Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Prices Soar at Art Basel Miami, With Sales Up to $400 Million

By Lindsay Pollock

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Almost everything, from a teeny gray Jasper Johns to a poorly painted orange-and-purple 1987 Willem de Kooning, was offered as top of the line at the fifth annual Art Basel Miami Beach. Sticker prices were higher than even an auction-besotted art world anticipated.

Four days into the fair, the $2 million Johns was unsold at Matthew Marks Gallery, while the $3 million de Kooning at Gagosian Gallery -- pegged to the artist's stellar prices at New York's fall auctions -- had found no buyers.

Still, by the time the fair closed on Dec. 10, three top sellers estimated that sales totaled between $200 million and $400 million, and dealers of both young and established artists reported turnover as strong or even stronger than that of a year ago. (Fair organizers don't disclose sales figures.)

``In the first two days, people were jumping on anything, and certainly everything that was fresh,'' said private New York dealer Nicholas Maclean, who attended the fair with clients.

About 40,000 people attended Art Basel's five-day run, including 8,500 VIPs the first day, according to organizers. This is up from 35,000 last year. About 200 international sellers participated.

As usual, the Miami Beach extravaganza attracted a heady mix of collectors. Blue-chip dealer Larry Gagosian and Sandy Heller, an art adviser to Steve Cohen and other hedge-funders, hosted a dinner for 40 at Casa Tua, a Miami Beach restaurant described in Zagat's special Art Basel edition as having ``outrageous tabs'' and ``pretentious airs.''

Steve and Martha

Other buyers and browsers included actor Steve Martin and media maven Martha Stewart as well as veteran Boston-area collector Barbara Lloyd, who picked up an editioned $2,500 sculpture by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto to hang with her Calders at home.

Lloyd attended the fair with a group from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. ``I just go by the seat of my pants,'' Lloyd said. ``I buy what I like and no worrying about if this will become more valuable.''

By Saturday afternoon, power dealers such as White Cube's Jay Jopling had already left Miami. As a more local crowd pushed strollers down fair aisles, one dealer muttered about ``tire- kickers,'' while another said the real collectors had gone home.

Only a month ago, New York auction totals for modern and contemporary art surpassed $1 billion for the first time, and Art Basel dealers ``were adjusting to the prices that had been paid at auction,'' Maclean said.

High-Price Context

The billion-dollar auction season came on the heels of several big-money private sales, with prices from $60 million to $140 million for artists from de Kooning to Klimt.

``If a de Kooning is $60 million,'' said John Cheim of Chelsea's Cheim & Read gallery, ``it lifts up the whole market.''

Part of the reason for Art Basel Miami price increases is that more than three-quarters of the works on offer at many major galleries are consigned -- by collectors, artists and other dealers.

``When things sell for wild prices at auction, it does pump up enthusiasm,'' said Paul Gray, of Chicago and New York's Richard Gray Gallery. ``But it also pumps up the expectations of sellers.''

Many consigning sellers insisted on auction-inflated prices. Gray's asking price for two small, 1964 Warhol ``Flowers'' paintings was a brash $1.5 million for both, obviously pegged to Warhol's outstanding fall performance at auction: A larger flower painting fetched $6.8 million at Sotheby's.

`Flowers' Unsold

Five years ago, a small Warhol ``Flower'' sold for $60,000 at auction. Gray's ``Flowers'' went unsold, despite an admiring glance from hip-hop star Kanye West.

Much of the fair's buying was focused on contemporary artists whose works were priced in the $10,000-to-$30,000 range. The more than 100 museum groups who attended the fair tended to purchase at this level. Cheim & Read sold six paintings of Hispanic immigrants by Los Angeles artist John Sonsini, priced $25,000 to $75,000; one was bought as a gift for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Marie-Josee Kravis, president of the board of New York's Museum of Modern Art, toured the fair with MoMA curator Joachim Pissarro. She scooped up artworks likely destined for that museum, including a large mauve, yellow and green abstract painting by Los Angeles artist Chris Vasell from Blum & Poe gallery. (Vasell's work costs $24,000 to $30,000, the gallery said.)

About a dozen satellite art fairs took advantage of the confluence of collectors. The Aqua Art Miami fair included artworks from a few hundred dollars to just under $10,000. Brooklyn Museum of Art Director Arnold Lehman and his wife, Pamela, bought paintings by Los Angeles Chicano artists for their own collection, while notable Miami collector Dennis Scholl made his way in and out of the small white rooms of the Aqua Hotel, where art was tacked to every flat surface -- bathrooms included.

Casual Displays

Down the deco strip on Collins Avenue, at the not-so-chic Cavalier Hotel, the first-time Pool fair set up shop on two floors. Artists hoping to find gallery representation placed their wares in rooms and hallways.

This united front of artists seeking dealers was the first link in last week's art-market food chain.

One room was ringed with striking photos by 27-year-old, Brooklyn-based photographer Sarah Small. But Small was nowhere to be found during the fair's Friday night opening. A scruffy young man lounging on a red-velvet bedcover said he didn't know how much Small wanted for her photos.

It was a refreshing break from the hustle and commerce at the Art Basel Miami Beach's main convention hall.

UBS AG is the fair's main sponsor. The next Art Basel fair takes place June 13-17, 2007, in Basel, Switzerland.

(Lindsay Pollock writes on the art market for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Posted by KMT


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