see it!