Art Market

How to Buy at Art Basel in Miami Beach on a Budget

Nate Freeman
Nov 30, 2018 11:14PM

Paul McCarthy, Picabia Idol Core, 2015. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

Megan Marrin, Hawthorne, 2018. Courtesy of David Lewis Gallery, New York.

When Art Basel in Miami Beach opens to VIPs on Wednesday morning, the world’s biggest collectors will descend upon a newly renovated convention center ready to spend serious amounts of money. Last year, a record 900 private jets were projected to beeline for the Florida city during the country’s biggest contemporary art fair. If that many people are spending tens of thousands of dollars just on transportation to Art Basel, imagine what they’ll spend once they actually get there.

Case in point: Last year, Hauser & Wirth sold a Bruce Nauman sculpture for $9.5 million in the opening hours, along with a Mark Bradford painting for $5 million. Galleries are expecting similarly stratospheric sales year, as Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art will offer Jeff Koons’s “Celebration”-era statue Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Orange) (1994–2009), priced in the region of $10 million.

But collectors more inclined to fly coach can also score treasures at the fair. Exhibitors in the Nova sector—in which up-and-coming galleries feature works by one, two, or three artists made in the last three years—offer a wide selection of options priced under $40,000, and occasionally in the four-figures. That’s the sweet spot for collectors of emerging art who may focus their attention on a satellite fair such as NADA, and may think that, with its glitzy rep, buying from galleries at Art Basel is out of reach.

Jeff Koons, Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Orange), 1994–2009. Courtesy of Edward Tyler Nahmen Fine Art.


According to independent art advisor Daniel Oglander, the prices in a section like Nova allow his clients—including New York–based and international collectors with art-buying budgets that allow them to acquire work in the five- and six-figure range privately and at fairs, but who wouldn’t always be seen bidding on a multi-million-dollar lot in an evening auction—to buy artworks more on a whim than would be the case in the fair’s center aisles.

“At prices in that range, it’s more of a gut-reaction purchase,” he said. “Clients don’t have to deliberate for a week and agonize over the details. They just walk in and buy it.”

The 29 galleries in the Nova sector consist of outfits from more than two dozen countries, and they’re offering work that can seem like downright bargains compared to the $650,000 Paul McCarthy statue that Hauser & Wirth has on offer. At David Lewis Gallery’s booth, there will be Megan Marrin paintings, often depicting somewhat funky birdcages, on sale for as little as $8,000 and topping out at $16,000—a level that Lewis said is “typically an emerging price point.” Paintings by Greg Parma Smith, which feature his typically psychedelic visions, including peacocks and colorful lizards crawling across the canvases, are priced between $15,000 and $40,000. (Lewis is also showing a large new work by the more established artist Barbara Bloom, for which he’s asking $85,000, a higher price point than is typical for the sector.)

Lewis said that the gallery began showing at Art Basel in Miami Beach in 2017, after having previously participated in NADA, a satellite fair that opens on Thursday and caters to collectors of emerging artists. He said the Art Basel fair better fits his gallery’s broad spectrum of artists who can appeal to different types of buyers.

Fernando Palma Rodríguez, Coatlicue / Xipetotec, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and House of Gaga, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

“I think it’s very much what the gallery is about, as there’s a range—it’s not just, like, ‘We do emerging,’” Lewis said. “For the gallery, Nova’s great because it allows us to show something new to something that’s quite developed. And you can’t really do that at NADA.”

Josh Lilley, whose eponymous gallery is based in London, is doing Art Basel in Miami Beach for the first time, having done NADA Miami Beach from 2009 to 2014. Lilley is offering works by Derek Fordjour, whose paintings start at $22,000. While he said that “NADA is a great fair,” Lilley decided to make the leap because the specialized Nova sector “puts a focus on individual artists that NADA simply cannot match in terms of exposure and context.”

“It’s also just as crucial for my existing collectors to see my work in this larger context—and to be able to appreciate the growing reach of the gallery, and the strength of Derek’s work in particular,” he added.

House of Gaga, a Mexico City gallery that also has a shared space in Los Angeles with New York outfit Reena Spaulings Fine Art, is showing three wildly different artists. Mathieu Malouf, who previously showed with the now-shuttered Brooklyn mainstay Real Fine Arts, will have paintings incorporating saturated images of Troll dolls for sale for $28,000. There are also sculptures by indigenous Mexican artist Fernando Palma Rodríguez, which involve stone masks, wooden chairs, and electronic whirligigs, and will be on offer for $35,000. And then there is Bernadette Corporation, the situationist art-and-fashion collective that was founded in the mid-1990s; works of theirs at the fair start at $40,000.

Mathieu Malouf, PIPI, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and House of Gaga, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

Derek Fordjour, Six Hand Stand, 2018. Courtesy of Josh Lilley Gallery, London.

Director Gabriela Magaña said that the gallery is doing Art Basel because of the fair’s prestige. She said a booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach legitimizes and raises the profile of the space and its artists in the eyes of the Latin American collectors who make the fair their big outing of the year. She added that the fair’s typical pool of collectors are pleasantly surprised by the prices when they come by the booth.

“People are really interested and intrigued by the Nova sector,” Magaña said. “It’s kind of refreshing, and for seasoned collectors who could obviously afford a lot; 20k isn’t that big of a deal, and they just go for it.”

Los Angeles gallery Morán Morán will turn its booth over to Eric N. Mack’s stunning colored-cloth tapestry works, marking the gallery’s first time showing at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Priced at $20,000 and $40,000, Mack’s works are only slightly higher than they were when Morán Morán showed him last year at NADA, but the gallery chose to do the main fair this time around to have access to what co-founder and owner Mills Morán said is unquestionably a more high-wattage opening day.

“The level of collector and exposure afforded during the VIP preview is unprecedented,” he said, adding that the benefits extend beyond just sales notched during Art Basel’s run. “The main advantage of Nova is that the curated nature of the booth will always bring a heightened and specific level of awareness for our artists, from the standpoint of both collectors and curators.”

Detail of Bernadette Corporation, Heliogabalus Pong, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and House of Gaga, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

Oglander, the art advisor, noted the precipitous rise of many artists who have shown at Nova in recent years. Two years ago, Clearing, a gallery with spaces in Brooklyn, the Upper East Side, and Brussels, was selling works by Harold Ancart for $30,000 to $40,000; this year, a new untitled painting by Ancart will be hanging in the booth of mega-gallery David Zwirner, in the Galleries sector. In 2015, Essex Street had a two-artist booth with Park McArthur and Cameron Rowland, but this year, the Lower East Side gallery has made the switch to the main sector, and will show both artists there. In 2014, MOT International, then based in Brussels, had a solo booth of Laure Prouvost; this year, the London- and New York–based Lisson Gallery will hang a new large-scale tapestry by Prouvost, Deeply Feeling Filling the World (Monteverdi ici) (2018), in its Galleries sector booth.

And if big-time collectors anoint artists in this year’s Nova sector by buying their work, they, too, could end up moving to larger galleries in the main sector of the fair.

“Collectors are going to mill around the Nova section, take a gander at newer artists in unfamiliar galleries where their interests can be piqued quickly,” Oglander said. “A lot of these people are seasoned—they can spot quality from a mile away.”

Nate Freeman

Thumbnail Image: Tyler Shields, Louis Vuitton Wallet on Fire, 2012. Courtesy of Imitate Modern.