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    Art Basel Miami Beach: Big Crowds But Less Buying

    The seventh annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair, which opened to VIP collectors on Dec. 3 and ran through Dec. 7, was subdued and slow, in sharp contrast with the glitzy, frenzied atmosphere of last year's edition.

    MIAMI—The seventh annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair, which opened to VIP collectors on Dec. 3 and ran through Dec. 7, was subdued and slow, in sharp contrast with the glitzy, frenzied atmosphere of last year’s edition. It was no longer a seller’s market, and buyers had plenty of time to consider whether to spend thousands of dollars—or hundreds of thousands—on a work.

    Axel Benz, of Arndt & Partner, Zurich and Berlin, described the mood as “more reluctant and reflective and deaccelerated, which is a good thing, as well. It’s not these one-hour reserves in the first day.” Fair organizers said attendance was 40,000, down slightly from the 43,000 reported last year.

    “We are optimistic. What can we do?” said Thomas Rieger of Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf, which showed works by Robert Mangold, Carl Andre and On Kawara. Many international dealers’ expectations for Miami were, as Toby Webster of The Modern Institute, Glasgow, put it, “zero.” However, on the fair’s first day, Webster sold a large twisted-aluminum sculpture by Mark Handforth, made this year, for $120,000.

    Despite the economic crisis, some works by acclaimed living artists that were reasonably priced seemed to have little problem finding takers. Within hours of the VIP preview, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, had sold a 2008 Wolfgang Tillmans photograph, in an edition of one, for $72,000; Arndt & Partner had sold a photo-painting by Vik Muniz for $40,000; and photographer Mario Testino had snapped up a 2008 Jules de Balincourt painting of a ski slope in deep blue tones at the booth of Zach Feuer Gallery, New York, for a price in the $40,000 range. Feuer also sold two other de Balincourt paintings to developer Arthur Zeckendorf.

    Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago and New York, sold two small 1964 Andy Warhol flower paintings for $100,000 each, as well as a small 2008 Alex Katz painting of the back of a man’s head for $40,000. “People are eager about everything, but they are concerned and seeing their assets shrink and don’t know what to expect,” gallery director Paul Gray told ARTnewsletter. “Sales were more subdued than usual, but they lasted all day.”

    Ameringer & Yohe, New York, offered an early Jackson Pollock painting, Grey Center, 1946, which was on display only during the first few hours of the fair, for $5million.

    “We knew it would be different from last year, so we brought three very important works,” said Renaud Proch, director of The Proj­ect, New York, which is opening a new space in Berlin this winter.

    “The pace was slower, but it allowed for a lot of time with collectors,” Proch said. The Proj­ect’s sales included that of a large new painting by Julie Mehretu to a European foundation for $700,000. The Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, has commissioned Mehretu’s work and plans to exhibit it next year. A suite of Paul Pfeiffer works—images from Marilyn Monroe’s last photo shoot on the beach with Monroe edited out—was on reserve for $120,000 and eventually sold to a museum, Proch said. The third work on view, a sculpture of an ostrich in snakeskin by Glenn Kaino, was not sold.

    Buyers Seek Bargains

    Collectors tried to bargain, but most dealers were not deep-discounting. “We adjusted prices already in sympathy with the market,” said Robert Landau of Landau Fine Art, Montreal, which was offering paintings by Joan Miró and Paul Klee, as well as a small Henry Moore sculpture for $150,000. Last year, the work would have been priced at $175,000, Landau said.

    “People are asking insane discounts, like 25 percent, which we would never give,” said Sydney Ogidan of Gabriele Senn Galerie, Vienna. “That’s the big difference from last year.”

    Collectors, among them Donald Marron, Agnes Gund and Donald Rubell, took their time, free of some of the time limits set by dealers on reserves in past years, and by the end of the fair several notable pieces were headed toward private collections.

    Galerie Nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna, sold a 2008 painting by Katharina Grosse for E25,000 ($31,500), and Zach Feuer sold three new videos by Nathalie Djurberg to an American collector for $18,000 each. Three years ago, when Feuer was still showing at the NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) satellite fair, Djurberg’s sexually and scatologically explicit animations sold for $5,000.

    “I always go by my booth costs,” said dealer and Marcel Duchamp expert Francis Naumann, who was selling his personal collection of Duchamp works, including a rare valise, which was on reserve for a museum for $280,000. “I made double my booth costs, compared to quadruple last year. So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

    At Pulse Miami, one of the many satellite fairs held to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach, Max Protetch gallery, New York, reported stronger-than-expected sales. Director of exhibitions Stuart Krimko told ARTnewsletter, “The mood in Miami was certainly happier than in New York and people seemed much more energetic.” The gallery sold out of digital touch screens by Siebren Versteeg (an edition of ten priced at $25,000 each, some of which were sold at the artist’s recent fall show at the gallery).

    The Protetch gallery also sold work by Tobias Putrih and Chen Qiulin at prices in the range of $35,000/50,000, Krimko said.