What Sold at Art Basel in Miami Beach
If there were any doubts this past week about Art Basel in Miami Beach holding its position as one of the world’s preeminent art fairs, a very flashy display of confidence greeting fairgoers at the newly renovated convention center’s west entrance was out to squash them. In Helly Nahmad Gallery’s booth hung Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) (1955), a painting once in the collection of Paul and Bunny Mellon, which the Nahmad family purchased at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $36.6 million. At Art Basel, Helly Nahmad was asking $50 million for the painting, which on Friday evening he said was on reserve. (Nahmad assured me that the deal would be done by the end of the weekend, but did not respond to emails Monday morning asking to confirm the sale.)
The price tag is high even for the elite Art Basel franchise of fairs—at Art Basel in Hong Kong in March, the most expensive work sold was Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XII (1975), formerly in the collection of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, which went to a Chinese collector for $35 million. And even if buying may have been at a more hesitant pace than years past during Wednesday’s VIP preview, sales reported throughout the week by galleries across multiple sectors of the fair, and across a wide price range, proved the North American and Latin American art markets’ strength.
Mark Bradford, Feather, 2018. © Mark Bradford. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.
At least one work sold in the eight-figure range: Pablo Picasso’s Tete de Femme (1971), for which Van de Weghe was asking $17 million (the sale was first reported by artnet News). Seven-figure sales were relatively more prevalent. Hauser & Wirth sold Philip Guston’s Shoe Head (1976) for $7.5 million and Mark Bradford’s Feather (2018) for $5 million. (The gallery confirmed Monday that David Smith’s Zig I, 1961, which was being offered for $18 million, did not sell during the fair, but the gallery is in discussions with a European museum about acquiring the sculpture.) Kasmin sold Lee Krasner’s Bird Image (1963) for $3.6 million, and at the booth of Jack Shainman Gallery, an aluminum-and-copper wire work by El Anatsui called Strained Roots (2014) sold for $1.2 million. At the far other end of the market, many galleries in the Nova and Positions sectors, which sell works for four- and five-figure sums, reported that their booths had sold out by the end of the fair’s last day on Sunday.
That said, Thaddaeus Ropac suggested that the fair may have lost some of its shine to collectors from other parts of the world—particularly those from his home base in Europe, which he said have effectively stopped attending.
“When Art Basel Miami started, it was like every European wanted to be there, and they have disappeared,” Ropac said. “But really disappeared. It’s kind of astonishing how few Europeans were there this year.”
Robert Longo, Untitled (Snow Trees), 2018. © Robert Longo / ADAGP, Paris, 2018. Photo by Studio Robert Longo. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
He added that while this was a notable shift, it didn’t ultimately hurt the bottom line of galleries, like his, that are able to travel the globe to meet collectors nearer to where they live. He said that he connected with his European clients in October at Frieze London and FIAC in Paris, and had a chance to meet mainland Chinese collectors in Shanghai by participating in both the West Bund and Art021 fairs in November. Collectors in North and South America spent more than enough this year in Miami Beach to make up for what the Europeans purchased in the past, he said. Among those sales were James Rosenquist’s Reflector (1982), which went for $1.2 million; Georg Baselitz’s Die Barrikade (2018) for $1.7 million; and Robert Longo’s Untitled (Snow Trees) (2018) for $600,000.
The move back to a more regionally specific collecting scene at play in Miami is perhaps part of a larger trend, Ropac said, and good for an art fair landscape that many have suggested is oversaturated.
“If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have never thought that it would be so regional, but in a way, it’s good,” he said. “You go to a certain area and you try to work with people from that area—you go to Shanghai to meet Chinese collectors, and you go to Miami to meet American collectors.”
“If you see everyone at every fair, you ask yourself, ‘Why am I still doing so many?’” he added.
Georg Baselitz, Die Barrikade, 2018. © Georg Baselitz, 2018. Photo by Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
Plenty of other European galleries found takers for works despite fewer buyers from their regional networks. König Galerie, which has outposts in Berlin and London, sold Jeppe Hein’s ready-for-Instagram mirror sculpture Parallel Sine Curve (2018) for €210,000 ($238,130). Mai 36 Galerie, which is located in Zurich, sold a Robert Mapplethorpe print, Hands (1981), and John Baldessari’s Scissors (2015), each for just under $500,000. Almine Rech Gallery, which has spaces in Brussels, Paris, London, and New York, sold Markus Lüpertz’s Eurydike (2017) in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 and Aaron Curry’s Cosmic Bather (2017) in the range of $150,000 to $200,000. And Lisson, which has galleries in London and New York, sold two works by Anish Kapoor for £750,000 ($954,590) each.
The top end of sales from American galleries included Robert Longo’s Unlimited (First Amendment) (2018), which New York’s Metro Pictures sold for $750,000, and Jonas Wood’s Blackwelder Speaker Still Life (2018), which sold from Los Angeles–based David Kordansky’s booth for $450,000.
Galleries from Latin America were able to seize upon what’s essentially a hometown advantage in Miami; the city serves as a gateway to Latin America, and many successful businesspeople from both North and South America keep second homes here. Even though the Latin American art market is significantly smaller than the market in America, Asia, or Europe—the region has just 5% of the world’s top collectors, and when combined with Africa, 4% of the global art trade, according to Clare McAndrew’s annual report for Art Basel and UBS—cultivating collectors from the region remains a key element of Art Basel’s strategy, said Noah Horowitz, who serves as the fair’s director of the Americas and is responsible for its galleries and collectors across both continents.
