You can tell by the shoes. Once inside the First Choice VIP Preview for Art Basel at the Miami Beach Convention Center, you’d distinguish the serious collectors and buyers from the posers quite easily; those who cared wear flats, the peacocks wore heels.
An entire week of challenging art and impressive monetary sums kicked off in Miami on Monday, December 2nd with a private opening at the sophomore edition of the UNTITLED fair. The tent was physically pitched in the sands in front of 12th Street and Ocean Drive, where attendees could browse through 90 exhibitors and then kick off their shoes afterwards (whatever their respective heights) in the rumbling waters. The VIP opening was enhanced by a benefit sale of a Marina Abramović photograph, benefitting the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Abramović, herself, was onsite exuding her warm, welcoming persona to curators, collectors and fans. Fair director Jeff Lawson described the opening as ‘exhausting, but satisfying. No fault in being tired and happy.’ Fair curator Omar Lopez-Chahoud’s eyes darted around while musing, ‘I’m so proud of the quality of the exhibitors this year, the bar has definitely been raised both logistically and in a curatorial sense.’ Standout booths (naturally, aside from the light-pink corner wall housing Abramović’s self-portrait) included New York galleries Johannes Vogt (who had just jetted back from ARTISSIMA in Torino just a month before) with Garth Evans, Y Gallery with a vivid typography of mural images from Carlos Motta. Miami-based galleries Emerson Dorsch with Victoria Fu (recently awarded entry into the 2014 Whitney Biennial) and Michael Jon Gallery’s booth attracted intense viewership (the latter’s floor installation from John Patrick Walsh earning a few snaps from actor Val Kilmer, a Miami art week fixture). Chicago-based Andrew Rafacz delivered a knockout presentation from Robert Burnier’s bent-aluminum sculptures and imagery by Nazafarin Lotfi. Other engaging projects included Jeff Bailey Gallery, De La Cruz Projects, and Hales Gallery.
Back to Basel: sales by major and emerging galleries, alike, began quickly (some spaces reporting sales within the first ten minutes of the exclusive opening) and kept rolling along at a steady pace throughout the day. A very balmy Tuesday morning greeted visitors from dozens of countries, ready to access over 100 galleries and institutions. Notable setups include a fully-formed beach shack housing personal objects and works from Antiguan outsider artist Frank Walker, courtesy of the Ingleby Gallery (Edinburgh). Paul Kasmin’s booth showed a sumptuous Brancusi bronze set against a 1960 Morris Louis, London galleries White Cube and Lisson both brimmed with healthy activity in front of Raqib Shaw, Jake & Dinos Champman, Kapoor, Hirst and Weiwei works. South Florida-based gallerists Fred Snitzer and Sarah Gavlak were peppered with questions about Enrique Martínez-Celaya, Hernan Bas, Orly Genger, Andrew Brischler and Jose Alvarez (respectively), which kept their assistants working at a full gallop. Italian spaces Magazzino (Rome) and ZERO (Milan) showed powerful film works from Mircea Cantor and Pietro Roccasalva (repspectively) capably stopping visitors in their tracks. Young establishments at Nova such as RaeberVonStenglin, Spinello Projects, Mendes Wood and Vilma Gold were particularly engaging.
The overall sensation of both fairs (and the entire art world scene, in general at the start of the week) was fun, but not frantic. The buoyancy of fiscal confidence had rebounded from nearly four straight years of a luxuries and fine art market which had practically bottomed out. While there was plenty of proper work to behold, the pull of carmakers, fashion houses and lifestyle magazines and their flamboyant parties were plentiful. Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Maserati and Audi all rolled out new models and concepts that appeared to behave more like decorative objects than masterful pieces of engineering. Top-secret soirées hosted by Audemars Piguet, Valentino, Armani, W Magazine and Dom Perignon ensured that the VIP buzz kept coursing through cell phones and iPads (even though many required a physical invitation). In all, pleasant distractions were in no short supply for the small world of 3,000-plus global art, fashion and celebrity faces. But make no mistake: with the stakes of reputation and financial survival skyrocketing for younger galleries and old establishments tightening their grip on their prominent collectors of an ever-shrinking pool of Modern and Post-War works, art could be, and was, at the forefront.
-Contributed by Shana Beth Mason
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