The world's surreal art stage

Members of the world's most elite club — billionaire art collectors and blue-chip museum directors — jetted to sun-bleached Miami last week to shop.

The business of buying and selling contemporary works was conducted at dozens of art fairs, including the prestigious Art Basel Miami Beach, a phenomenon that stars in Tom Wolfe's latest novel, dominates art news and gridlocks the Miami Beach Convention Center every December.

Paintings, sculptures and photographs were also displayed throughout the city in galleries, hotels and tents propped underneath a blue sky punctuated by gleaming glass skyscrapers, sleek Gulfstreams and artists' banners pulled by airplanes. "We're rich! We can do what we want," was the cloud-level statement devised by artist Jack Pierson.

Landing into this surreal, days-long whirl of Picassos, Kahlos and other multimillion-dollar masterpieces up for grabs, were serious art collectors, fashion supernovas and the curious. P Diddy and Owen Wilson elbowed through the aisles amid casino magnates, a Libyan princess and a talkative Diane von Furstenberg.

Quietly in the Miami Art Week mix were Ashland artists Matthew Picton and Claire Burbridge. The two are respected for their painstaking, intelligent approach to art.

Without fanfare or a breathless media brigade, Picton sold his evocative paper sculpture and Burbridge sold an enchanting drawing at the smaller Aqua Fair, a few blocks from the hyperactive convention center.

After hours of explaining the intricacies of their work to collectors with varying budgets, the talented couple then took a stroll on Miami Beach's fabled shore.

Picton, who exhibits at Davis and Cline Gallery in Ashland and will have a show in San Francisco in June, presented his most recent work in which he uses text on upright ribbons of paper to create three-dimensional city maps.

In one piece, he printed words onto heavy, hand-cut paper, then burnt sections of it to represent bombings during World War II.

A Houston collector who saw it in the temporary space San Francisco-based Toomey Tourell Fine Art set up at the Aqua Fair bought the 34-inch-by-27-inch original for $5,000.

Burbridge, who is also represented by Toomey Tourell, sold her latest work, "Static Flow," a pen-and-ink drawing of jellyfish on a narrow, 5 1/2-foot long canvas for $11,000. Four collectors purchased prints for $1,200.

John Davis, owner of Davis and Cline Gallery, which sells a range of contemporary artwork by innovative artists, says shows that draw a highly concentrated, art-buying client base are the perfect venue for Picton and Burbridge, who were both educated in England and possess unique world views.

Davis says Picton's work "has an intellectual point of departure with a near-obsessive application resulting in spectacular objective representations of the built environment."

Davis says Burbridge's most recent work includes "strong emotive figurative sculptures and drawings floating in richly detailed backgrounds and associations."

Burbridge, 40, who has exhibited during Miami Art Week before, says the highlights of her days this time were conversations with other artists, art consultants and collectors.

"It's good to be here because people like talking to the artist," she says. "I can explain to them about the balancing matrix beneath the forms that make this piece a complicated drawing that still flows."

She always accepts a sale of her work as an encouraging boost. "When your work sells," she says, "it's a sign that you're on the right track."

Picton, 52, who moved to Ashland 15 years ago, has shown his work at Miami Art Week fairs since 2003. He witnessed the exuberant, pre-Great Recession spending by new collectors, but appreciates the measured, more thoughtful buying by established collectors.

This year, he spent time looking at other artists' work at eight shows and bought a piece at the Ink Fair, which offered new works on paper by well-known artist at affordable prices.

"I wish I were a collector," he says. "There are great pieces for all budgets here, for those with a few thousand dollars as well as plenty for those who want to spend $2 billion."

And we now know who they are.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

Share This Story