Thoughts and Takeaways From The Week
Please find below our thoughts, musings, complaints, suggestions, and overall takeaways from another wild and bone-crushingly tiring week in Miami. We'll next be back with our free editions during Frieze LA in February. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to our paid-subscription, monthly editions in whichwe share insights from our talks with the leading figures and and decision makers in theartindustry. We'll be out with our next issue in January- a traditionally quiet time for theartworld- so there'll be no excuse to skip out on the required reading. Congratulations to everyone for making it through another successful year of MiamiArtWeek, and happy holidays to all!
1.ArtBaselis indisputably the biggest brand in theartworld. While known best amongst the public for its Miami iteration, theBaselbrand has become so synonymous withartin general that it has possibly replaced theMoMAin the public’s imagination as being the single best destination to view contemporaryart. The Canvas isn’t saying that’s true. We’re just saying that the level of brand saturation thatArtBaselhas achieved is unprecedented. Which is why in our interview withDominique Lévyfor our December monthly edition, the powerhouse dealer describedArtBasel’s global director,Marc Spiegler, as the “single most powerful person in theartworld today.”
The fair has the unique capability to either elevate a gallery into the upper echelons of the international contemporaryartcommunity in the eyes of collectors or banish it to a far corner of the floor where it’ll never be heard from again. Which is also why Dominique said that she wishedArtBasel’s leadership “would have the courage to reshape theartfair whereby big galleries and small galleries were placed next to one another, and allowed to have a dialogue with each other…”The decisions of the powers that be atArtBaselseep into every crack and crevice of theartworld. And they have to be mindful that those decisions – where a gallery is placed on the convention center floor for instance – resonate far beyond the Miami Beach Convention Center.
2. Of course, the underbelly of being the biggest brand in art is that everyone tries to capitalize on your name recognition. It’s impossible to convey to you the extent to which the public does not distinguish between Art Basel, Art Miami, the Miami Design District, the Wynwoodneighborhood of Miami, Scope, Pulse Contemporary, Untitled, and NADA. To them, any party, fair, or event – be it with Judy Chicago or Alec Monopoly – is part of “Art Basel”. To The Canvas, this seems like a giant risk to the long-term value of the Art Basel name. If the perception exists (amongst both the general public and even those well versed in the artworld) that Art Basel Miami Beach somehow isn’t serious enough, or is too much about the scene and party atmosphere, then the fair could see itself losing some of its biggest and most prestigious exhibitors, as well as smaller galleries who won’t want to commit to the high costs of participating in a vanity exercise. Art Basel should make like Disney of all companies and begin more strictly cracking down on unauthorized uses of its name.
3. The market for contemporary art is bigger than we’ve ever seen before as evidenced by the success of an ever-growing constellation of satellite fairs throughout the week. Untitled, Art Miami, and NADA all saw brisk and serious sales activity on multiple days of their respective fairs. The Canvas hears more and more from numerous dealers that they’re selling to collectors who they don’t have preexisting relationships with. Whether that’s due to the increasing digitalization of galleries’ (and fairs’) marketing through video and Instagram which allow them to reach a broader base of potential customers, or because of the sheer size of the global elite who can afford collecting art at the highest levels, is hard to say. What is clear is that there are more people than ever before interested in and able to collect art.
4. With that said, the pace of sales at Art Basel itself was strong and steady, if not spectacular. Many galleries reported sales throughout the duration of the fair – including on the public days over the weekend. Indeed, The Canvas even spotted supermodel Gisele, accompanied by dealer and advisor, Joe Nahmad, scoping out the booths of Sean Kelly, Hammer Galleries, and Lisson in the first few minutes of the fair on Sunday; ready to buy at least one piece from one of the above mentioned galleries. And while galleries as varied as Paula Cooper, Hauser & Wirth, Gmurzynska, Hammer, Barbara Gladstone, Pace, Kasmin, David Zwirner, Mnuchin, David Kordansky, Thaddaeus Ropac, Blum & Poe, and Bortolami, all reported strong sales throughout the week, the low level of institutional buying and absence of prominent curators was noticed by many. Additionally, when The Canvas ventured out to the Nova, Positions, and Survey sectors, there were significantly less sales to report. Despite the phenomenal success of a few outliers such as Venus Over Manhattan and Josh Lilley – both of which operate at a different level than most of the other exhibitors in those sectors – many galleries The Canvas spoke to in those sectors mentioned disappointing results and withdrawn reserves for many of the works they brought to the fair this year.
5. Save the trophy works forArtBaselinBasel. With the exception of a few high-profile sales that broke through the $5 million mark, the sweet spot of buying activity atArtBaselMiami Beach seems to be hovering in the $100,000-$400,000 range. We’re not quite sure whyHelly Nahmadbrought that $50 millionRothkoto the fair this year – unless it was simply as a marketing gimmick – but the majority of sales at the fair didn’t reach anywhere near that level. A number ofJoan Mitchellpaintings that probably would have fared better atArtBaselinBaselin 2019 remained unsold as of this writing (which means they didn’t sell). While it’s enticing for dealers to bring high-priced pieces to a fair in the hopes that one sale will allow them to break even, it’s equally important to understand and appreciate the nuances of the various fairs and their respective collector pools. Dealers reported a mostly-American collector base with a somewhat weak presence of European, Asian, and even South American collectors making big purchases at the fair this year.
6. The $620 million dollar renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center was a hit. Roads clear of construction, a beautiful edifice designed by Fentress Architects and Arquitectonica, a more spacious collectors lounge with the restaurant moved into its own separate space, and the use of a new 60,000-square-foot ballroom all had major impacts on the moods and tempers of collectors, dealers, and press alike. Of particular success was the use of the grand ballroom that the fair used to stage Abraham Cruzvillegas’s ‘Autorreconstrucción,’ a captivating and overwhelmingly-popular performance art piece. Of course, it also helped that there were no real South Florida thunderstorms this year to literally rain on everyone’s parade.
7.MiamiArtWeek, as the first week in December has officially come to be known, remains unique unto itself, and mostly a genuine treat for the insular New York, Los Angeles, and London contemporaryartworlds. With every major player in the industry attending for at least a day, the week is an absolute can’t-miss on the international fair circuit. With events as varied as exclusive parties and concerts hosted byMGM ResortsandAmerican Express, to artist talks withChristoandJudy ChicagoatPAMMand theICA, there’s something for everyone to enjoy throughout the week. As we said in our December monthly edition, it’s a chance for us all to let our hair down for a bit and appreciate the industry and community we call home.