Art Market

What Sold at Art Basel in Miami Beach’s Online Edition

Benjamin Sutton
Dec 7, 2020 6:53PM
Matthew Wong
Distance, 2016

Every year since 2002, the art world’s attention in the first week of December has been trained on the Miami Beach Convention Center, host to Art Basel in Miami Beach (ABMB). This year, the event space sat empty as Florida recorded its 1 millionth COVID-19 case and Miami-Dade County approached a quarter of a million cases. While many galleries are nevertheless holding exhibitions and pop-up events throughout South Florida, most fairs shifted to online-only presentations—including Art Miami and Context, Untitled, Art Miami Beach, and the Prizm Art Fair—with Art Basel’s “OVR: Miami Beach” bringing together virtual viewing rooms from 255 galleries.

As ABMB’s virtual edition opened to VIPs on December 2nd, the mood on the ground and online was cautiously optimistic. That day, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine became the first to be approved for use by a national regulatory agency, in the United Kingdom, and the prospect of it and several other highly effective vaccines becoming available imminently sent financial markets soaring. In the secondary art market, auctions held last week in Hong Kong by Phillips with China’s Poly Auction and by Christie’s saw strong results fueled by aggressive bidding on works by emerging artists.

Avery Singer, Soda gun, 2020. © Avery Singer. Photo by Lance Brewer. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Simone Leigh, Sphinx, 2020. © Simone Leigh. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.


“The broader financial indices that are confidence indicators are high,” said Noah Horowitz, Art Basel’s director for the Americas. “I was just down in Miami, and people of certain means are beginning to see around to the other side of this, and certainly after a year in which there’ve been extended and extensive lockdowns, and rollover from one difficult challenge to the next, I think there’s a real desire to be shopping and buying things.”

Exhibitors seemed to have anticipated the acquisitive mood of the virtual fair’s visitors, with many high-caliber offerings matching the quality levels and price points seen at in-person editions of years past. Major galleries offered works with multimillion-dollar prices, like the Wayne Thiebaud cityscape painting Palm Ridge (1977–78), on offer for upwards of $5 million in Berggruen Gallery’s virtual booth—more than the top auction result for a Thiebaud cityscape, $4.8 million—and the enigmatic Leonora Carrington painting Pastoral (1950), on offer for a figure between $3 million and $4 million from Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art.

John Chamberlain, SUPERSTARMARTINI, 1999. © 2019 Fairweather & Fairweather LTD / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the John Chamberlain Estate and Hauser & Wirth.

And while there wasn’t a viral sensation on the level of Maurizio Cattelan’s bananarama at this year’s fair, David Zwirner did try to capitalize on the current fascination with stainless steel monoliths, offering one by John McCracken (Untitled, from 2011) for $2 million to $3 million. As of Sunday evening, in the fair’s final hours, it had not disappeared as other monoliths have recently, and was still listed as available.

That said, many works on offer with six- and seven-figure prices did find buyers. The biggest sales at the online edition of ABMB included the following:

Alex Katz, Reflection, 2020. © Alex Katz. Courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.

Jules de Balincourt, Take Us With You, 2020. © Jules de Balincourt. Courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.

  • David Zwirner sold a hanging wire sculpture by Ruth Asawa from the 1950s for $2.5 million; a Yayoi Kusama sculpture from 2009, Flowers That Bloom at Midnight, for $1.8 million; a Joan Mitchell painting from circa 1956 and a Bridget Riley painting from 2019 for $1.2 million each; a Lisa Yuskavage canvas, Photoshoot (2020), for $900,000; and Alice Neel’s portrait of Aaron Kramer (1958) for $750,000.

Hauser & Wirth sold a new George Condo canvas, Distanced Figures painting (2020), for $2.2 million; the John Chamberlain steel sculpture SUPERSTARMARTINI (1999) for $1 million; a Rashid Johnson painting, Anxious Red Painting July 8th (2020), for $675,000; a new Avery Singer painting, Soda gun (2020), for $425,000; and a new bronze sculpture by Simone Leigh, Sphinx (2020), for $400,000.

David Salle, Thinking, Looking, 2020. © David Salle. Courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.

Nicolas Party, Portrait with Red Flowers, 2020. © Nicolas Party. Photo by Thomas Barratt. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Karma sold a painting by the late Matthew Wong, Distance (2016), for $475,000, and a new watercolor by Nicolas Party, Trees (2020), for $52,000.

Lorna Simpson, Chance & Change, 2020. © Lorna Simpson. Photo by James Wang. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Henni Alftan
Midnight, 2020
  • Regen Projects sold a 2018 work by Glenn Ligon, Study for Debris Field #29 (2018), for $225,000; a new work by Jack Pierson, HERE AND NOW (2020), for $200,000; and new paintings by Daniel Richter and Christina Quarles for $200,000 and $175,000, respectively.
  • Petzel sold a new work by Charline von Heyl, Poetry Machine #4 (2020), for $350,000, and a set of five glass lamps by Jorge Pardo for $150,000.
  • Kasmin sold a 1976 work on paper by David Hockney, Gregory, Hot Springs Arkansas, for a price in the range of $100,000 to $150,000, and a new James Nares painting, Vroom (2020), for $100,000.

