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  • Irene Bagach

They came, they saw, they bought: Art Basel, Miami Art Week returned with ‘a great show’

This first appeared on the Miami Herald website.

"Hall Of Visions" installation by artist Pilar Zeta

The moment it became clear that Art Basel and Miami Art Week were back for real might have come when pop-music star Adam Levine and his supermodel wife, Behati Prinsloo, bagged a big James Turrell light installation, asking price $950,000, at the Pace Gallery booth during a VIP preview at the Beach convention center.

Or it may have come when Levine debuted a new rose face tattoo — which turned out to be fake — at some fancy luxury-brand party.

Either way, the return of Art Week and its trademark extravagance after a two-year absence prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has so far come off not just without a major hitch, but with high verve: Ebullient spirits across the board, a rich variety of contemporary art that critics praised for quality and topicality, and multiple millions of dollars in high-price sales at the two big fairs, Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Miami — the raison d’etre for the whole affair.

After months of nervous buildup and nagging questions — Would the big American collectors come? Would the free-spending Europeans? Would they buy? Would people heed the strict COVID protocols? Does anyone even care about art fairs anymore? — fair directors and gallerists said the answers were clear within a day or two of Tuesday’s VIP-only openings.

Yes to all.

“It has been a great show,” said Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler in an interview as the Miami Beach fair opened Saturday for its final day. “I can say, in all honesty, it could not have gone better under the circumstances. The market is super-strong, from the biggest galleries to the smallest. There were lots of Europeans. There were major collectors from all over the world. The mood was excellent. Traffic on Collins was back to a five-mile-an-hour crawl.”

An identified woman keeps her eyes on Maxwell Alexander's "Untitled" (New Power Series)


Like others, Spiegler said it was evident that attendees were hungry for the physical, personal contact that Art Basel and other fairs provide. While digital-sales platforms that emerged during the pandemic will remain a big part of the art market, he added, they won’t replace the fairs and galleries.

“The art world is a highly social environment,” Spiegler said. “There is just no replacement for seeing art, for meeting gallerists and collectors and discovering art in person.”

Spiegler said attendees also adhered without complaint to strict protocols requiring a vaccination card or recent negative COVID test for entry, and mask-wearing at all times.

“That was the biggest concern I had, and it went very smoothly,” he said. “A few times people had to be reminded about wearing a mask, but there was no pushback.”

At Art Miami, Art Basel’s homegrown rival, the mood and the buying were equally buoyant. The fair and its sister, CONTEXT, which occupy massive adjoining bayfront tents at the mainland foot of the MacArthur Causeway, have one more day to run before closing Sunday. On Saturday, Art Miami was busy but not quite so crowded as in past years.

But unlike Art Basel, which limited VIP and general-public entry by timed slots and sharply lowered overall capacity, Art Miami is tracking on pace to equal 2019 fair attendance, director Nick Korniloff said, while adding he can’t disclose figures. The vast majority of attendees are wearing required masks and a current negative test or proof of full vaccination is required for entry, he noted.

We have a huge crowd here today and we’re expecting a bigger one tomorrow,” Korniloff said Saturday from the fair floor. “It has been a wonderful, wonderful week to reconnect for everyone. We saw more international people than we thought we would. And sales are brisk at the top end through the middle.”


Art Miami boasted an early headline sale, a graffiti work by the mysterious Banksy, “Charlie Brown,” which went for $4 million at the Maddox Gallery booth. Another blockbuster work at Art Miami, a rare and massive four-panel painting by Botero, “La calle,” had not sold by early Saturday afternoon — but that’s only because Art of the World Gallery, from Houston, declined a $12 million offer for the work, holding out for more.

Miami, Florida, Nov. 29, 2021 - A set of four panels by Botero are hung in the Art of the World Gallery at the Art Miami tent 1.

Art Basel. meanwhile, reported its own eye-popping sale: an abstract, all-blue painting by 20th Century minimalist master Ad Reinhardt from 1953 that sold for over $7 million, at David Zwirner.

