The Canvas: Sifting through the Sands of Art Basel in Miami Beach’s 2021 Edition to Understand Where the Biggest Art Fair in the U.S. Goes from Here
Qualeasha Wood, installation view in Kendra Jayne Patrick’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Courtesy of Art Basel.
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Now that Art Basel in Miami Beach’s 19th edition has officially concluded, it’s time to shake off the hangover, sift through the sand at the bottom of that Rimowa suitcase, and see if we can absorb any meaningful lessons from the wildest week on the art world’s calendar.
This year’s fair attracted an overall attendance of 60,000 visitors throughout its VIP and public days. That represents a roughly 25% drop from 2019 when the fair was last held and saw 81,000 visitors make their way through the Miami Beach Convention Center’s doors. Yes, that’s a pretty stunning decline in terms of foot traffic from one edition to the next. However, with organizers opting to shift this year’s dates to close a full day early (gaining a VIP day on Tuesday but losing a full day on Sunday when thousands more of Miami’s public would normally have attended), and with travel from Europe and Asia still significantly impaired by the pandemic, that’s not too shabby of a slump all things considered.
In a sentiment that was widely shared by many of the dealers we spoke to throughout the three days we spent roaming the fair’s aisles, veteran gallerist Casey Kaplan said that “the pace of the fair this year is lending itself to longer conversations and more concentrated time with collectors and curators, which is a positive for our entire team and our artists.” Samia Saouma of Galerie Max Hetzler agreed, saying: “It feels like there are many new faces this year—both collectors and advisors—but I’m able to spend more time talking with each one individually and actually have meaningful conversations about the works we brought.”
Of course, this year, those two Basel veterans were joined by 44 colleagues who were participating in the fair for the first time. In recent years, fairs such as Art Basel and TEFAF have come under increased criticism for not doing enough to shake up their exhibitor bases and bring in new blood with fresh perspectives to show at their fairs. And regardless of whether the decision to relax the previous requirements that galleries must have been in business for three years and maintain a permanent brick-and-mortar space before being able to apply to participate, was borne out of a desire to diversify the makeup of exhibitors or out of necessity to ensure that enough galleries participated so as to make the fair profitable for MCH Group, organizers rightfully deserve to be lauded for the decision.
However, while galleries such as Kendra Jayne Patrick, Broadway, Nicola Vassell, and Fridman Gallery (as well as many of the galleries hailing from Africa) were met with positive reactions from most of the collectors and dealers we spoke to, it was clear that other first-time exhibitors would hardly have passed muster with Art Basel’s notoriously assiduous selection committee in years past.
Between the relaxed standards for first-time exhibitors and the NFT mania coursing throughout the fair (Art Basel partnered with the blockchain network Tezos to present an interactive NFT exhibition titled “Humans + Machines: NFTs and the Ever-Evolving World of Art”), it’s hard to deny that this year’s fair lacked some of the more high-minded qualities that collectors have been conditioned to expect when attending an Art Basel fair.
After all, being a Basel exhibitor is meant to signify a certain cachet to collectors. It meant that a gallery had the sort of permanence, expertise, and commitment to its artists that would last for the long-term and wasn’t at the mercy of the ever shifting winds of the market. After a long day at the fair, collectors could rest easy when resting their heads on their Frette linens at night, confident in the knowledge that the $200,000 or so that they just spent on acquiring a work wouldn’t go down the drain as the gallery they bought it from wasn’t some fly-by-the-night, amateurish operation. As one longtime Art Basel exhibitor—who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons—memorably put it to us when asked for his thoughts on the many new exhibitors this year, “The doors have burst open. Let’s just do away with the pretense and invite Eden Fine Art to exhibit at this point.”
And yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Many galleries reported gangbuster sales and collectors—both of the traditional and new variety—clearly came ready to buy. “We’ve had a drastic increase in new loan requests during the Miami fairs, with almost all requests being used to fuel new purchases,” said Joe Charalambous, president of TPC Art Finance, which specializes in art-backed loans to collectors looking to leverage their pre-existing collections in order to access additional liquidity. “Between the auctions in November and now the fairs last week, it’s clear that collectors in this market environment are becoming ever more sophisticated at how they acquire works.”
Marc Spiegler—currently serving dual roles as Art Basel’s global director as well as the interim head of Art Basel in Miami Beach until a replacement for Noah Horowitz is found—and the rest of the Art Basel team deserve immense amounts of credit for pulling off an overwhelmingly successful fair in a tough logistical environment for large-scale, in-person events. There were no major hiccups with the timed entry system, the vast majority of visitors complied with the fair’s mask policy, and the overall mood and atmosphere throughout the week was buoyant as deals were cemented and works found new homes.
So, perhaps at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter to most collectors which individual galleries are or aren’t exhibiting at any given fair. In today’s art market, connoisseurship often matters less than access. And we’d argue that no single entity has done more to throw open the once cloistered gates of the art world than the blue-chip Swiss fair that turned itself into a household name.
