The contemporary art market that attracts the most media attention is driven by American consumers who buy certain artists for astronomical prices, in the millions of dollars.
Handful of signatures
For this constantly changing handful of signatures, the impact of trends and rapid resales – in pursuit of substantial profits – are widespread.
A search for meaning
Yet right at the epicentre of it all, this dollar-loving market emanates a search for meaning and even for morality.
It is Miami Beach, also the capital of girls in miniskirts, sequins and gas-guzzling cars, which is hosting until 8 December 2019 the largest fair on the continent for the eighteenth time, Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), featuring 269 participants.
Over time the show has become considerably more serious and that’s particularly the case this year thanks to, among other things, a new section called Meridians which specifically showcases monumental artworks.
Watch Noah Horowitz , the director of ABMB speak about Meridians:
Political in nature
There are 34 works here and the most remarkable pieces among them are political in nature.
You can see a video by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates (born in 1973) which was screened at the large-scale exhibition dedicated to him at the Palais de Tokyo until May 2019 (Read the report). In the 35-minute film “Dance of Malaga” he uses a mixture of archive documents and fiction set to music to evoke an island off the coast of Maine, where there was no racism, and where racial mixing was permitted. This edition of 3 is presented, among others, by White Cube gallery in London for 150,000 dollars.
Still in the Meridians section, the British artist Isaac Julien (born in 1960) is exhibiting across 9 giant offset screens a poetic filmed reconstruction of the life and work of Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi. The installation is on sale for 300,000 pounds.“In this period of acute crisis in Brazil, the only fix can come from looking to iconic figures from Brazilian history like her,” explains the artist.
Watch the video to find out more
One of the clearest battles embraced by prominent American artists under the Trump presidency is the fight for the place of African-Americans within society. We are witnessing the rediscovery of Purvis Young (1943-2010), a self-taught black painter from Miami who has a fascinating expressionist style, exhibited in the permanent collections at the Perez Art Museum, at the booth of the Hirsch & Adler gallery from New York (on sale for between 12,000 and 325,000 dollars) but also in the unlikely yet impressive setting of a huge wall in the lobby of the Albion Hotel in Miami Beach. He had a style reminiscent of Jean Dubuffet during his Sahara period.
Don and Mira Rubell
The Albion Hotel belongs to the most famous collector couple in the city, the Rubells. While the artist was still completely unknown, they acquired a number of his works. Don and Mira Rubell have therefore taken advantage of the fair taking place to inaugurate their new museum over 9000m2 in the warehouse district of Allapattah designed by Annabelle Selldorf.
They’ve been collecting contemporary art for over 50 years and have accumulated close to 7200 artworks while rarely reselling, “barely a dozen works to pay the taxes,” confesses Don Rubell. The exhibition is a real show of power and is also often a lesson in collecting, with works dating from all ages (the date of acquisition is consistently indicated), from the former street artist Keith Haring to the contemporary star of African American painting, Kerry James Marshall.
Watch Don Rubell speaking about his new museum
In 2019, for the first time, the Rubells held a residency for and are also exhibiting a painter from Ghana who is now based in Vienna, Amoako Boafo (born in 1984). This portraitist dedicated to depicting the African diaspora uses bright colours. What sets him apart is that he paints faces not with a brush but with his bare hands, leaving numerous fingerprints on the canvas which then form the features.
There’s recently been a significant buzz surrounding him. His paintings are the subject of a waiting list at his Chicago gallery, Mariane Ibrahim. At their booth all of Boafo’s canvases, made especially for the fair, were already sold on the morning of the opening (for between 15,000 and 45,000 dollars).
The French gallerist who lives in Los Angeles, Benjamin Trigano, who runs the M+B gallery, is presenting one of the rising stars of African-American art at the fair, who is also collected by the Rubells. Aaron Fowler (born in 1988), who has been exhibited at the New Museum in New York, has just received the Jacob Lawrence prize which is awarded to the work of a black artist. At ABMB he has conceived a series of self-portraits comprising paintings, salvaged materials, and mirrors (on sale for between 12,000 and 65,000 dollars).
Watch the video to find out more
Tarsila do Amaral
The most impressive booth at the American fair is that of the Almeida e Dale gallery from Sao Paulo, which is presenting the extremely rare work of the Brazilian modernist painter and student of Fernand Léger, Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973). In 2018 Moma in New York dedicated a retrospective to her, showing how she developed her own pictorial identity which took into account the slavery of her country’s past (Read the report). Her drawings are on sale for up to 600,000 dollars and her paintings, including two which are reserved for museums, reach over 10 million dollars.
Lastly, the leading fairs also serve as places to discover artists’ new activities. At their booth, Metro Pictures from New York is displaying for example the stunning new production from the famous American artist Cindy Sherman (born in 1954), who is known for her photographic self-portraits which tell various stories. At ABMB she is unveiling images of her distorted face, made using apps that can be found on phones, which she posts on Instagram and has carefully printed on a giant scale onto tapestries. A new kind of decorative art on sale for 150,000 dollars. Cindy Sherman will be the subject of a retrospective in April 2020 at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
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