Outside on Miami Beach, it's all about the coconuts, baby! Bright blue sky, buff beach sand, cool turquoise water, hot winter sun. People are happy in this half-Spanish city in that lazy, balmy, cool-breeze kind of way. A person could get used to this, tanning in December. It has its own esthetic. Call it "Inside the White Art Deco Resort Hotel Cube."
Over at the Miami Beach Convention Center, inside, under the artificial light, it's a different world. Art Basel Miami Beach, Dec. 6-10, 2006, has set up shop, and the international art bazaar is in full swing, with 200 galleries from 22 countries boasting works by more than 2,000 artists.
The fair is bigger news than ever. Linsday Pollock and Linda Yablonsky are on the scene for Bloomberg News, Roberta Smith of the New York Times is in town and the Art Newspaper flew in its crack team of 10 British art reporters to put out its art fair daily (also available on the paper's website). New York Magazine hired former Wall Street Journal hand Alexandra Peers to write its Miami art blog, and Paper magazine co-editors David Herskovits and Kim Hastreiter are also blogging the fairs. And the Miami Herald kicked things off with a front-page story on accusations of price gouging by Miami Beach hotels.
Art collecting is more popular than ever, especially as a way to gain class and status for the macher who otherwise has everything (pace hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen). Wall Street bonuses are up 20 percent over last year, and the sinking exchange rate for the dollar makes the U.S. market ever more attractive to foreigners. The result is an art boom that might never quit.
White Cube and Gagosian are here with their blue-chip avant garde. Galerie Gmurzynska has its Yves Klein anthropometries, Jan Krugier his collection of Pablo Picasso works from Marina Picasso, Hackett-Freedman is featuring David Park, Karsten Greve is in town with Louise Bourgeois, and Galerie Krinzinger is foregrounding a new life-sized sculpture by Erwin Wurm of a man with a completely spherical body -- titled The Artist Who Swallowed the World (2006).
There's even a comely young model wandering the aisles wearing nothing more than a green bikini, a layer of ochre and black body paint turning her into an ambulatory art object, the work of artist Andy Golub (for more info, says a card she hands out, see www.andygolub.com).
And the wares are moving fast. Mary Boone Gallery, at its first art fair ever, is changing its installation every day. First up was Barbara Kruger, whose works sold out for prices up to $350,000. Next up is David Salle. Despite a lagging auction market (relatively speaking, of course), a large picture from 1988, which combines images of Giacometti busts, art moderne lamps and several girls posing half naked on mortuary tables, is $1.2 million. Current paintings are $250,000.
Robert Miller Gallery has filled its booth with paintings by Lee Krasner, including a work from her "Green Earth Series," which was started after her husband Jackson Pollock died in 1956 and exhibited at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1958. Even more impressive, perhaps, are the paintings from the subsequent "Umber Series" of 1958-62. Prices range from $950,000 to $1,800,000. In a smaller adjacent booth, part of Art Basel's new "Art Kabinett" presentations, Miller has a choice selection of portraits by Diane Arbus and Alice Neel.
At the booth of London dealer Anthony Reynolds was an eye-catching new work by Mark Wallinger, a huge U.S. flag, resplendent with its red-and-white stripes and field of 50 white stars. Down in the lower right-hand corner, however, is a 51st star. What could that be, Puerto Rico? "England, I'm afraid," said Reynolds. Think Wallinger is unhappy with British participation in the Iraq war? The flag is done in an edition of one with one artist's proof, and is priced at £75,000.
It seems that a person can find almost anything at the fair. Stockholm dealer Claes Nordenhake, who operates his gallery's Berlin branch, is displaying a green felt Anti-Form work from 1984 by Robert Morris, one of several the artist produced in various colors for a show at the gallery back then, when it was located in Malmo. The thick fabric droops off the wall in all its material glory, and can be had for about $100,000. A work by Richard Serra, in even deeper thrall to gravity, sits in a corner of the booth -- Corner Diamond (1986), a steel plate propped against the wall. This one is sold for a price around $750,000-$800,000, Nordenhake said.
