If there was anything that the conceptual prankster Maurizio Cattelan brought back to Art Basel Miami Beach, it was a sense of nostalgia for the days when people complained about art that their “kids could make”. On show at Perrotin gallery, Catalan’s Comedian, a $120,000 banana and duct tape installation (which was later eaten by an artist hungry for his own headlines), went viral, triggering media outrage at the lunacies of the art world.
And yet this was one of the sanest editions of the Florida fair in recent memory. Yes, there were fewer people in attendance but sales were strong. It was almost like art fairs used to be, before our expectations of normal were juggernauted.
“It’s been surprisingly good—lots of serious collectors, mainly from America,” said Monika Sprüth two hours into VIP day. Her gallery, which was close to one of the entrances, had made immediate sales (as opposed to pre-sales, she said) of work by artists including Jenny Holzer, George Condo, Kara Walker and John Baldessari, whose new work, The Space Between Gun and Cigarette. (2019), sold with an asking price of $400,000 to a private collector. Asked whether her expectations had been surpassed by reality, Sprüth chuckled: “I don’t expect anything anymore.”
There have been years in which Miami has seemed a bit like the event to which dealers brought the works they needed to shift at the end of the year (often focusing on flash and bling), but this edition felt somewhat fresher and broader. Curators from the Tate were seen paying close attention to some great work by the late Greek artist Vlassis Caniaris from the 1960s and 1980s at Kalfayan Galleries, including Space within Space (1960), a work about resistance to the country’s wartime occupation priced at $98,000. There was “a lot of interest from both private and institutional collections,” in the work, said gallery manager Yuli Karatsiki, adding that a large-scale installation, Chicken-coop (1974), they had brought to the fair two years ago is now in the collection of (and currently on show at) the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.
Meanwhile, various collectors were interested in the work of young Brazilian artist Antonio Obá, whose prices range from $5,000 to $50,000 for larger-scale paintings at São Paulo’s Mendes Wood gallery.
Shifts in institutional thinking about self-taught artists meant solid sales for gallerist Andrew Edlin, who also runs the Outsider Art Fair. “It’s helpful to be able to tell buyers that there are five works by this artist hanging at MoMA right now,” he said, gesturing to work made in the 1940s by Pearl Blauvelt. He reported a “good start” to the fair on opening morning, with sales ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 of work by artists Duke Riley and Beverly Buchanan.
By the end of the first day, the South African Stevenson gallery had been having a “fantastic” fair, with keen interest in younger artists such as Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, whose striking 2019 oil painting Evaluation sold for under $30,000. “We always feel like the audience at Miami responds well to younger artists who are a bit edgy, exploring new territory,” said gallery director David Brodie. “We’re pleasantly delighted,” he said of the fair.
The fair still skews young but dealers brought a range of work—and sold it—at different price levels. There is a longstanding idea that Miami is “not the sort of fair where people sell at enormous prices,” as Lisson Gallery director Alex Logsdail put it. “Having said that, we sold a 1961 Carmen Herrera for $2.5m. It’s been a solid fair—robust, even.”
David Hammons—the subject of one of the best profiles of the decade, written by Calvin Tomkins for The New Yorker magazine this month—had a work with Hauser & Wirth, Untitled (Silver Tapestry) (2008), that sold for $2.4m. The gallery also reported several sales of primary artists including new recruit Nicole Eisenman, whose colorful new canvas Sun in My Eye on the Beach (2019) sold for $165,000.
Pace sold works both from its estates—including two Robert Rauschenberg “Urban Bourbon” works to a private West Coast collector for close to $1m each and a white wood assemblage by Louise Nevelson from 1977, Floating Cloud, Cryptic VII, for $125,000—and its contemporary program, including two works by Sam Gilliam from 2019, each priced at $180,000 (both to a private collection in Washington, DC) and Composition (Cards) (2019) by Tara Donovan for $85,000.
Other large galleries reported strong sales across the gamut, too. At Thaddaeus Ropac, sales ranged from €1m for Georg Baselitz’s oil painting Herdoktorfreud Grüßgott Herbootsmann (2011) to $80,000 for Jules de Balincourt’s oil on panel Darwin’s Nightmare (2016). David Zwirner sold more than 20 works on opening day, including a sculpture by Isa Genzken for $220,000 to a painting by Bridget Riley for $1.5m and two paintings by the co-winner of this year’s Turner Prize in which all the contending artists won, Oscar Murillo.
“It’s a great fair—not cray-crazy but there are solid conversations leading to transactions,” said Matt Carey-Williams, senior director of sales at Victoria Miro. The gallery was showing a gorgeous suite of Chris Ofili’s “Poolside Magic” works on paper priced between $75,000 and $85,000 each (several of which sold) and a new painting, Juicings 5 (2019), which sold for $450,000 to a private collector.
Kurimanzutto, the Mexican gallery which has been making recent inroads into New York, had a booth focused on nature and climate change, and sold work by artists including Abraham Cruzvillegas for $50,000 to a private Mexican collector and by Adrián Villar Rojas for $350,000 to a private US foundation. London’s White Cube reported “brisk” sales on opening day, said gallery director Leila Alexander. A somewhat unnerving floor sculpture by young artist Kaari Upson, Teeth on Pepsi Plinth (rectangle) (2017), sold in the opening hours priced at $90,000, while other sales included Al Held’s B/W & Orange (1967) priced at $950,000, and several works by Damien Hirst including a new “Mandala” painting, Dominion (2019) at $750,000. Meanwhile New York’s James Fuentes said on the second day that the fair was “going great”: he had brought three new works by Didier William, each of which sold for $65,000.
“We always have high expectations for this fair and it’s been phenomenal this year,” said Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, a director at Jack Shainman gallery, which sold work by artists including a 2002 painting by Barkley Hendricks for $60,000 and a new painting by Kerry James Marshall, Deadheads (2019) which had a $2.8m asking price. “The fair had great energy and top collectors and a strong curatorial presence,” she said after the event.
The pace of traffic and sales were more “low-key” than years gone by, said Sadie Coles, “but it feels like we’re in that moment anyway, where things are taking a little longer”. The gallery had made sales of work by artists including a new work by Wilhelm Sasnal, priced at $100,000, and Indiz II (2019) by the gallery’s youngest artist Kati Heck—which “we could have sold several times over”, Coles said. She was not worried about the slower pace: “Last year felt quiet too, but it ended up being one of our best ever years because we really did have conversations that concluded throughout the weekend,” she said.
This—a smaller, quieter but, in some ways stronger, fair—seems to be the new normal for Miami.