Time was that New York galleries came back from a Thanksgiving rest to put on their best shows for the holidays, with collectors enjoying festive openings and the special presents that fine art provides.
Unfortunately, the Art Basel Miami Beach frenzy, which preoccupies the entire art world for the first week of December, has murdered that scene. One auction-house employee told the New York Times that "collectors would rather spend $500,000 on a piece at the fair than $50,000 in New York." This is the road to ruin -- as the elegant dealer Tracy Williams told us a week or two ago, "the new excuse from collectors is 'I spent all my money in Miami'."
Nevertheless, the discerning Santa can still find some reasonably priced gems this month in Chelsea.
Start with Williams, whose elegant Greenwich Village townhouse currently features a show of gorgeous 1930s-inspired paintings by Ouattara Watts. Tracy has one of the most intriguing backrooms around, usually sporting the rare Tuymans or Orozco -- we picked up a beautiful watercolor of two female pilots atop a red airplane by Rosa Loy (a.k.a. Mrs. Neo Rauch) for $2,000.
We stopped next at Caren Golden Gallery on West 23rd Street in Chelsea, where Daria Shapiro has organized a spectacular neo-surrealist show called "Twilife." The standout here is Andrew Sendor's painting Lionboys, a golden landscape done in oil on plastic, and featuring some Hobbit-types entertaining the king of the jungle. The price: $10,000.
Also highlighting "Twilife" are some moody, richly colored C-prints of suburban interiors and landscapes by Emily Keegin at $2,400, edition of three.
Down the block, Buia Gallery features an exhibition of recent Yale MFAs, perennial hot properties. One find here is Alicia Ochoa's unique Kirlian-style color photographs of a girl and her dog, right out of the bluntly poetic Roe Ethridge worldview, priced at $1,400 apiece.
A lively group show at Capsule Gallery on 26th Street, which we toured earlier this month with Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz while the rest of the art-world gang invaded Florida, features the welcome return of painter Matthew Abbott, an early-'90s star at Fawbush Gallery, who now works behind the desk at Paul Kasmin Gallery. His two lushly brown and orange, formally driven pinwheel paintings are a very reasonable $4,000 apiece.
Also, in Capsule's backroom lies a gorgeous photograph of a Long Island house and truck by Christine Callahan, $1,200, edition of eight. The show in the front room, titled "Mommy! I'm! Not! An! Animal!," is organized by artist Andrew Guenther, whose own work is on view at Perry Rubenstein's new space.
Miami or not, some big collectors were out buying. On a recent Saturday, Hubert Neumann picked up the largest painting in Erik Parker's new exhibition at Leo Koenig, and then bought a second one for his daughters. We found these pieces overblown and lugubrious, what Tracy Williams described as "too Jim Nutty."
The Dana Schutz market continues to rocket upwards. Legendary collector Ranbir Singh told us that he purchased a Schutz work for $6,000 last year and was offered $200,000 for it last week. "I'm not selling," he said. Schutz recently sold a piece to Charles Saatchi, leading her dealer Zach Feuer to require future collectors of Schutz's work to buy a second piece and donate it to a museum. Feuer baited us, "Every time you criticize Dana's work, Charlie, we sell even more of it."
We think Dana's charming as a June bug, but her painting is execution by palette knife.
Nevertheless, cold weather warriors, jingle your bells and buy in New York, not Miami.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).