Miami Basel Slow but Steady


Some 265 galleries from 33 countries participated in the eighth installment of Art Basel Miami Beach, newly and entirely in the Miami convention center. The new space, boasted 502,848-square-feet (as opposed to last year’s 385,200) which meant more breathing room for each booth, or more to live up to-depending upon whom you ask. The fair only added five additional galleries but included the fair’s slightly cheaper section, Art Nova, and single-artist presentations, Art Kabinett, are now all under one roof. Some dealers confessed that the layout was confusing, but VIPs (and a remarkable number of non-VIPS) nonetheless steadily made the effort at the Wednesday preview.

Nick Cave installation at Art Basel Miami Beach 2009. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, NY
Photo by Isaac Martinez Martinez

Dealers and advisors concurred that most of the action seemed to happen under the $500,000 mark, but collectors seemed confident in the quality of the works and the calibration of realistic prices. Gone are the days that a new, untested artist would command a $100,000 price tag and a waiting list. It’s a new reality, and collectors responded to the quality works on offer-works sold and booths sold out.

I sat down with Jack Shainman and Claude Simard, partners in New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery. Their booth was rich with their signature textured, diverse offerings. Flanked on the outside by an army of Nick Cave sound suits, each more elaborate than the next encrusted with enamel flowers, bead flowers, jack in the boxes, and stuffed animals. Simard reported that, “All five sound suites sold” for around $65,000 each. That seemed quite a feat, so I pressed on: the gallery’s El Anatsui, a tapestry of found aluminum and wire pieced together over a month by the Nigerian artist. It sold for $650,000 to an institution. They also sold a sexually-charged Kerry James Marshall called Bride of Frankenstein, which was loosely based on the famous Durer etching of Adam and Eve and sold for $350,000. A four-panel work by young artist Gordon Cheung, called Neon Shadows, depicts a cowboy in a psychedelic background, sold for $46,000-which is a lot of painting for that price. Shainman said he’d seen interest “from old as well as new collectors” and Simard said he was amazed how successful the fair had been. They sold nearly their entire booth.

At New York’s Sikkema Jenkins & Co. it was a similar story.  Dealer Brent Sikkema said three museums were interested in their large Kara Walker, titled Paternity Theft, cut paper that depicted the story of a shooting. According to Sikkema, the artist had finished it only days before they arrived in Miami. Ultimately, Eli Broad bought the work for an undisclosed price. Large cut paper works by the artist usually sell in the $400,000-500,000 region. The MacArthur fellowship-winning Mark Bradford showcased a sculpture of collaged soccer balls hanging in a net bag, said to speak to the changing cultural diversity of his south central L.A. neighborhood. It is being considered by a museum at the moment and is being offered in the neighborhood of $200–300,000.  In fact, the gallery sold most of its booth by Friday. LEFT: JASON RHOADES, NATURE’S PRIVY SEAL, 2003. COURTESY DAVID ZWIRNER.

Not everything was flying off the wall, and whether it was because of the economics or the fair’s new, overwhelming size, there were fewer impulse purchases. Manhattan art advisor Elizabeth Fiore spent the week working with several collectors: “People were much more thoughtful in their decision making, there were no snap decisions,” She said. But that slower pace could result in subsequent sales, she offered, “The frenzy is gone but things are moving, there will be lots to follow up on.”

At The Modern Institute, a smaller gallery from second-city Glasgow, spokesperson for the gallery, Lindsey Hanlon was pleased: “We are very thankful we came.., Glasgow has a small collecting base, and fairs are very important platforms for us”, the gallery offered well priced paintings by local artists Andrew Kerr and Victoria Morton. Sao Paolo gallery Casa Triangulo showed a pink painting by Sandra Cinto and a large-scale photograph in panels featuring die cut holes (an edition of three) by her husband, Albano Afonso. The two are favorites in Sao Paolo, but asking prices were respectful for artists without international cache—$28,000—and each had sold.

Everywhere, veteran dealers looked relieved. New York dealer David Zwirner said, “This was a surprisingly strong fair… it certainly confirmed the trend that started at Art Basel in June. This art market is stabilizing andâ?¨gaining momentum.” He went on to say that this fair had moved the recovery forward: “During the last twelve months, most business was conductedâ?¨with established collectors. Here in Miami, it was nice to see some all-together new faces.” A Francis Alys, Personaje en la mesa (1996) sold to an American collector for $450,000. A beautiful John McCracken, a set of coolly colored, bluish-purple leaning columns, Thought, (2008) sold Sunday for $340,000 and a Neo Rauch oil painting, Mars 2, sold for $1.25 million. Zwirner also sold Jason Rhoades’ lyrical neon sculpture for $450,000 and works by Stan Douglas, Chris Ofili, and Thomas Ruff. By Sunday, the gallery had sold nearly 20 works from their booth. Zwirner left feeling optimistic, “while most business took place below one million dollars, there were also trades above. This is good news and in stark contrast to the anxiety-ridden fair 12 months ago. Let’s hope the trend â?¨continues.”