SOUTH BEACH, FL. Just before I boarded the plane to Miami, I heard two people talking about Art Basel. An experienced art collector was explaining the new art market to a novice collector. “A few years ago, at the height of the art market,” she said, “people would rush the doors of Art Basel and throw money down on whatever they saw to insure that if they wanted it later, they could get it. Things are a bit more leisurely now.”
Today’s preview, when the elite are ferried in logo’d limos to the Miami Convention Center, seemed to prove her point. Only two green sale buttons surfaced during my exploration of the show. No doubt, other negotiations were in progress because a lot of people were staring.
I always thought Art Basel Miami was synonymous with contemporary art. Cutting edge stuff. Much to my surprise, early modernists and abstractionist works were out in force. At the very first booth I stopped in, the dealer was showing a Man Ray collection. Prices were running from $6,500 to $1.4 million for a painting called “Flying Dutchman.” While the dealer did have some contemporary paintings, they tended toward the figurative and safe.
Farther down the aisle, a California dealer was flogging the works of David Park. The Bay Area artist had played with abstractionism in the 40s. By 1949 he was over it and dumped all his work in the
City Dump. What followed was a return to figurative painting of ordinary, domestic moments, close up and not too distant. Again, something anyone with as little as $49,000 could hang on their walls and not suffer buyer’s remorse.
By this point, the only green sold button I had seen was on a 1969 work by Nicholas Krushenick. I began to wonder if this is what the art critics mean when they say dealers are desperately risk averse?
Finally, I found the leading edge of contemporary art in the chaos sculptures of Belgium artist Arne Quinze. (Another green sold button.) Interestingly, they were paired with Robert Indiana’s 60’s something HOPE.
I gave up and made my way to the beach, but not before checking out a booth designed by Zaha Hadid. It stood head and shoulders above the art it accommodated.
Tomorrow is another day. Let’s see if the other shows-RED DOT, Scope, NADA, ZOOM-are more daring.