Art Basel Miami Beach opened its doors this morning to Earth’s primo art collectors, who perused the offerings from 267 galleries en route to snapping up works by blue-chip artists such as Picasso and Frank Stella, who continues his hot streak by having a dozen works spread among four different booths.
BAFQ (small version), a Stella from 1965, was on sale for north of $2 million at the Dominique Lévy booth and was quickly put on reserve. At Marianne Boesky Gallery, who represents the artist in New York with Lévy, two hulking, twisted-metal Stellas, both for $1.5 million, were put on reserve by the same collector, who was waiting to see if the 11-foot-tall, 10-foot-wide works could both fit in the same room in his or her home, said Ricky Manne, a partner at the gallery.
There were also Stellas at the booths for Sperone Westwater and Sprüth Magers, and every one of them had been put on reserve. The artist’s well-received retrospective at the new Whitney, combined with a new auction record for the artist last month, seems to have created a late-career boom for the 79-year-old giant.
“There are a dozen Stellas here and like 100 at Art Miami,” Manne said. “Two years ago, there were zero. But we’ve been screaming about him for the last three years, and now look what’s happening.”
Other high-priced offerings at the fair on opening day included pieces by Picasso at the Helly Nahmad Gallery, two of which were priced at $8.5 million and $4 million, respectively. Another, with a price tag that the gallery refused to reveal, was Mousquetaire Au pipe (1969), a late Picasso that a dealer at Nahmad described as “one of the five best late-period Picassos, period.” It had been put on reserve by the early afternoon.
Located just inside the entrance, Hauser & Wirth, which has locations in London; Somerset, England; Zurich; and New York (with Los Angeles on the way), benefited from the early rush. Sales included a sizable 2014 Roni Horn work on paper for $600,000, which went to an American collector, drawings by Philip Guston priced at $250,000 and $300,000, and a large Mike Kelley painting, Untitled 5 (2008–9), which went to a European collector who requested that the price not be shared. Later in the day, the gallery sold Paul McCarthy’s White Snow, Dopey, Black Red White, Black for $1.5 million to an American collector.
Gallery director Marc Payot said there was “great energy” at the preview. “This is the number-one American fair, by far,” he said.
New York dealer Sean Kelly said he does well in Miami every year, but that this year he had more pre-sales, reserves, and requests for works than ever before.
“When the truck was leaving to come down here we were taking things off because they were pre-sold,” he said.
Kelly had more than 20 works on reserve before the fair even opened. He attributed this to a strong market, but also to the particular atmosphere around this fair. “Miami has reached a critical mass,” he said.
On opening day at his booth, Kelly sold a number of pieces, including eight works by Hugo McCloud—everything by the artist that he’d brought to Miami—and four Antony Gormleys, including a life-size abstract cast-iron human figure from 2011 that stood at the entrance to his booth and was priced at £350,000 (approximately $523,000).
Larry Gagosian, ever the talkative one, stopped in his booth, which was surprisingly free of gigantic Koonses, to tell me, “We’ve sold a lot of things, but I don’t discuss them. But it’s been very good.”
One of the primary objectives of any art fair is to showcase art that rejects all notions of subtlety and sucks up the air around it, and Art Basel Miami Beach had plenty of such works available for purchase. Among them were a giant Robert Indiana sculpture of a pirate skeleton at the Galerie Gmurzynska booth that sold for $1.8 million, and a $1 million Jimmie Durham work at the Peter Freeman booth that consisted of a car collapsed under the impact of a gigantic boulder.
Even more eye-catching are the text-based neon works that have become a staple of art fairs in the age of Instagram. Again, this is Miami Beach, where neon seems to line even the palm trees, so this is to be expected, but the unending stream of platitudes written in glowing mercury started to cause strained corneas: Tracey Emin’s I forgot how beautiful you are at White Cube, Sylvie Fleury’s Eternity Now at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, and—most prominently—the all-caps naughtiness of Karl Holmqvist’s Who Run This Mother at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.
“I think this is going to be the most popular Instagram of the motherfucking fair,” said Thor Shannon, a dealer with the gallery.
Other photo-bomb targets included the requisite celebrities, including Lenny Kravitz at the Fergus McCaffrey booth, Tommy Hilfiger at Aquavella, and Leonardo DiCaprio at David Kordansky, who was checking out works by Rashid Johnson and Calvin Marcus while being closely protected by Art Basel PR czar Sara Fitzmaurice.
The art world’s more social collectors were all there, including the newly engaged Alberto Mugrabi and his much younger fiancée, who screamed out to his entourage that he “had to meet the ambassador”—from where and to what, who knows?
Aby Rosen is always a presence at Miami Basel, but he’s become more visible in New York this year, too, due to his very public dismantling of the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, which he owns, and his quick flip of the historic mansion at 190 Bowery. At one point, Rosen stood in front of an abstract installation and proclaimed, apropos of nothing, it seemed, “I like this, but I wouldn’t hang this in my house—you’re going to be bored of this in three months.”
And then there was Eli Broad, who was being pushed around in a wheelchair. At one point, he knocked into another collector in a wheelchair
“You wanna race?” the woman asked Broad.
“Yeah, I wanna race!”
But there was more art to buy, and the billionaire was slowly rolled away.