Art Basel Miami Beach opened its doors to VIP First Choice cardholders this morning, and while many dealers and collectors commented that the aisles seemed slightly less teeming than usual, a few big sales in the opening hours indicated that the market is stable, if a bit muted.
Attendees were united in observing that the fair’s first few hours lacked the sense of a feeding frenzy that prevailed as the market’s bubble was inflating, but some said that a quieter fair is not necessarily bad for dealers.
“Obviously it’s leaner,” said Sprüth Magers director Sarah Watson. “It’s leaner, but that can be really pleasant. And the people who are here are here to buy.”
Watson was standing in front of a large Barbara Kruger work, Untitled (Cast of Characters), 2016, that the gallery sold for around $300,000. It’s an inkjet-on-canvas piece that features a slew of charged words in all-caps, many of which—BIG SHOTS, HATERS, and, yes, LOSERS—recall the pre-election cover she designed for New York magazine, with LOSER slapped across Donald J. Trump’s face.
Regardless, the Kruger sold—as some observed the day after the Trump ascended to the presidency, the election result could help the art market in certain ways.
“I sold a lot of art after 9/11,” Watson said. “People need something really pleasant to buy.”
Even with the somewhat thinned crowds in the early hours, a few big-ticket works went shortly after the doors opened at 11 a.m. San Francisco dealer Anthony Meier sold a Gerhard Richter Quattro Colori work for $100,000 in the opening minutes. Louisville-based collector Steve Wilson bought Kehinde Wiley’s Akilah Walker (2015) from the booth of New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery for $185,000—he told me he purchased 20 works today, and that they will all be going to the gallery spaces in his art-themed mini-chain of boutique hotels, 21c.
Mickalene Thomas’s Interior: Wicker Red Chair, Leopard Rug and Candles (2016) was acquired from Lehmann Maupin, of New York and Hong Kong, for between $200,000 and $250,000. A very large George Condo, Figure on a Red Field (2016), anchored the Skarstedt booth (New York and London) and was successfully off-loaded for $700,000. Mark Bradford—who will have to work with whomever Trump picks as Secretary of State when he represents the United States at the Venice Biennale next year—had one of his giant black canvases, TBC (2016), sell at the Hauser & Wirth booth for $2 million. And a Gerhard Richter abstract work at the Gagosian Gallery booth was sold for for $5.8 million.
“We’ve done really great,” Larry Gagosian told me as he lounged in a chair at the center of his booth. “Maybe there’s a little less people than in years past, maybe the Zika thing had an effect.”
Once the prices went slightly higher, however, buyers seemed to be more scarce. Another work at Gagosian, Jeff Koons’s Diamond (Blue), 1994–2005, was up for $15 million—more than the $11.8 million Gagosian paid for it at Christie’s in November 2007. The other four Koons diamond works are in private hands, and are not likely to go on the market anytime soon, and yet, as of midway through the first day of the sale, no one had dropped the $15 million to buy the blue one.
“Things over a million take a little time,” said Lawrence Luhring, co-owner of New York’s Luhring Augustine gallery. He said they had done well, selling work by painters Josh Smith and Jeff Elrod, but some works with higher price tags had not yet been sold.
“There’s less people, but good quality,” Luhring said. “The VIPs are just not as crazy, but business has been good. In the last year, the market has just become a little more thoughtful.”
Likewise, Di Donna gallery, of New York, hadn’t yet sold its $12 million Miró, despite some interest. Dealer Emmanuel Di Donna, a former head of Impressionist and Modern sales for Sotheby’s who is showing for the first time at Art Basel Miami Beach, said he’s happy with the fair, even if attendance is slightly lower.
“It’s not as busy as I’ve seen in other years,” Di Donna told me.
Work with a political bent did seem to be selling, as collectors coped with the upcoming Trump presidency. At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, which is based in New York, Pope.L’s Sunny Day White Power (2016) sold in the range of $100,000, while the three works by Rirkrit Tiravanija at the Gavin Brown’s Enterprise booth, all of which had the words THE TYRANNY OF COMMON SENSE HAS REACHED ITS FINAL STAGE printed over pages from the New York Times the day after the election—quickly sold for $90,000. A pretty nice little Elizabeth Peyton painting of Barack Obama, made in 2008, sold at the Gladstone Gallery booth for $450,000. (More on the political works at the fair here.)
Speaking of the Trump presidency, one can only imagine what David Hammons thinks of the following reality: his work is being sold by the father of future Trump administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at Art Basel Miami Beach for $2.5 million dollars. What a world. As of this afternoon, it remained unsold.
Even the celebrity sightings seemed a little down this year, though Barbra Streisand did meander through the booth of New York gallery Hirschl & Adler to look at an Edward Hopper watercolor, two enormous bodyguards in tow, along with one of her little white dogs. Artists rarely show up at Art Basel Miami Beach, but look, there’s John Baldessari being rolled around in a wheelchair while wearing a really awesome BMW racing jacket!
Collectors were in full force, as the fair was graced by the presences of Eli Broad, Dan Loeb, LVMH heiress Delphine Arnault, and Steve Cohen, who is still barred from managing other peoples’ money until 2018, as part of his settlement with the SEC.
“I’m just trying to enjoy myself,” Cohen told me, and then walked away.
The fairs in Miami continue tomorrow with the VIP opening of NADA Miami Beach at the Deauville Beach Resort.
Correction 12/1/2016, 10:15 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Mickalene Thomas work that sold at Lehmann Maupin during the VIP opening. It is Interior: Wicker Red Chair, Leopard Rug and Candles, not Do I Look Like a Lady? The post has been updated to reflect this.