Among younger talents, I was impressed by a pair of delicate but unsettling paintings on rice paper by the Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan, at the booth of the Galerie Nathalie Obadia, based in both Paris and Brussels. Mr. Pouyan has reproduced centuries-old Persian miniatures that depicted Muhammad and other religious figures — Central Asian artists, unlike their Arab counterparts, frequently portrayed the prophet in art — but has excised the figures to leave only gold arches, blue backdrops and flowing calligraphy. The erasure is at once a tribute to the less heralded constituent elements of Persian painting and fearsome metaphor for recent attacks on religious representation, from the museums of Baghdad to the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo.
But I often find Art Basel Miami Beach more valuable for historical surprises. Galeria Jaqueline Martins, one of São Paulo’s sharpest, has a solo presentation of the Brazilian feminist and visual artist Letícia Parente (1930-1991), who grafted together street plans of Salvador, Fortaleza and Rio de Janeiro into personal memory maps, or who filmed herself applying makeup in the bathroom while her mouth and eyes were taped shut. (Parente is also a standout of “Radical Women,” the history-rewriting showcase of female Latin American artists up now at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and coming to the Brooklyn Museum in April.)
And the can’t-miss booth of this fair comes from a gallery that, I’m embarrassed to say, I’d never heard of before: Applicat-Prazan, a decades-old Parisian space participating in Art Basel Miami Beach for the first time. This specialist in midcentury European painting has arrived with a dozen bracing works by figures too little known in the United States, including Otto Freundlich, Nicolas de Staël and Hans Hartung. A seething 1960 abstraction by Karel Appel features thickly applied splashes of white and brown paint, whose seeming carelessness belies clear care. In Jean Hélion’s “Trois Nus et le Gisant” (“Three Nudes and Reclining Man”), a disquieting painting from 1950, three women — the Fates, or just an artist’s models? — sit in judgment over a splayed young man, perhaps in postcoital slumber, perhaps murdered.
This week also featured the opening of a permanent home in the Design District for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, which was founded in 2014 after a turbulent split with another museum. The Spanish firm Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitecto has fitted the three-story building with a facade of shiny metal panels and cutout triangular windows: very un-Deco, very new Miami. Commendably, the institute has free admission, though in these initial days, it is encouraging visitors to book time slots online.
Alex Gartenfeld, its deputy director and an astute curator who has stuck with the museum through the last years’ ructions, has organized its inaugural show: “The Everywhere Studio,” a ramble through recent art and economic history that examines how artists’ work spaces have shaped their production. The isolation of the studio in art from the 1960s and ’70s — including Bruce Nauman’s and Hanne Darboven’s Conceptual documentations of everyday life in the studio, and an excellent self-portrait at work by Jörg Immendorff — feels very different from Neïl Beloufa’s and Yuri Pattison’s studio scenes from the neoliberal present, when work and free time have collapsed into each other.
But the show is badly overhung, with more than 100 works, not all memorable, in too little space. I suspect that Mr. Gartenfeld, who is at work on next year’s New Museum Triennial in New York, will need time to learn what the spaces of the new institute can do: There is good thinking here, and an impressive catalog, but “The Everywhere Studio” needs to be decluttered.
Back by the beach, the Bass has completed its transformation by the architects David Gauld and Arata Isozaki; the museum now has 50 percent more space on the same footprint, helped by the removal of cumbersome ramps that led visitors upstairs. In three inaugural solo shows, Mika Rottenberg is presenting a new video that takes her uncanny, dream-logic visions of factory work to the United States-Mexico border, while Pascale Marthine Tayou has disrupted the Bass’s permanent European wing with new African masks that evoke mass tourism and global trade.
But it’s the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone who steals the show with a walk-in installation, hilarious and grim by turns, consisting of 45 full-size mannequins of clowns, seated on the gallery floor with expressions of boredom and fatigue. After a few days at the fair, the metaphor of the exhausted clown is all too apt.