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Art Basel Miami Beach '07 fair report: Edition is strongest yet, despite financial turmoil

Most of the buyers were American private collectors and large-scale installation works were popular

As central banks prepared emergency action to prevent the worsening credit crisis damaging the world’s economy, a record 43,000 visitors (many on the 220 private planes operated by NetJets) visited the sixth edition of Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), from 6 to 9 December, the final fair directed by Sam Keller (see p32). The first public day attracted 1,000 more visitors than last year, while sponsor UBS reported a 50% increase in demand for tours.

“The economy may be collapsing, but nobody notices here,” said dealer Martin Summers as the event opened. “This was an exceptionally good fair,” said New York’s James Cohan. “We’ve done a rehang every day,” added Gerd Harry Lybke of Galerie Eigen+Art.

Americans did most of the buying. “In Basel we sold to Europeans and there were very few Americans, and in Miami it’s the opposite,” said Denis Gardarin of Sean Kelly gallery. “No-one can do everything and it has been a big year, with Documenta and Venice as well,” said Mark Hughes, director of Galerie Lelong. Private collectors were out in force, including financiers Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group and Steve Cohen of SAC Capital, together with ex-Disney president Michael Ovitz, who bought a Vita Zaman installation, Monument, 2007, from Ibid Gallery for £8,000 ($16,000), showing at ABMB’s new, young Art Supernova section.

While prices did not exceed expectations, sales were brisk. Ambitious, large-scale and installation works were popular as the increase in private museums gave collectors extra space and a preference for museum-quality works, dealers said.

Sales included Christoph Büchel’s installation Training Ground for Training Ground for Democracy, 2007 (a scaled-down version of the unfinished work destined for MassMoCA, that recently became the subject of a copyright lawsuit). The work, which includes original Florida voting booths, toy grenades and half-eaten pizzas was sold by Hauser & Wirth for $250,000 to the Flick Collection and is destined for Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof museum.

Des Moines collectors and National Gallery of Art, Washington benefactors, John and Mary Pappajohn, bought Jaume Plensa’s 26-ft high sculpture Nomade, 2007, from Richard Gray and Lelong galleries for $1.7m (a record price for the artist). They are to lend the piece to the Des Moines Art Center before finding a final home for the work in their planned sculpture park.

John Kørner’s Mr and Mrs Smith at Work, 2007, a brightly coloured installation sold for $120,000 to a European collector from Victoria Miro. “They love this kind of ambitious work,” she said.

To increase the fair’s prestige, ABMB’s management increased the number of galleries specialising in modern masters. Francis Naumann, who applied for a stand for the first time this year, believed he got into the fair because he is showing works by dadaists and surrealists. “Everybody’s dead in there,” he said. Top-level secondary sales included Picasso’s Homard et Chat sur la Plage, 1965, sold at Nahmad’s booth for around $7m, and an Andy Warhol Mao, 1973, which sold at Acquavella for $12m. Director Nick Acquavella also described the fair as his “best Miami ever”.

Concerns that ABMB could suffer from the 20-plus satellite fairs (The Art Newspaper counted at least 1,155 galleries that had descended on the city) seemed to be allayed. “As long as we are the ‘mothership’ then the proliferation of parallel fairs will not be a problem for us,” said Mr Keller.

Nada, Scope and Pulse seemed the most popular alternative art fairs, although selling was reportedly slow until the main fair kicked off.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Miami fair is strongest yet, despite financial turmoil'