If one were to squeeze the last four years at Art Basel Miami Beach into a quick few words, it might read something like this: 2006 was good. 2007 was maniacally successful. 2008 was crash and burn. 2009 was a bit lackluster. Considering the lingering gray economic climate, how would one describe the 9th edition of the fair, year 2010? The general verdict was this year’s fair was strong and consistent, in terms of art, sales, and attendance.
more story and images after the jump…
According to critics, attendees, and gallerists, most felt the art amongst the 250+ galleries was collectively stronger than last year’s. Art Info gushed, “we found the fair to be so strong this year that no booths struck us as disappointing enough to warrant a “Worst” appellation.” Some stand-out booths? 303 Gallery with its spy mirror glass reading “Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear,” by Jeppe Hein, Nicole Klagsbrun, Hauser & Wirth, Praz-Delavallade with its eccentric wallpaper, and Tony Shafrazi Gallery with Dennis Hopper’s ‘Self-Portrait with Rock and Cactus.’ Another must-see was Galerie Gmurzynska‘s impressive black-and-white booth designed by Zaha Hadid; its art-meets-architecture installation provided refreshing contrast to the majority of the other white cubed spaces. Since Miami Art Basel received 20% more applications this year than last year, while the overall design designated fewer booths, this paring down proved advantageous for the overall quality of art.
While there were few of the infamous shotgun sales like those during Vernissage 2007, the galleries that we chatted with were enthusiastic about the overall outcome. Alexander Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, whose booth enjoyed a prime location right by the main entrance, explained: “Buying was spread out this year. The first day was slow for us. The second day was really good. The third day we did business too.” (To note, Alex was being modest; Acquavella has been reported to have laid claim to a handful of big-ticket sales, including Richard Diebenkorn’s “Man Drawing from 1956, (around $5 million dollars), a Warhol painting with repeating images of a Mercedes-Benz, priced at $6 million, and Zeng Fanzhi’s “Untitled (Mask Series)” which went “for a couple of million bucks,” according to Art Info.)
Canada Gallery sold out completely in the first day. By Saturday evening, Gagosian Gallery was completely revamped with new art, a quick indication of strong sales. Maria Bueno of Cheim and Read revealed on Sunday night, “This year, we really edited our material to bring in all kind of price points, ranging from $40,000 to $300,000. And we had very consistent sales. ” For Cheim and Read, even pieces by Louise Fishman, John Sonsini, and Jack Pierson that arrived right before the show (a few with wet paint still on them) sold throughout the week regardless. Maria offered an explanation for the pace of sales; she heard that the fair directors had trimmed down their VIP entry list this year, which may explain the steady, calculated purchases. Regardless, by Sunday as well, Yvon Lambert’s buyers’ guide was scattered with red dots, seemingly over more than half of their pieces, (with list price averaging around $30,000 – $300,000+.)
Better yet, minutes before the fair doors closed on Sunday, the gallery directors of Galerie Gmurzynska sat merrily drinking champagne, broad smiles on their face. We’d overheard discussion with buyers that the gallery had done well and sold many pieces. But the true reasoning behind their champagne toast became clear when the Wall Street Journal reported that their 1957 Mark Rothko painting, “Saffron,” boldly valued at $30 million, was placed on reserve on Sunday. If that doesn’t merit a celebration, we don’t know what does.
Other galleries, like Lisson Gallery, were more calculated in securing sales by bringing in work that they knew already had garnered strong buyer interest. “We kind of knew who the pieces were going to already, while there have still been some very nice surprises,” said Lisson Gallery’s Associate Director, Alex Logsdail. He listed Cory Arcangel, Angela de la Cruz, Jonathan Monk, Jason Martin, and Ryan Gander amongst his gallery’s sales.
MadeIn piece at ShanghART Gallery – a kid-friendly favorite
The gallery ShanghART, which gained raves in 2007 for their full-scale Xu Zhen’s ShanghART Supermarket, provided another perspective. While the gallery sold their most prominent piece, a box of rocks that appeared to pulse like a beating heart – due to water undulating below the rubble, (the piece was created MadeIn, a new company led by the visionary Xu Zhen mentioned above), Chen Yan of the gallery expressed that their overall experience of the fair this year was simply “OK” as of Sunday. Chen Yen shrugged it off, “ You know, we are a gallery from Shanghai, so…” While she did not complete the sentence, one can postulate that while no one did as badly as in 2008 or 2009, galleries that presented more risque, conceptually challenging, and less commercially-friendly pieces, as well as other smaller or international galleries that may not yet have as deep rapport with ABMB buyers, may not be clinking wine glasses after the close of this year’s fair. While wallets were out, 2010 was not the year to take chances. Like in the calm after a tropical storm, buyers came out from under their protective covers, but as though they had their palms extended out still feeling for rain. Indeed, they bought. Some even bought up the big ticket items. However, just as many galleries brought less risk adverse pieces, buyers seemed still hesitant and careful this year, reluctant to venture into new territory, i.e. more conceptual pieces or lesser known artists, and slow and deliberate when making purchases. Safe, steady, and sound (albeit with an occasional clink of glasses) was the motto for 2010.