Art Basel in Miami Beach

Visitors find Calders galore, works on a nautical theme, and some very lusty paintings at Art Basel in Miami Beach

Making a statement in Miami

One of the largest and most expensive works on show at Art Basel in Miami Beach is Alexander Calder’s mobile Rouge Triomphant, 1959-62, at Helly Nahmad Gallery (B1). The sculpture has leapt in value: now priced at $35m, it sold for $9.7m just two years ago at Christie’s.

The number of mobiles by Calder and other artists on galleries’ stands is striking. Among the works by the hundreds of artists brought by 267 galleries from 31 countries, mobiles definitely constitute a trend. The fair’s organisers have seen an increase in the number of galleries installing hanging works.

There have been big Calder shows in museums and a growing demand for his work in recent years: Poisson volant (Flying Fish), 1957, sold for a record $25.9m at Christie’s New York in May. At the fair, there are works by the artist at Galería Guillermo de Osma, Madrid (K1), Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York (F4) and Galería Elvira González, Madrid (D13). Rouge Triomphant may stay in South Florida; the work is on reserve for “someone who has a house in the area”, says gallery director Joseph Nahmad.

“It’s incredible to think that, before my grandfather began to make mobiles at the beginning of the last century, the art form did not exist,” says Alexander Rower, the president of the Calder Foundation.

Contemporary mobiles on display include Ernesto Neto’s interactive canopy Egg Bed Crystal Shell A, 2014 (priced at $180,000), with Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (E6). Pae White’s intricate, mirrored Noisy Neighbors, 2014 (priced at $100,000), is at Kaufmann Repetto (J7), and Xavier Veilhan’s Mobile (Paris) n°1, 2014 (priced at $58,000), is at Galerie Perrotin (G6).

Not all mobiles refer to Calder, says Eva Presenhuber (L7), who sold Martin Boyce’s A Library of Leaves [We are still and reflective], 2014, for £35,000 within three hours of the fair’s opening. “You cannot avoid thinking of Calder when you see any mobile, but Boyce’s references are more Modern design and furniture,” she says.

Beside the sea

This year’s fair is awash with works that have a maritime theme. Richard Gray Gallery (C3) is showing David Hockney’s A Bigger Wave, 1989 (priced at $4m), and Roy Lichtenstein’s Sky, Land and Water, 1984 (priced at $3.8m). Hans-Peter Feldmann’s salon-style installation at 303 Gallery (G5) gives the genre a conceptual twist; for Sea Paintings, 2014 (priced at €330,000), the artist bought 15 oil paintings and painted out all the boats. “It’s a tongue-in-cheek, Duchampian way of making something contemporary,” says Cristian Alexa, 303 Gallery’s senior director.

Yoan Capote’s Sin Salida, 2013, at Jack Shainman Gallery (B21), is a painting made from fishing hooks that were produced in the Cuban artist’s studio. Priced at $55,000, the work sold to a private collector on the fair’s opening day. Part of the “Isla” series, it is “about the struggles of refugees trying to reach Miami by sea”, says Elisabeth Sann, a director of the gallery. “It’s probably the most Miami piece we have this year.”

Let it all hang out

Works celebrating sensuality are also in plentiful supply. Voluptuous women pose provocatively in Alexandre da Cunha’s beach-towel works at Thomas Dane Gallery (K7), priced between $40,000 and $60,000, while William Copley’s colourful painting of a threesome is hard to miss at Paul Kasmin Gallery (A5). Grand Hotel, 1973, priced at $225,000, is part of the artist’s “X-rated” series. The funky figurative work ran counter to the taste for puritanical Minimalism and Conceptualism at the time when it was made, but the series has since become the artist’s most sought-after body of work, says gallery director Nick Olney.

Unashamedly sexual images abound, and collectors have rediscovered their appetite for racier images. At Team Gallery (G8), Ryan McGinley’s photograph of naked hipsters romping in the grass, Crush, 2014 (edition of three), sold to a US collector for $21,000 within an hour of the fair’s opening. “If all the money in the art world doesn’t at least make people feel as though they can get away with murder in terms of content, then what’s the point?” says gallery director José Freire.

“There’s a certain element of the risqué that people coming to Miami like,” says Jesse Penridge, a director of Fergus McCaffrey (L2), which is devoted to Jack Early’s work, priced between $18,000 and $75,000. The work drawing the most attention is a painting of a young man in tight shorts that leaves nothing to the imagination. “Miami is for people who like to make a bit of a splash, and this work definitely makes a statement,” he says.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Upwardly mobile'

Appeared in Art Basel Miami Beach, December 2014