James Rosenquist, Reflector, 1982. © James Rosenquist / ADAGP, Paris, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
“The notion that Art Basel saw Miami as a bridge between these markets is totally real, and has played out more successfully than we could have imagined 17-odd years ago when we started,” Horowitz said. “Miami basically is the de facto capital of Central and South America; through business ties to the city, you see so many people here [from those regions].”
Kerstin Erdmann, the director of Mexico City’s Galería OMR, agreed that in Miami, the gallery’s team interacts often with clients they know from Latin America. “There are probably 300 Mexican collectors coming,” she said. “And many people have second homes in Miami, so families from Venezuela, El Salvador, from Puerto Rico, they all come.”
Erdmann reported selling works by Jose Dávila, James Turrell, Jessie Makinson, and others for prices that went as high as $500,000. Other galleries from Mexico at the fair this year included Kurimanzutto, ProyectosMonclova, and Labor.
A number of the factors caused this year’s edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach to fall at, as Horowitz put it, “a bit of a weird moment.” In the U.S., the midterm elections’ shakeup of congress and the Mueller investigation have combined with stock market volatility stemming from the country’s ongoing trade war with China to create an uncertain outlook. In France, the so-called “yellow vest movement” against President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to modernize the French economy turned this week into some Paris’s worst riots in decades and closed all of the city’s major museums.
In Brazil, following elections in October, the far-right, pro-torture candidate Jair Bolsonaro is set to take power in January, sparking further political instability and fears of discrimination of marginalized groups in the country. Nonetheless, the country’s art market is holding steady, according to a report by art industry organization Latitude, released just ahead of Art Basel in Miami Beach. The study spoke with 45 primary market galleries in Brazil and found that transaction volumes in 2017 increased for 49% of galleries and remained flat for another 16%, with 64% of sales made to Brazilian collectors.
Twenty Brazilian galleries participated in fairs in Miami last week, among them Galeria Nara Roesler—the first Brazilian gallery to open an outpost in New York in 2015. Among other works, the gallery sold a Tomie Ohtake sculpture, which went for $150,000, and Julio Le Parc’s painting Alchemie 396 (2018), which sold for $75,000.
Several dealers in the Nova sector—in which young galleries present work by one, two, or three artists—and the Positions sector—which features solo exhibitions—also reported strong sales. In the Nova sector, London’s Josh Lilley sold eight works by Derek Fordjour on the fair’s opening day for prices between $26,000 and $48,000. Selma Feriani Gallery from Tunis sold out its entire solo booth of work by Maha Malluh in two hours, with prices between $10,000 and $90,000. Blank Projects, a gallery in Cape Town, sold four works by Billie Zangewa for figures between $20,000 and $45,000. And Tokyo’s Nanzuka sold six paintings by the artist Haroshi at prices between $35,000 and $40,000, and 20 sculptures priced between $5,000 and $30,000.
In Positions, Chapter NY sold 10 works by Willa Nasatir for prices between $4,000 and $10,000, and Antenna Space in Shanghai sold Wang Shang’s Palorchestes azeal (2018) for a price between $19,000 and $24,000 to a private collection in Florida. Thierry Goldberg Gallery, a New York outfit participating in the show for the first time, sold out its solo booth of work by Tschabalala Self priced between $10,000 and $60,000; one work was purchased by a collector on behalf of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Last year, Thierry Goldberg set up a pop-up space to exhibit Self’s new work in Miami’s Design District, but this year, the gallery decided to take a booth at the fair—a grand success, as it was one of the more talked-about stands in the entire convention center. Director Ron Segev said showing at Art Basel in Miami Beach allowed the gallery’s staff to meet way more curators and collectors, with the fair offering as much—if not more—exposure for the young artist as a museum exhibition.
“With this particular artist, she’s been exhibited in some museums, but this is like another exhibition in a way—with a lot of exposure, where more people can see the work for the first time in person,” Segev said.
In addition to that high level of exposure, Art Basel is making an effort to improve the economics of participation for small galleries in its future editions. The 2019 edition will introduce a sliding scale for booth prices, allowing larger galleries to subsidize smaller ones. The new scheme first goes into effect at Art Basel in Basel, in June, where there will be an 8% price decrease for the smallest galleries in the fair, and a 9% increase for the largest galleries within the fair. Prices for booths in Miami Beach should see a similar adjustment, Art Basel said when the effort was announced.
With the auctions and Art Basel in Miami Beach now put to bed, there’s a bit of a reprieve on the art market circuit. But the break is noticeably shorter this year: Instead of getting to wait until the first week of March—when The Armory Show opens in New York—for a major art market moment, collectors and dealers will all be shipping west the second week of February to Los Angeles for the first edition of Frieze L.A.
Installation view of Thierry Goldberg Gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2018. Courtesy of Art Basel.
And Ropac, who is participating in the L.A. fair, said that after a positive set of sales in New York and confident buying in Miami, everyone can go into the holiday break unconcerned about the state of the market.
“The auctions in New York were so strong, it was unexpected—people felt they would do well, but they did much better on every level,” Ropac said. “If November in New York is good, December in Miami is good, [then] the market is definitely very strong.”