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.