No wonder the art dealers are all happy in Miami Beach -- lots of collectors, and a week of balmy beach weather (even if spent entirely inside). Art Basel Miami Beach 2003 and its progeny, the NADA Art Fair 2003 and Scope Miami 2003, plus many concurrent events, notably the Design District party with open houses at the local galleries on Friday night, made Miami Beach the place to be this week, Dec. 4-7, 2003. All told, that's at least 250 galleries with thousands of new artworks.
At Art Basel Miami Beach, set up in a grid of booths in Miami's spacious and modern Convention Center, visitors could alternately contemplate classic 20th-century moderns or explore new contemporary art. The number of galleries that bring a wealth of masterpieces -- more great works in each booth than at any auction -- is especially large, and includes Galerie Gmurzynska (Cologne), Achim Moeller Fine Art (New York), Galerie Jan Krugier (New York and Geneva), Galerie 1900-2000 (Paris) and Galerie Xavier Hufkens (Brussels).
At Hufkens, for instance, is a classic painting by Ren Magritte, La voix du sang (1947), that depicts a tree at night, with three doors opening in the hollow trunk. The bottom door shows the faade of a brightly lit mansion, the center compartment holds a sphere and the top door is open only a crack. "It represents the super-ego, the ego and the id," Hufkens said. Price: $3.5 million. Also on view in the booth were a delicate early mobile by Alexander Calder ("Klee in action," someone said), an aluminum sculpture reproducing an Emily Dickinson verse by Roni Horn (who currently has a show at Hufkens' gallery in Brussels) and a hanging ceiling sculpture of several scowling faces by Evan Holloway.
Miami is always good for Latin American material. At the booth of Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art was one of the fair' standouts -- a pair of self-portraits by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, commissioned in 1940 by the American engineer Sigmund Firestone for $250 each. The Kahlo portrait is especially good, large and intense. The family sold the pictures in 1979 at Sotheby's for $27,000 and $50,000, respectively, and now the two works are being offered as a pair for $15 million. "Martin can't go wrong," said one admiring dealer about the price. "Even if she doesn't get $15 million, she'll get offers that will let her gauge the market." Fans of Diego and Frida can also head over to the Bass Museum, where Spencer Throckmorton's incredible collection of period photographs of the two great artists is on display.
Many of the booths -- Marian Goodman, Skarstedt Fine Art, Thaddaeus Ropac, Gagosian, Barbara Gladstone, White Cube -- are filled with contemporary blue-chips that all together strike a very high-key, high-tech note. At PaceWildenstein, for instance, one section of the booth is dedicated to an installation of three color-coordinated Donald Judd sculptures: an aluminum and purple stack from 1992, an aluminum and purple miter box from 1997 and a purple enamel bullnose progression from 1968. "As you know, Walter," said PaceWildenstein art expert Susan Dunn, "we don't give prices for publication!" The Judd Foundation is also presenting a suite of the late artist's furniture in the Raleigh Hotel on the beach, one of the fair's host hotels.
By all accounts, sales are good. "It was the best opening night we ever had," said Carla Chammas of CRG. "We met new people, who asked questions and were very curious, which was gratifying." A 60 x 40 in. camouflage mirror piece by Jim Hodges, for whom Christie's recently set a new auction record of $192,300, was sold for $50,000, and works by Kelly McLane and Robert Beck also were big hits.
At Acquavella Galleries, a set of 10 Andy Warhol silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe from 1967 sold during the collector's preview for $500,000. Also on hand were exquisite works by Calder, Mir and Diebenkorn.
"The fair's going brilliantly," agreed London dealer Emily Tsingou. "We're very excited." Star of Tsingou's booth are works by Neo-Expressionist painter Detmer Lutz, an artist from Dsseldorf who helped found the Hobbypop Museum and now lives in London. A large painting of a pair of hikers by a canal, done from childhood photographs, media sources and memory, was sold for $7,000, as were all the smaller watercolors by the artist that the gallery had brought (price: $700 each). Lutz is currently having his second solo show at Tsingtou's London gallery.
"It's gone smooth as silk," said Santa Monica dealer Rosamund Felsen. "The quality is very high, and the fair staff is super efficient." Felson's booth includes 3D paintings by the Okinawa-born, 30-something L.A. artist Kaz Oshiro, whose fake-wood-grained replica of a McDonald's trash bin sold for $3,000; a decaled 3D painting of a dorm fridge is a bargain-priced $2,000. Collectors are also showing interest in large color photographs of L.A.'s new Walt Disney Concert Hall by Grant Mudford, which are $7,500 in editions of 10.
