Ordinarily, Miami Beach is a sleepy town where Versace passes for high culture. But during the first week in December, 30,000 art-lovers flood into the sexy if dumb beach resort, transforming it into the center of the art world. And with startling clarity, the hedonism that defines Miami Beach can be seen as the defining rationale of the art market as well. The predominant contemporary esthetic for art in the U.S. is punchy and pop, high-key, big and clean and pretty.
Everyone comes to buy -- and with the favorable exchange rate for the euro, European buyers are especially avid. "It's absolutely mad," said one visiting dealer, frustrated that several works that caught her eye had already sold. "It's a feeding frenzy," said another. Speculative intensity feeds the acquisitive fervor. "Collectors want fresh blood. It's the cult of the new. And if you can't give them what they want, they throw a temper tantrum."
At the center of the whirlwind is Art Basel Miami Beach, Dec. 2-5, 2004, now the most important art fair in America, with 190 of the best galleries from around the world. Top-lining the show, of course, are the choice examples of classic modern art, which demands to be approached with a slightly more deliberative pace. Possibly the most expensive work at the fair is at Richard Gray Gallery, a Synthetic Cubist oil painting by Pablo Picasso titled Compotier et bouteille sur un guéridon (1913-17). The eerily Neo-classical work, with its painted wood-grain table, pink bottle and bunches of grapes in a bowl, is priced at $20 million.
Like most of the dealers, Gray has plenty of red dots on display. Among the works marked sold are a David Hockney watercolor portrait, a Jaume Plensa bronze of adult hands cradling a child's hands that cradle a candle, an Alberto Giacometti bronze bust, and a very large painting by Susan Rothenberg titled Pin Wheel (1989-90). This Neo-Expressionist classic, exhibited at Sperone Westwater soon after it was made, is an agitated depiction of a figure spiraling in on itself. The $300,000 painting was bought by a South Florida collector who has pledged it to the Miami Art Museum.
Marlborough also has its share of big-ticket items, including Study for Portrait (1957) by Francis Bacon. According to the gallery, the 60 x 47 in. painting -- a portrait of a pope, crimson and grimacing, his clenched hands raised -- is the only Bacon pope painting available on the market. "We don't really want to sell it!" said gallery chief Pierre Levai. Some works you're happy to take home with you. The price is $12 million.
The blue-chip galleries don't necessarily restrict themselves to blue-chip art. At the booth of Landau Fine Art from Montreal, which is justly noted for its inventory of classic modern art, one wall is given over to the winsome portraits of big-eyed models by Sara Landau, the dealer's daughter. The smallish paintings sell well at prices between $2,700 and $4,500.
Available everywhere at Art Basel Miami Beach, needless to say, are works by top contemporary artists. Dominating the C&M stand, for instance, is a huge bronze sculpture by Julian Schnabel, titled Si Tacuisses (1990), which resembles nothing so much as a dark, earthy root vegetable -- though one with a sign attached, reading "I went to Tangiers and had dinner with Paul Bowles."
C&M principal Robert Mnuchin earnestly explained that he believed Pace had failed to present the works in this series properly when they were made, a situation that C&M -- now the artist's exclusive dealer for sculpture worldwide -- has begun to remedy. C&M recently exhibited the bronzes in a space on West 22nd Street in New York's Chelsea art district and published a small catalogue, for which Si Tacuisses is the cover illustration. The plant-like sculpture carries a price tag of $385,000, but "needs no water or fertilizer," noted a gallery salesperson.
The interest among collectors in the miniature copies of contemporary art icons by artist Richard Pettibone has been growing exponentially lately, as evidenced by the sale at auction last month of a classic Pettibone version of a triple Jasper Johns flag for an incredible $350,000 (new Pettibone works were recently on view at Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan as well).
The Manhattan dealer Achim Moeller brought several Pettibones with him to the fair, including a 1965 Pettibone of a 1963 Andy WarholDouble Mona Lisa, a Pettibone version of a Roy Lichtenstein version of Claude Monets Rouen Cathedral and a Pettibone set of four tiny square Frank Stella stripe paintings from 1972. The works are priced at $65,000-$160,000.
Moeller has also a separate gallery in his booth for the large color abstractions of Piero Dorazo, energetic, mural-sized arrays of slashing vertical bands of complementary colors. The artist, who turns 80 this year, lives in Todi in Italy. The paintings are priced at $200,000.
Sitting in the middle of the booth of London dealer Bernard Jacobson, among the brightly colored paintings by Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella, are new tinted glass boxes by the legendary California light and space artist Larry Bell. Part reflective, part translucent, the sculptures inject the Minimalist cube with high-tech mysticism. The price: $50,000 each. Serendipitously, a classic Bell cube from 1969 (with period chrome edges) is on view at the PaceWildenstein booth. Jacobson is now Bell's worldwide representative.