Latin American constructivism fills the booth of Gabinette de Arte Raquel Arnaud from São Paulo, works by Waltercio Caldas, Sergio Camargo, Willys de Castro, Mira Schendel, Jesús Rafael Soto. A dense tangle of copper wire by the Argentine artist León Ferrari (b. 1920), who spent many years in exile during his country's dictatorship but whose work is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Pinacoteca de Estado in São Paulo, is priced at $38,000.
New York dealer Spencer Brownstone has one of the "Art Nova" booths, and is devoting it to an enchanting work by the Lithuanian New Yorker Zilvinas Kempinas (b. 1969). Titled O (between Fans), the sculpture consists of a large loop of recording tape kept suspended in mid-air, spinning, by the breeze from pair of fans, which face each other.
Another "Art Nova" booth, shared by Nature Morte and Bose Pacia of Delhi and New York (the galleries are partners), is dominated by a large new sculpture by Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) -- a three-wheeled bicycle rickshaw piled high with lotas, the brass vessels used to carry holy water from the Ganges. Gupta is perhaps better known for works that use pots and pans from the kitchen (his auction record, set in Hong Kong in May, is in excess of $185,000). "This one is religious rather than secular," said dealer Peter Nagy, smiling broadly as a bodhisatva. The price is $350,000. Gupta's dramatic skull formed from pots, Very Hungry God (2006), recently installed in a Paris church [see "Report from Paris," Nov. 15, 2006], was acquired by François Pinault.
Sometimes contemporary art can seem like a contest in nihilistic gestures, and the winner in this regard was mojo-master Gavin Brown, whose huge corner booth is completely empty -- save for an crumpled cigarette package dangling from the ceiling on a string. A work by Urs Fisher rather nonsensically titled Nach Jugenstil Kam Roccoko, the bit of paper trash dances around the space in a large circle, thanks to the action of motorized arm attached up on the beams. The work reminded New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl -- also in town to cover the event for his magazine -- of the old cartoon practical joke in which a dollar bill, attached to string, is laid on the sidewalk and then jerked out of reach of whatever mark happens along.
But if it's avant-garde gestures that you like, your best bet is "Art Positions" down at the beach, where 21 "young" galleries have been given space in custom-fitted, air-conditioned shipping containers. Harris Lieberman Gallery from New York has turned its container over to San Francisco bad boy Aaron Young, who has drilled a hole in the ceiling of his container and hired day laborers to stand topside and shovel sand into the hole, so it streams down into a pile like in a supersized hourglass. "It's 25 tons of sand," said dealer Michael Lieberman.
At Breeder from Athens, the irrepressible Dutch artist Marc Bijl has installed a new version of Robert Indiana's Love sculpture -- the word "porn," painted black and set on a white plinth. All three works in the edition are sold, at $20,000 for the first two and $25,000 for the third. A sign of the times?
Last but not least is Punto Gris from San Juan, which trumped the other Art Position exhibitors in the 2005 fair by exhibiting a crushed container, courtesy of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. This time around, the gallery has once again done away with the container, in favor of a row of wooden tables, each with its own festive yellow canopy. On each table is an array of tropical fruits -- beautiful bananas, pineapple, mangos -- all made of sand, so that they crumble at a touch. Dubbed Fruit Market, the work is by Brazilian artist Laura Belém. The price is $5,500. "You can buy it," said gallery director Mariely López Bermúdez, "but you can't really have it!"
Back at the Convention Center, up in the VIP lounge, AXA was displaying a Photorealist painting of various toys arrayed on top of a layer of shiny beads, a work by David Parrish from 1989. Punctured and torn in several places, its surface scuffed and abraded and even embedded with slivers of glass, the work had been displayed in the lobby of a New Orleans office building -- until the advent of Hurricane Katrina. The damaged picture was deemed a total loss, and AXA paid a claim in the neighborhood of $100,000. The art-insurance giant had it on view as a reminder of the importance of insurance to all the art lovers at Art Basel Miami Beach.
Meanwhile, I hear that there are several other art fairs going on in Miami at the same time. Surely, that couldn't be true. . . .