At Galerie Karsten Greve is a special presentation of panoramic photos by John Chamberlain, made with a 180-degree camera and largely dating from the last five years. "He holds the camera down by his side, like John Wayne, to take the picture," explained Greve. The images are stretched and bent like his sculptures -- one of which, Plastic Virtue from 1989, is installed nearby on a low plinth. The photos, which haven't been displayed much in the U.S. (though they are popular in Europe), are $4,400 each in editions of nine.
At Gorney Bravin + Lee, a large (76 x 144 in.) and gnarly painting by Fabian Marcaccio, Energy-Libido-Information (2003), featuring images from circuit boards along with overstated globs of paint, was sold for $80,000, with discount. At Lombard-Fried, an impressive and large balsa-wood architectural model of an imaginary building in a utopian-classic Havana by the Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa -- who was denied a visa to visit Miami for the fair -- sold for $70,000 to an unnamed museum, not in America. Lombard-Fried is also showing its first published edition, a portfolio of 10 black and white photographs by Garaicoa of dilapidated and abandoned Havana movie theaters. Price: $7,500, in an edition of 15.
One highlight of the opening was a performance at the "Art Statements" booth of Galeria Francesca Kaufmann from Milan -- a recreation of Joseph Beuys' legendary 1974 performance at Rene Block Gallery in SoHo, in which the German shaman, wrapped in felt and holding a cane over his head like an antenna, lived in a cage with a live coyote. This time around, Mexico City bad-boy artist Yoshua Okn played Beuys' role, replacing the felt with a kitschy Indian blanket and the cane with a police staff, while the part of the snarling coyote was played by another kind of "coyote" -- a man who purportedly transports illegal aliens from Mexico into the U.S.
Down at the beach, several galleries have set up shop in converted shipping containers. Among the many attractions there, despite the constrained circumstances, is Vincent Lamouroux's rolling, uneven plywood floor for Spencer Brownstone's container, and a pair of anamorphic cigarette-pack sculptures by Robert Lazzarini at Pierogi ($10,000 the pair).
But what about the really young stuff? That's to be found at the new NADA Art Fair, set up by a group of 40 dealers in an unfinished, new commercial building not far from the Convention Hall in South Beach. The garage-like ambience of concrete floors and cinder-block walls - possibly the most dismal setting imaginable -- didn't inhibit the collectors, who swooped down like a flock of seagulls to snap up inexpensive works by hot new artists.
At the trippy booth of John Connelly Presents, a trove of brightly appliqud patchwork t-shirts by Dear Raindrop, a Rhode Island-based collective that recently relocated to Los Angeles, found buyers ready at $80 a pop. Dealer Daniel Reich, who opened his new space on West 23rd Street in New York just last week, had sold everything he had by Nick Mauss, Paul P. and Karen Heagle -- drawings at $1,000 and paintings at $2,000. Mauss, a 23-year-old Cooper Union grad, does delicate 19th-century-French-inspired pencil drawings on colorful marbleized paper he makes himself; the 20-something Toronto artist Paul P. crafts Beaux Arts-style drawings of young men based on images from gay porn; and Heagle, who used to work at the Metropolitan Museum, puts gold leaf on muscular paintings of kissing lesbians or a smoking toaster.
Down the aisle at Rivington Arms, still another young gallery from New York (all three were recently profiled by Alex Mar in a feature in New York magazine), a trio of new colored pencil drawings by Matthew Cerletty were all sold at $4,000-$5,000. Also moving fast were Outsider-style drawings by the 21-year-old, Berkeley-based artist Keegan McHargue, who is having shows at Jack Hanley in San Francisco and Deitch Projects in New York. McHargue's drawings go for $900-$5,000.
By the front door, the Brooklyn gallery Bellwether is featuring two large color photographs by Sharon Core, who is restaging Wayne Thiebaud's food paintings from the 1960s, making all of the dishes herself. Salad, Sandwiches and Desert is an uncanny reverse still-life that recreates Thiebaud's painted icon with real bread, pudding, pie slices and tomatoes. Three of the five photos in the edition are sold, at $4,200 each.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.
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