Younger galleries have been given smaller booths around the perimeter of the hall, which are dedicated to installations by single artists. One showstopper is a life-size model of a baby-blue Volkswagen by Margarita Cabrera at Sara Meltzer Gallery -- the "soft" sculpture is made entirely of sewn vinyl. A Mexican-American who lives in El Paso, Cabrera is reflecting on the border culture, with its maquiladora factories and popular affection for the VW bug. The work is $25,000.
Also noted along the aisles of Art Basel Miami Beach were a mural-sized painting by the Russian duo of Dubossarsky & Vinogradov, titled Summer and showing Picasso, Warhol, Gary Oldman (reprising his role from a Dracula film), Arnold Schwartznegger and a naked girl, all at the beach, at Galerie Ursula Krinzinger from Vienna ($72,000); a gray-toned painting of Bruce Lee at by the Paris-based Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming at Galerie Anne de Villepoix from Paris ($42,000); and stained-glass windows in the star-like shapes of origami sculptures made by Pablo Vargas Lugo at Massimo Audiello Gallery ($6,000 each).
At Jack Hanley Gallery from San Francisco, collector interest was high in the trippy, Outsider Art-ish paintings of hookah-smoking Shriners by 22-year-old West Coast wunderkind Keegan McHargue ($16,000). Hanley plans to open a branch in Los Angeles' Chinatown district. "I wanted to do something different," he said. The new space is a block away from Peres Projects, run by Javier Peres, who plans to open a Berlin branch in late 2005.
The avant-garde art adventure continues down at the beach in the converted shipping containers. Among the notable set pieces is a working sweatshop installed by artist Kader Attia at Galerie Kamel Mennour. Called Illegal Studio Hallal, the work gives a Muslim twist to capitalism's prevalent garment-industry model, with Hispanic seamstresses hard at work turning out trademarked "Hallal" gear for today's hip urban youth.
A few yards away in the container of New York dealer Michele Maccarone is the Guantanamo Initiative by Christoph Buchel & Gianni Motti, an installation that proposes to take over the U.S. lease of the military base on Cuba's southeastern coast and turn the area -- now used as a concentration camp for prisoners of war -- into a cultural center. The neo-Conceptual artwork features an aerial photo of the base, several documents and representative copies of the annual lease payments from the U.S. government -- checks for a comical $4,085 (which the Cuban government has been rejecting since the 1959 Communist revolution). The price: €50,000. For info, see www.guantanamo-initiative.com
NADA in Overtown
This year around, the New Art Dealers Association Art Fair has quite a nice setup in a spacious white building in a grassy, walled compound in Miami's Overtown district (not far over the causeway from Miami Beach) -- complete with palm trees and even hammocks. Inside, the 60 participating galleries are arrayed in several rows of equal-sized booths. The mood on opening day was festive, and the energy and imagination evinced by all the new art is astonishing. "It's penny stocks for art collectors," joked L.A. collector Mark Fluent.
"The doors opened at 11 a.m. and people came in and just started buying things," said Christian Viveros-Faune of the Brooklyn gallery Roebling Hall. Specifically, the collectors went for the trompe-l'oeil mirror sculptures by Ivan Navarro, a 28-year-old Chilean artist who lives in Brooklyn. One of Navarro's uncanny works seems to open a deep and dark square window into the booth wall, and the other, which is tinted orange, opens up an infinite hole in the floor. Both are produced in editions of three -- and all have sold at $10,000 each. "He has to make a special version of the piece for a show at Jay Jopling in London," Christian said.
"It's been busy and steady," said David Quadrini from Angstrom Gallery in Dallas. The front of his booth is aswarm with a flock of pigeons surrounding a slice of pizza, all made of colored gaffers tape by New York artist Kevin Landers. The price: $15,000. "An earlier version sold to a Tennessee collector for $12,000," said Quadrini. Also at Angstrom is a work by Ludwig Schwartz consisting of a carpentered wooden case containing a baker's dozen of paintings, made factory-style in China from snapshots. The images include a cheeseburger dinner, a closeup of Chaka from Land of the Lost, a five-dollar bill. The set, done in an edition of three, is $16,000.
At Daniel ReichGallery are new collages by the ever-popular Christian Holstad, but instead of gay porn subjects he's switched to something almost as provocative -- cute little kitties, done via laser Xerox on fancy Japanese paper. Holstad has also made some exceptional collages, post-election, of tabletop still lifes of things that might be of use to protestors, from masks and spray paint to gasoline. Price, $6,000 and $9,000, respectively.
