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Art Basel in Miami Beach

Art Basel Miami Beach reinforces its position in the hierarchy with steady flow of sales after an unpromising start

Art Basel Miami Beach '04 fair report

Crammed into five days, the second Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) proffered utter overkill of everything, including, thankfully, sales.

Figures included 175 exhibitors, 30,000 visitors (including 700 media) and a blur of sub-sections and special events.

There were more than 10 private collections to be seen, local museums and a punishing round of parties. Also there were TWO, separate lesser art fairs, SCOPE and NADA (see p.46), both unofficial parasites feeding off the main event. “It’s actually rather pleasantly restful inside the fair itself, as opposed to all that social madness outside,” reflected Tanya Bonakdar at her elegant stall. “It has been relatively gently paced, unlike the mad feeding frenzy of some fairs; people are taking more time this year, coming back to consider.”

Ms Bonakdar had certainly sold solidly, as had almost everyone, but collectors were clearly more civilised and considered in pacing. The opening seemed worryingly slow, without the frenzied panic-buying of last year.

The fair looked beautiful and local union problems with transportation and infrastructure had improved, even if all adjustments were expensive. That said, Kenny Schachter’s stand architecture by Vito Acconci collapsed on his head; work by Ian Kiaer went missing from Asprey Jacques and three drawings by Raqib Shaw were stolen from Victoria Miro. The last had sold a large Inka Essenhigh for $40,000 and an Alex Hartley at £12,000, a promised gift to Kentucky’s Speed Museum. There were notably strong single works at “Statements”, though relatively few sales, apart from Interim Art’s five ceramics in the $12/20,000 range by Rebecca Warren, which sold out to collectors from Baltimore, Germany, Los Angeles and Miami.

European collectors seemed thin on the ground but their absence was compensated by the much touted South American patrons. Certainly, Brent Sikkema had done well with Vik Muniz and Arturo Herrera though Hispanic collectors are now equally keen on artists from beyond Latin America.

Despite the opening lull subsequent sales were brisk although, despite a much rumoured and unconfirmed sale of a $1 million Lichtenstein, big items were hardly shifting above the $200,000 mark.

Peter Freeman sold an Oldenburg “Banana Sundae” (1963) for $95,000, an Alex Hay 1968 “Guest check” painting at $85,000, a Chamberlain 1966 urethane sculpture to a “wonderful Chicago collection” for $18,000 and a Serra 1972 drawing for $165,000. D’Amelio Terras had a notably amusing “Live drawing!” peepshow featuring a naked model and Delia Brown, whose sketches were then hung at $900/3,000 as Arne Glimcher eyed the attraction with attention.

Deitch sold out his stall except for its major Mariko Mori sculpture, while Jack Tilton boasted of over a million in sales and Howard Read claimed to have done more business in two days than in five last year.

“The successful second edition clearly confirmed ABMB to be the Number One art fair of the Americas,” said organiser, Samuel Keller, clearly throwing down the gauntlet to the Armory Show.

Yes, the Armory is going to have to shape up, but it does have the huge advantage of being based in Manhattan, where everyone comes anyway. Its other advantage may be that it confines itself to just one venue, without the stress of too many satellite activities. But it should not be forgotten that ABMB is backed by the financial clout and organisational expertise of Messe Schweiz, the Basel company which produces numerous trade shows with billings of $100 million. By contrast the Armory was set up in an ad hoc way by New York dealers including the late Colin De Land and Pat Hearn, both as far as one could get from Swiss business executives.

Adrian Dannatt

See: Adrian Dannatt’s Miami Beach Diary p.26

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Florida repeats the magic'