The Art Basel effect

[09 Dec 2014]


Riddled with private and institutional side-shows, the Miami Beach edition of Art Basel now has a whole collection of parallel fairs, turning the week into a veritable marathon for tens of thousands of art lovers from all over the world. The most courageous try to digest not only the unavoidable Art Basel, but also most of its satellites: Design Miami, Untitled, Scope, Spectrum, Select, Art Miami, Context, Miami Ink, Pulse Nada, Fridge, Red Hot, Sculpt … among others. Whereas the Paris FIAC normally has five or six “Offs”, Art Basel Miami Beach now has a dozen satellite fairs. In sum… the programming is beyond the physical capacity of even the most competitive art aficionados, particularly as the Offs are not the only temptations. Art Basel Miami also attracts museums, private collectors and luxury brands that put on a constant flow of cocktail parties and “Pop” events. So the museum exhibitions like Zero Tolerance (at the YoungArts Tower Building in partnership with the MoMA PS1) or the Rubell Family Collection’s To Have and to Hold: 50 years of Marriage and Collecting Contemporary Art (with the collaboration of 20 galleries) or Peter Marino’s One Way (curated by Jérôme Sans at the Bass Museum) compete for attention with the luxury of private parties organized by the likes of Don Perignon, Ruinart, BMW, Cavalli, Marc Jacobs, Vanity fair and Roger Vivier.

Thus without the gift of ubiquity, it is impossible to take it all in. However, no-one misses the central event, Art Basel, which is unlike any other fair in the world. It is still the most prestigious and most popular of all Contemporary Art fairs.

For its 44th edition worldwide and its 13th in Miami (Art Basel started in Switzerland in the 1970s), the 300 international galleries exhibiting at the Convention Center selected their best works for a high-end market approaching euphoria after outstanding auction results this year.

The globalization effect: For its 2014 edition, Art Basel Miami invited galleries from over 30 countries. Besides the inevitable presence of the American mastodons (Gagosian, Acquavella, Malborough, etc.), there were plenty of European and a certain number of Asian galleries present. About 20 French (or established in France) galleries were present, including the Chantal Crousel gallery, the GDM, the Karsten Greve Paris Gallery, the Max Hetzler Gallery Paris, the Perrotin gallery, the Mor-Charpentier gallery, the Kamel Mennour gallery, the Nathalie Obadia gallery, the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, the Frank Elbaz gallery, the Almine Rech gallery, the Tornabuoni Art gallery and the Jocelyn Wolff Galerie (at the Nova sector reserved for emerging artists).
In addition, Latin America was particularly well represented with around thirty galleries (1/10th of the total) from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. Indeed, Latin American Artists are very popular Art Basel Miami thanks to the large Latino community based in Miami, but also because their price levels are much more affordable than those of the American and European stars.

The monumental effect: Big works are often the sign of a dynamic market and a highly prestigious art fair and Art Basel Miami had plenty of monumental works with signatures like Antoni Tapiès, Jean Dubuffet (Custot Waddington Gallery, London), Jean-Michel Basquiat and Barry Flanagan. The recurring presence of large paintings by Jeff Koons, who likes to “oversize” and transform popular culture into “spectacular” art, added further weight to the “think big” phenomenon.
The Helly Nahmad gallery sold the most imposing piece at the fair on the first day: the Sumac mobile (1961) by Alexander CALDER was acquired for $35 million. That would have been excessive just two or three years ago; but Calder signed an auction record of $23 million last May at Christie’s New York (his Flying Fish mobile fetched nearly $26 million including fees).
The multi-million dollar pieces were often the largest, like the wide quadriptych Terrarium (206.4 x 373.4 cm) by James ROSENQUIST (1977) which sold for $2 million at the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery.

The domino effect: Galleries do not just adapt to demand, they also create demand. Their commercial offerings result from a rigorous selection process that filters all but the highest quality works and the most fashionable signatures. Pablo Picasso is still a frequent winner in that process (at the Hammer, Nahmad, Acquavella and Gmurzynska Galleries among others) along with several other major Modern art signatures. We saw major works from the first half of the twentieth century by Kurt Swchitters, Wassily Kandinsky and Miro Juan. There was also a superb exhibition conceived by film director Baz Luhrmann at the Swiss Gmurzynska gallery featuring a Kasimir Sevrinovitch MALEVICH masterpiece which would probably join the artist’s Top 3 results if it went to auction, fetching well beyond $30 million.

In the Contemporary field, the selection process leads to Jeff KOONS, the segment’s undisputed leader (currently on show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris), to China’s Ai Weiwei, to Britain’s Damien Hirst and to Italy’s Rudolf STINGEL. The latter, one of the most expensive Contemporary Italian artists on the auction market with a record of $2.3m, was particularly popular at the Massimo De Carlo , the Sadie Coles and the Gagosian galleries which all sold Stingel works for around $2 million. Works by the nowadays unavoidable Christopher WOOL, Mark BRADFORD, Sigmar POLKE and Gerhard RICHTER (whose hammer prices are rocketing) were also much in evidence at Art Basel… a fair that tends to mirror the auction market.