Warhol Foundation head Joel Wachs was one of the buyers attracted to the wall of small figurative, folk-artish paintings by 40-something L.A. artist Henry Taylor (price $700-$3,000) at Sister of Los Angeles, a new gallery opened by Robert Gunderman and Katie Brennan. Also moving fast were exquisite watercolors of body parts by Andrew Hahn and obsessive, eccentric line drawings of militant women with guns by Adam Helms.
Former New Yorker Sarah Gavlak, now transplanted to West Palm Beach, was on hand with several works by Josephine Meckseper, including a creamy white plastic shelf holding sheets of glitter, a fashion photo, a Victorian brooch and a panel of lace. The price: $2,500. Gavlak is overseeing an art project for the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach.
In Miami museums
One highlight of the opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami of art consultant Stefano Basilico's smart exhibition of film appropriations by contemporary artists -- called "Cut" and featuring works by Douglas Gordon, Christian Marclay, Paul Pfeiffer and others -- was a pair of brand new $350,000 Rolls Royces parked out in front of the museum. Now a division of BMW, which is sponsoring Art Basel Miami Beach, Rolls Royce is similarly helping to underwrite the MoCA show, which next appears at its organizing institution, the Milwaukee Museum of Art.
At Miami Art Central, the year-old art space founded by Ella Cisneros and now directed by Rina Carvajal, is another smart show, titled "How do we want to be governed? (Figure and Ground)" and featuring provocative political art by almost 30 artists, many from Eastern Europe and relatively little-known on the international art scene. One of a series of five theme exhibitions organized at various spaces by freelance German curator and academic Roger M. Buergel, the MAC installation is being widely viewed as a U.S. preview of Documenta 12 in 2007-- which Buergel has been drafted to organize.
Some grumbling was heard at the opening -- the only politics that seem to play in hedonistic South Florida is anti-Castroism -- but with close inspection, Buergel's sensibility does display a sly sense of humor. Included are Eleanor Antin's King of Solana Beach, a comic 1974 costume drama that consists of a set of photographs of the artist in beard, hat and Three Musketeer garb, explaining that a kingdom should be no larger than the area that the king can walk in a day, and a film of a 1966 performance by Oyvind Fahlstrom, for which the artist orchestrated a group of demonstrators brandishing pictures of Bob Hope and Mao Tse-Tung and interviewed passersby about which man they liked best.
Odds and ends
At Art Basel, Whitney Museum print curator David Kiehl in the P.P.O.W. booth, examining a striking camouflage stencil painting with a collaged map section by David Wojnarowicz, a work the artist made in an edition of 10. "We have all of his prints," said Kiehl. "Except this one." A donation of the $10,000 work is welcome. . . . A limping Iggy Pop seen stopping in at Victoria Miro Gallery to look at work by Chris Ofili.
Miami real estate developer Alessandro Ferretti sponsoring the Basel video lounge at the Miami Beach library, the best kept secret of the fair -- foot-weary art viewers can recline and watch art TV. . . . John Waters, formerly exhibiting at the now-closed American Fine Arts, has moved to Marianne Boesky Gallery. . . . Steve DiBenedetto, everyone's favorite limner of psychedelic octopuses and helicopters, now showing with Nolan/Eckman Gallery.
Spotted at NADA, MTV bigfoot Abby Terkuhle and video crew, working on a new reality TV show about eight artists preparing for a group show at Deitch Projects. . . . Also at NADA, Chelsea dealer Andrea Rosen prowling the booths, making all the young dealers nervous. . . . Marisa Tomei eyeing a crystal painting by Jose Alvarez at Chris Perez/Ratio 3 from San Francisco.
Art Basel sponsor UBS launches a website for its corporate art collection, featuring 900 works from John Ahearn, Darren Almond and Joseph Albers to Ben Vautier, Andy Warhol and Michele Zalopany. A selection goes on view at the Museum of Modern Art next February. See www.ubs.com. . . . The Art Newspaper turning up the heat with a lively broadsheet edition covering Miami art events, published daily and in color and handed out free to fair-goers.
Italian artist and vintner Sandro Chia taking a studio in the Miami Design District to work on big mural for University of Southern California. . . . Critic and curator Bob Nickas is publishing Collection Diary, a month-by-month record of the 30 works he bought over the course of a year. "Some of them I can't afford anymore," he said. . . Photographer Justine Kurland has named her new son Pirate.
Broadway stalwart Tommy Tune turning to art, making acrylic paintings of palm trees, and having a show in Miami. . . . Alison Jacques Gallery in London planning a show of Robert Mapplethorpe photos selected by David Hockney in January 2005.
The benefit "Night of 1,000 Drawings" at Artists Space in New York actually included 1,400 drawings, priced at $25 and $50, and raised a total of $26,000 for the gallery. . . "Timothy's Page" launches soon on AOL, featuring digital pix taken by the art-world's own portrait photographer, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.
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