After all, ask any of your non-art-world-affiliated friends what they know about the art world, and we guarantee that while 99% couldn’t tell you the difference between Gagosian or Hauser & Wirth if Larry or Iwan themselves walked up and tried to sell them a Basquiat, almost all could tell you that Art Basel in Miami Beach is the biggest and most important art fair of the year in the U.S. Now getting them to also understand that no, Alec Monopoly doesn’t actually exhibit at Art Basel itself, well, that’s a whole other matter entirely. And let’s just hope that continues to be true going forward, because if the street artist decides to mint an NFT or two in his future, then all bets are off.
That’s all for today, folks. Make sure to be on the lookout this week for our second annual “Collectors Issue” featuring wide-ranging, in-depth interviews with ICA Miami trustee John Marquez; the Argentine American billionaire collector and philanthropist Jorge M. Pérez; and SFMOMA and Tate Americas Foundation trustee Komal Shah. We invite you to subscribe here or by clicking the link down below.
Art Basel Miami Beach Sales Part Three
- Jim Dine’s Last Vermont Robe for $600,000
- Will Cotton’s Bareback (2019) for $150,000
- Ivan Navarro’s Shard III (2021) for $115,000
- Omar Ba’s Untitled (2021) for $100,000
- Robin Kid’s It’s All Your Fault – XVIII (diptych) (2021) for $100,000
- Billie Zangewa’s A Mother’s Lament (2021) for $80,000
James Cohan Gallery
- Fred Tomaselli’s Bear Cam (2021) for $250,000
- Elias Sime’s Untitled 6 (2020) for $200,000
- Yinka Shonibare’s Fire Kid (Boy) (2021) £140,000
- Spencer Finch’s Study for Reflections in Water (After Debussy), I (2021) for $150,000
- Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s Meet You There (2021) for $130,000
- Grace Weaver’s Untitled (Woman) (2021) for $45,000
- Federico Herrero’s Untitled (2021) for $40,000
- Spencer Finch’s Atlantic Ocean from Far Rockaway, I (2021) for $35,000
- Five Federico Herrero works on paper for $8,000 each
- Jose Alvarez’s collage work The Moment of Surrender #4 for $90,000
- Gisela Colon’s Parabolic Monolith (Gamma Indigo) for $180,000
- Gisela Colon’s wall work Meta-Trapezoid (Cyan Gold) for $120,000
- Two of April Bey’s COLONIAL SWAG series for $20,000 each
- FriendsWithYou’s Interness for $100,000
- Kim Dacres’s sculpture Grace for $18,000
- Candida Alvarez’s painting I for $80,000
- Paul Stephen Benjamin’s video installation ABCKL ! for $32,000
- Nancy Lorenz’s Lemon Gold Rust and Light for $45,000
- A suite of Kandis Williams’s Bitter Arrangement works for $40,000 each
- Nir Hod’s The Life We Left Behind (2021) for $90,000
- Lita Albuquerque’s Untitled (2019) for $75,000
- A large-scale painting by Ilana Savdie for $65,000
- A painting by William Brickel for $30,000
- Four paintings by Kate Barbee each sold for a price between $20,000 to $28,000
- A painting by Rosa Loy for $25,000
Yancey Richardson Gallery
- Five paintings by Zanele Muholi from 2021 each sold for $70,000
- Two Zanele Muholi bronze sculptures for $70,000 each to collectors in Boston and Kansas City, Missouri
- A Zanele Muholi gelatin silver print for $25,000
- A Zanele Muholi gelatin silver print for $18,000
- A David Alekhuogie archival pigment print on canvas for $9,500
- David Hockney’s Studio Interior #2 (2014) for $6.5 million
- Imi Knoebel’s Kadmiumrot C C1-C5 (1975/2018) for €400,000
- Damien Hirst’s Psalm 58: Si vere utique (2008) for $225,000
- David Altmejd’s Pyramid (2019) for $120,000
- Gabriel Orozco’s Covid 26.7.20 (2020) for $90,000
- Four Sara Flores works each priced between $35,000 and $45,000
David Castillo and Almine Rech (Meridians)
- Vaughn Spann’s Rover (2021) for $230,000 to Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields
Josh Lilley (Meridians)
- Rebecca Manson’s Gutter (2021) for $300,000 to Cindy Rachofsky, Howard Rachofsky, John Eagle, and Jennifer Eagle
Morán Morán and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery (Meridians)
- Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’s With Negritude (2021) for an asking price in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 to a foundation in the Middle East
Almine Rech (Meridians)
- Kenny Scharf’s Untitled (2021) for a price between $100,000 and $400,000
Galería Fernando Pradilla (Nova)
- Alberto Baraya’s Miami beast hunter. Expedición Miami (2021) for $28,000
- Alberto Baraya’s Vanitas Countach. Expedición Miami (2021) for $7,300
- Alberto Baraya’s Manati Mustang. Expedición Miami (2021) work on paper for $5,900