After the multi-million dollar sales at the New York auctions in November, dealers arrived at the ninth edition of Art Basel Miami Beach (2-5 December) feeling hopeful. “The mood is definitely up on a year ago,” said Christophe Van de Weghe before opening day. And, overall, this optimism was rewarded as most gallerists reported steady sales by the end of the fair.
Nevertheless, the sound of the thundering herd was a distant memory when the fair opened its doors to VIPs on 1 December.
“There wasn’t a fight to be the first one in,” said MoMA trustee Estrellita Brodsky, adding: “But it wasn’t as tentative as the last two years. There is a sense of recuperating, but not wildly—the market is comfortable.” This cautious return to health was reflected in many of the works on offer: there was more ambition and diversity on show than during the tougher times, with more large-scale works and sculptures, but these were not the flashy, brash baubles previously associated with Miami.
It is still a buyer’s market, and a relatively conservative one. “People were very focused on what they wanted before they came. They were not looking for something new,” said Alison Card at Metro Pictures. There was a price ceiling, too. “We brought a large volume of work, all priced under $550,000,” said Adam Sheffer at Cheim & Read, explaining that: “The price point helped the work to sell.” Brussels-based dealer Xavier Hufkens added: “There was a price resistance. It was easy going up to around $500,000: beyond that was too high.”
These price points are significantly lower than the headline sales at the auctions, where the comfort zone seemed to be within the $1m-$2m range. So, are buyers turning to the auctions, rather than the dealers, for the top items? “Collectors are more conscious of value, and if they don’t have an auction deadline, they are more leisurely about buying,” said Michael Plummer of advisors Artvest. Nevertheless, he added, dealers are probably still making the higher-end sales—but privately, rather than at the fair.
Some say the price range simply reflects the fair’s identity. “It took dealers several years to figure out what this fair is good at—and it’s lower priced work,” said private advisor Allan Schwartzman. “The fact that even secondary market dealers bring value-priced work shows this—it’s to do with Miami maturing,” said Schwartzman, adding: “People don’t come with the same level of intent that they do to Basel—things are more at the vacation price level.”
Marc Payot of Hauser & Wirth added: “It seems much more serious. The party scene and the fair are really two different worlds now.”
As the fair establishes itself, its collecting base is becoming more distinct. “Every year there are fewer Europeans—it’s really a US fair,” said Thaddaeus Ropac. Even the much-touted Latin American buyers did not necessarily make their presence across the board: while those showing Latin American artists reported strong sales to collectors from the region, those who didn’t were still waiting for the market to grow to international levels.
Perhaps they were still struggling to find their way around. While an improvement on last year’s labyrinth, visitors were still confused: “Everyone gets lost in that space!” said Brodsky.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Basel in Miami: the maturing of an art fair?'