As an Art History major, and an avid consumer of all things relating to the art world, when I stumble into a gallery or attend an event centered around art, all my opinions and ideas feel somewhat intentional, very guided by the academic and critical art world around me. My mom, who has a keen eye and wonderful taste (I must give it to her), has not faced that same art world indoctrination. When she is presented with scores of extraordinary art, she does not seek out impressive chiaroscuro or innovative archetypal representations; Instead, she admires what draws her eye, what immediately evokes emotion, and more simply, what sparks joy and, as she puts it, “seems cool.”

When she had the opportunity to visit Art Miami in December 2023, she went to immerse herself in the world I so aspire to be a part of. Art Miami is a part of the annual Miami Art Basel extravaganza, in which the entirety of the art world and its high–profile escapades, migrate to Miami to connect collectors, galleries, and artists—and, of course, make a whole lot of money. Art Miami is the longest–running contemporary art fair and the second–most–attended fair globally. It is understood to be the most important week for contemporary art in the United States. The fair showcases world–class contemporary artists from the most respected art galleries who arrive eagerly, hoping to boast high–volume sales as the week wraps. 

This was not my mom's first experience at an art fair. I’m pretty sure some of my affinity for art stems from our long walks on hot days through local art fairs when I was younger. Since I would not be with her at this one–of–a–kind art fair experience, I asked her to pick five works she found instantly compelling, and she kindly obliged. She certainly appreciated and understood the power of art at Art Miami, which is clear through her selections. 

My mom may not be an art expert, but she certainly is one in flowers. If asked to name my mother's favorite thing (besides me, of course), I would immediately respond with flowers, another love she instilled in me. So it was not a shock when the first thing she sent me was the work of Isabelle van Zeijl. Van Zeijl creates incredible self–portraits, taking on the roles of model, object, creator, and subject in her work. This piece, Rise, is a visual celebration of hope, renewal, growth, and beauty. 

The second piece my mom gravitated to was Something’s Gotta Give/Larry Poons Hope Not Trail by Bonnie Lautenberg. From her ARTISTICA! series, the work explores how one art form influences another, between painting and film. Here, she compares a still image from a Hollywood film with an iconic artwork made in the same year. Lautenberg describes the pairings as two images that intuitively speak to each other. This pairing spoke to my mom as well. 

Like van Zeij, the next work was an unsurprising choice for my mom. Bradley Hart’s RBG Impression–May Her Memory Be a Blessing pays tribute to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a treasured figurehead in my and my mom's hearts. The work’s creative nature, my mom says, also sparked her interest. Hart incorporates bubble wrap as his support to create two paintings simultaneously with two different effects. On one side, he injects paint to make photorealistic depictions, and on the other, the impressions of paint are less distinct. The interaction of the two works exemplifies the plastic quality of memory, how certain characteristics and moments disintegrate and are manipulated through time. My mom was drawn to the piece by the photorealistic image but was captivated by the meaning of its counterpart. 

Finally, a sculpture made its way into the mix. Boaz Vaadia’s Milka and Tirza (#2) provided a calmness in a sea of contemporary art’s fondness for bold color and multimedia overwhelmingness. Vaadia creates figurative forms, chiseled out of stone layers, to show the eternal relationship between man and nature. As the artist puts it, “man came from the earth, and in death returns to it. I see the stone as the bone structure of the earth.” I was a bit surprised by this selection from my mom, but I think it illustrates the breadth of what can resonate with a single person. 

The final work my mom selected proved her affinity for seeing human, or at the very least, anthropomorphic, figures in art. Perhaps there is a commentary to be made about seeing oneself in art. This work, though, Nemo Jantzen’s All Five Senses, I believe, drew my mom's attention because of her overwhelming appreciation for a labor of love. It is no small feat for an artist to create such a large–scale and compelling image with just a single piece of string. The subject here was not as important as the craftsmanship, a testament to a novice's appreciation for the artist over the gallery name, the piece's complexity, or its marketability. This is my favorite piece of the five my mom picked out. 

The breadth of my mom's choices shows the emotionally moving and visually alluring capabilities of contemporary art that even a novice art appreciator can find in a sea of impressive and high–priced items. Her choices and her adoration for these pieces remind me that even in the high–profile, illusive, and cutthroat world of big art like Art Miami—art is simply art. Meant to be enjoyed and admired by all people.