In addition to a bevvy of blue-chip offerings, many of ABMB’s exhibitors devoted their virtual booths to thematic presentations or showcases of new works by one or two artists. In the former camp, New York’s Salon 94 brought together works by four artists—Yukultji Napangati, Elizabeth Neel, David Benjamin Sherry, and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri—whose work draws, in very different ways, on landscapes. Mexico City gallery MAIA Contemporary showcased works with a retrofuturist bent by Salvadoran artist Simón Vega and Greek artist Theo Michael.

Amsterdam- and New York–based gallery GRIMM devoted its booth to narratively rich paintings by the Peruvian artist Arturo Kameya. As of Saturday, the gallery had sold three of Kameya’s works and two more were on hold.

Arturo Kameya
Silver rain, 2020
Arturo Kameya
Settlement II, 2020

“Even more so than before, collectors reach out to galleries before an online VIP opening to see what they’ll exhibit online and so sales happen in the week leading up to the actual fair as well,” observed Jorg Grimm, the gallery’s co-owner. “The fair’s viewing rooms feel quiet at times and I think this is because a lot of visitors leave after a short time to go to individual galleries websites, which often feature much more elaborate viewing room platforms and carry more information.”

The fair saw a slew of sales at similar four- and five-figure sums:

  • Miami’s David Castillo Gallery sold a work by Xaviera Simmons, Vessel (2020), for $75,000, and a new work by Vaughn Spann, Chapel Painting (2020), in the range of $45,000 to $50,000 to major local collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz. A work in the gallery’s booth—a 2019 tapestry by Sanford Biggers, Somethin’ Close to Nothin’—won the public vote for the Miami Beach Legacy Acquisition Program, whereby the city acquires a work by a local artist or gallerist at the fair.
  • Los Angeles’s Morán Morán gallery sold a new Torey Thornton painting to a Taiwanese collection for $50,000; a Tunji Adeniyi-Jones painting, Red Ancestor III (2020), to a New York–based collector for a price in the range of $20,000 to $40,000; and a mixed-media work by Chelsea Culprit, Stardust Under Duress (2020), to a Mexico-based collector for a price in the range of $10,000 to $20,000.
  • New York’s P.P.O.W sold a new pastel work by Robin F. Williams, Out Witch (Study) (2020), for $30,000; a painting on panel by Kyle Dunn, Street Lights (2020), for $16,000; a mixed-media work by Chiffon Thomas, Case (2020), for $15,500; an Elizabeth Glaessner painting, Hoof Love (2020), for $15,000; and a ceramic-and-textile sculpture by Ann Agee, Madonna with Girl Child, Yellow Dress, and Slippers (2020), for $7,500.

Alex Cerveny, By the rivers of Babylon, 2020. Photo by Filipe Berndt. Courtesy of the artist and Casa Triângulo.

  • Los Angeles’s Kohn Gallery sold a large-scale Caroline Kent painting to a U.S. museum for $28,000; a Kate Barbee painting for $20,000; an Ilana Savdie painting for $18,500, which was acquired by a private museum in the U.S.; and two Heidi Hahn paintings, for $16,500 each—one to a European foundation, the other to a private collection in the U.S.
  • Chicago gallery Patron reported selling out its entire two-artist presentation during Wednesday’s VIP preview, including works by Greg Breda with asking prices of $28,000 each, and works by Bethany Collins each priced between $8,500 and $18,000.
  • São Paulo gallery Casa Triângulo sold an untitled painting made this year by Mariana Palma for $40,000, and two new Alex Cerveny paintings for $9,000 each.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Soft Body 1, 2020. Photo by Filipe Berndt. Courtesy of the artist and Casa Triângulo.

Casa Triângulo’s director, Rodrigo Editore, noted that while the gallery made a good number of sales, it was harder to make the kinds of connections that come more easily at an in-person fair. “The main difference is that in a physical fair you connect with more people, which may, in the future, bring good results. The online experience is a bit more silent, both as a fair viewer or as a gallerist,” he said. “As a viewer, I truly enjoy being able to see so many artworks and information in a silent mode, making selections, researching artists I like, and I think most people do the same.”

Miami Beach gallery Central Fine, whose booth featured a selection of portraits and self-portraits including dazzling works by Vodou flag artist Myrlande Constant, didn’t experience much of this silence. “It’s a different experience, as we’ve had clients writing from Asia, Los Angeles, Europe, at various times during the night, so the virtual booth never closes,” said gallerist Dolores de Zarazaga-Berenguer. “This new model will grow, and as technology advances, and everyone is more adept at navigating it, it will run parallel to physical art fairs.”

Alex Cerveny, Ipanema era só felicidade, 2020. Photo by Filipe Berndt. Courtesy of the artist and Casa Triângulo.

As the final major fair of 2020 wrapped up its virtual edition, the conversation turned to how in-person fairs might return safely in 2021—and to what extent the digital sales tools dealers sharpened to survive this year will continue to serve them in the future.

“When we come out the other side of this, people will continue coming back to galleries and fairs, but to leverage these tools to much greater effect than they have done in the past both to generate sales and to create the right narrative around a conversation and context-building for their artists’ work,” said Horowitz. “Whereas last year in Miami, if you weren’t there you really weren’t there. Clearly there’s always going to be a reason to be there, but there will now be an interesting way just to meaningfully absorb things from afar. We’re really only at the beginning of what’s possible in that realm.”

Browse a selection of works from the 2020 Miami art fairs.

Benjamin Sutton