As Adam Weinberg, director of the famous Whitney Museum dedicated to American art in New York, often reiterates: “the American population will very soon be majority minority and we must reflect this diversity.” (in Adam Weinberg: 5 questions in 50 seconds).
The American national identity is a jigsaw puzzle pieced together from migrant populations arriving at different points in time, and this is reflected in the American artists and art market.
Miami is a city of migrations where people seem to speak Spanish more often than English, and the Art Basel Miami Beach fair (ABMB), now in its seventeenth edition with 268 exhibitors, has established itself over time as the art fair of the Americas, from North to South.
According to the specialist branch of the insurance company Axa, “Axa Art estimates 2.5 to 3 billion euros will be presented for sale at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair” which runs until 9 December.
Noah Horowitz is the director of the event: “We are a bridge between the Americas. The political and economic situation from the United States to Argentina or Brazil may present certain unfavourable aspects, but ABMB has a unique magnetism.”
Carlos Urroz, director of the Arco fair in Madrid – he recently announced that he is stepping down from the leading Spanish fair next March – who is especially familiar with the Latin-American market, also confirms the predominance of ABMB in this part of the world.
The fair, which likes to play with paradoxes, opened this year with a spectacular performance by Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas (born in 1968) who’s based in France.
His work could in fact be interpreted as a challenge to the materialism of our society. To a soundtrack of piercing violins, young athletes engage in a violent battle to destroy suspended mounds of trash created by the artist himself.
While at the same time, and in contrast, one can admire at the fair a painting composed of an array of yellow hues by one of the glories of American abstraction, Mark Rothko (1903-1970), which is quite possibly one of the most expensive works at ABMB (around 50 million dollars).
The piece is on display at the booth of the Monacan-American art dealer family, the Nahmads.
This year we also find no less than 17 Brazilian galleries at the fair.
Anita Schwartz, one of the pillars of the carioca art scene, says that her turnover last year dropped by around 50%. “It’s not that the collectors don’t have the money anymore, but the atmosphere is not one of exhilaration. That said, we’re trying to encourage them by suggesting payment in instalments, for example.”
At her booth we find the work of the “classic contemporary” artist Wanda Pimentel (born in 1943). The Art Institute of Chicago acquired one of her canvases in 2016 through the gallery. Her 1970s paintings of flowers against a gold background which lean towards abstraction are on sale for 40,000 dollars.
One of the stars of the Brazilian art scene, supported by large local fortunes, is the painter Beatriz Milhazes (born in 1960). On the first day of the fair, at the booth of London’s White Cube gallery, one of her colourful canvases inspired by the motifs of Matisse and the colour contrasts of Delaunay, but also by Brazilian popular art, was being traded for 1.6 million dollars.
Generally speaking, as Matthieu Paris at White Cube explains, the level of the transactions remains significant (all Milhazes’s works were sold in London last spring for up to 1.8 million dollars) but transactions are made with greater caution.
Buyers are generally more judicious in an uncertain world, as are gallerists. They need reassurance…
ABMB presents a large number of works that are also on display in museums.
At the booth of Sadie Coles from London there’s a monumental sculpture of a pair of thigh-high boots in concrete created by Sarah Lucas (born in 1962), one of the stars of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s, on sale for 375,000 pounds. A similar piece is being exhibited at the New Museum in New York, where the artist is currently the subject of a remarkable exhibition that will later be travelling to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
In their space, the multinational Hauser & Wirth gallery immediately sold several works by the Californian artist classed in the minimalist vein, Larry Bell (born in 1939), including a cube made out of tinted plexiglass from 1967 which plays with the light for 550,000 dollars. Right now his work is being featured in a beautiful exhibition at Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art.
The French gallerist and former artist Olivier Babin is head of the cutting-hedge Clearing Gallery, based in New York and Brussels. He is dedicating his booth exclusively to Marguerite Humeau (born in 1986). This French artist who lives in London makes sculptures which seem to be surrealist, but are in fact inspired by primitive Venus depictions that are then merged with images of the brains of animals. Four bronze pieces of these fantastical forms are on sale for between 20,000 and 80,000 dollars.
The same sculptures are also currently on display at the New Museum in New York. These pieces are due to be unveiled as part of a new exhibition on prehistory taking place next spring at the Centre Pompidou.
From the first day of the fair the list of sales has been extensive.
Many of the dealers have taken care to present artworks that will be displayed at their booth while sending information to their collectors in advance.
It is not yet certain, however, whether the spectacular sculpture by Jeff Koons priced at 10 million dollars composed of 2.7 metres of mirror-polished orange steel has found a buyer.
But visitors have been lining up all day to be immortalized in front of his languorous and kitsch “Ode to Love”, a pastiche of old masters Italian art.
This is the Art Basel Miami Beach fair after all…
Until 9 December. www.artbasel.com/miami-beach
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