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Art Basel Miami Beach


by Walter Robinson
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Day one of the New Art Dealers Association art fair at the Deauville Hotel, which is a ways up Collins Avenue at 68th Street in Miami Beach. The hotel setting is perfect, airy, rambling, low key.

A young art dealer spots an older couple, apparently former clients, touring the booths. They inquire about an artist they had bought, who makes delicate small abstractions, which the dealer handles as if fragile. “You know, I raised his prices considerably,” he confides. A moment later, when asked for details, he confesses that they were $300 and are now $800.

A little different from a few weeks ago, when Clara Ha at Paul Kasmin Gallery disclosed that the price for the new Walton Ford paintings of King Kong were “around two,” and it was unclear whether she meant $200,000 or $2 million (it was the latter).

Not all the prices at NADA are so low, but it is a special place in the art market. In contrast to Art Basel Miami Beach, where the high value of the wares on view has already been established for certain (or as certain as it gets in this business, anyway), and the many smaller fairs, where most purchases remain resolutely uncertain, however attractive the object may be, NADA provides a pedigree in the sense that its participating dealers are ones who have been selected (admittedly, self-selected) as “most likely to succeed.” Art is a speculative investment, but perhaps here it is a little less so. Does that make sense? Even if it does, its mechanism is something of a mystery.

A question comes up at NADA, do you look for things that are unlike all the other stuff out there, as suggested by Photios Giovanis of Calicoon Fine Arts? Filling a wall in his booth like an array of vacuum-formed candies are some odd colored objects by 70-year-old, Tribeca-based physician Thomas Kovachevich, who collects the clear plastic packaging from assorted consumables and paints them from the back side, in a kind of twisted avant-garde version of 19th-century cliché verre. They are a steal at $1,500 each -- if Giovanis sells enough of them.

The alternative to trying to find things that look like nothing else is seeking out stuff that clearly resembles something that everyone knows, like the Picassoid figure painting by Scott Reeder hanging in the booth shared by 47 Canal Street from New York and Green Gallery from Milwaukee. Who would have thought that the old satyr’s fecund magic -- Pablo Picasso’s, that is -- would extend to avant-garde pastiches some 130 years after the maestro was born? Reeder’s Woman with Chair (2011), as it is called, measures 48 x 36 in. and is priced at a handsome $10,000.

The gang at the booth -- four of them, Margaret Lee and Oliver Newton of 47 Canal and Jake Palmert and John Riepenhoff from Milwaukee -- had been managing to keep each other amused during the show, where, it might be noted, they end up answering the same questions over and over. “It’s like, how do you not know this by now?” joked Palmert. “Can’t you google it?” added Riepenhoff.

Some of the NADA booths are endearingly small, practically no more than closet-sized niches with a folding chair for the dealer out in the aisle. “It’s 16 running feet of wall space,” said Rose Marcus, an art dealer and art historian who just recently launched Show Room at 170 Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side, after working with CANADA and several other art dealing concerns.

Among the things in her booth -- and it’s hard to say whether they go for the new or for the referential (indicating a problem with that analysis) -- is a sexy expressionist nude sprawled in the grass, Étant Donnés-style, by Jeannie Weisglass ($3,000), and a rather more scatological abstraction made of what looks like a slab of mud and some vaguely colon-shaped goop, if you know what I mean, all attached to a piece of cardboard, by Win McCarthy. It’s called Hot Lunch, and is $2,000. Take my advice, and buy them both.

The visit to NADA was cut short by a call to attend a show of artist-designed bikinis organized by fashion designer Mara Hoffman along with Michelle Tillou Fine Art at the Sunset Lounge at the Mondrian South Beach -- one of the innumerable Miami Art Week events held at the town’s many super-chic hotels. So many young women with clipboards around here, it’s practically a job boom.

Anyway, the bikinis are designed by artists, like Spencer Tunick (a photoscape of nudes) and John Newsom (parrots!), and are available for a week only at the Pulse Contemporary Art Fair for a mere $300. “They’re signed and numbered in an edition of ten,” I thought I heard Tillou say, while I wondered if I could get one for my lovely wife, Lisa Rosen, who stopped accompanying me to art fairs even before we got married.

The next several hours I spent in the car, driving first to the Wynwood Art District in Miami proper, which was really hopping, with graffiti artists painting walls, dozens of galleries holding openings and food trucks parked everywhere. The neighborhood is clearly a success, meaning there was no place to park.

Next I was off to the Standard Spa for an Interview magazine party co-produced with artnet Auctions to celebrate Andy Warhol’s unfinished San Diego Surf movie, not to mention artnet’s online sale of 50 Warhol artworks. The Standard is located in the super exclusive Belle Isle Park on a little island on the Venetian Causeway, where there is no visitor parking at all, so scratch that idea.

The final stop was the W Hotel at Collins Avenue and 22nd Street in Miami Beach, where by some mischance second-generation supercollector Stavros Niarchos, Aby Rosen, Vito Schnabel and the rest of that art-market chic clique (Larry Gagosian, young dealer Joe Nahmad, Gina Gershon) had invited me to a party for Dom Pérignon's new "Luminous" champagne at a disco called Wall (the place was decked out with trippy green neon lighting).

More girls with clipboards, not to say burly bouncers, made sure that the velvet rope was thronged with anxious party-goers who had failed to rsvp. Inside, it was noisy with deejay music, the drinks were free and the crowd was tall and fashionable, and quite different from the graffiti gang in Wynwood.

Still, it was just a party in a hotel bar, though one rather more crowded when I used to go to Barnabus Rex in Tribeca in the ‘70s (there were two of us, me and the unbelievably obnoxious bartender, but never mind). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.