Of course, the art week action wasn’t confined to the big-fair tents or the Beach convention center. People were flocking to, and buying, at satellite fairs and pop-ups, and mobbing tie-in parties and events for luxury brands like Chanel and even nonprofits, including Planned Parenthood, Burning Man and the Reefline, the planned new artificial reef off the Beach that will consist of works of art.

There were private or under-the-radar concerts galore, if you could score a ducat, by stars like Pitbull, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Lenny Kravitz and living members of the Grateful Dead.

For the serious-minded, the week also featured a full range of talks, on topics including opportunities for artists of color, post-pandemic art practices and immersive art experiences.

But the hottest buzz of the week by far was around NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, with literally dozens of conferences and events devoted to making, marketing and monetizing blockchain-secured artworks. Sales of NFTs, and the prices some were fetching, were exploding.

At Art Miami, for instance, Nicole McGraw Fine Art sold artist Brendan Murphy’s “The Future Has Not Yet Been Written,” a physical work that combines over 200 NFTs from Murphy’s Boonji Project, for $1.1 million. Art Basel saw the $550,000 sale at mega-gallery Pace of the first NFT by DRIFT artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, in collaboration with musician Don Diablo. That work also combines the physical and digital. Part of the artists’ Block Universefrom2021, which portrays an abstract version of the solar system, the work is now headed to a European museum on loan from its new, unnamed owner.

“There’s an exciting new world out there for artists,” said artist Laura Kimpton, whose large-scale works have figured prominently at the annual Burning Man in Nevada. “There’s now a way for people who have talent to get into making and selling art.”


While not every gallery booth sold out, some did. Art fairs across town reported strong sales. That includes NADA and UNTITLED, where a number of booths reported early sellouts, with museums making a number of the purchases. NFTs aside, one obvious hot trend involves work by Black artists, which has been on display widely and prominently across fairs, galleries and museums this art week.

Buyers and collectors this year also could not seem to get enough of an old medium, painting, either, whether by young turks or late masters, especially figurative works — many of them touching on timely themes like race and ethnicity, Black life in America, gender identity and the environment. There is an unusual prevalence of fabric art, as well, a small subset of work on view in the past.

At Galerie Templon at Art Basel, silk embroidery pieces inspired by scenes of contemporary life by Malawi fabric artist Billie Zangewa sold for prices ranging from $70,000 to $80,000.

Also at Templon, “Portrait of Abdallah Gueye,” a new painting by African American artist Kehinde Wiley, President Obama’s official portraitist, sold for $400,000.

Street and graffiti art continue to conquer the fine-art world. The graffiti-inspired work of Keith Haring, who died in 1990, was exhibited and bought across numerous venues, with Gladstone Gallery at Art Basel selling one of his paintings for $1.75 million. Kenny Scharf, a graffiti-to-fine art pioneer whose work was on view at numerous galleries and booths, saw new and older pieces sell well, too. One Scharf piece at Art Basel’s Meridians sector, which focuses on large-scale art, sold for somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000, according to Almine Rech gallery.

Collectors were also on the hunt for mid-20th Century masters, especially women. At Hauser & Wirth, an oil on board by Louise Bourgeois from 1940 went for $1.4 million. Edward Tyler Nahem sold an untitled oil by abstract artist Joan Mitchell from 1962 with an asking price of $2.5 million.

Both sales were at Art Basel, where primo art by younger and mid-career artists was also flying off the walls.

On the first VIP preview Tuesday, Marianne Boesky Gallery nearly sold out the works hung in her expansive booth. By day two, the booth had turned over almost completely, featuring fresh works that had replaced those already sold. The gallery reported selling a painting by Jennifer Bartlett for $350,000 and paintings by some of its newer artists, including Jammie Holmes, Danielle Mckinney, Celeste Rapone, and Michaela Yearwood-Dan, in the range of $20,000- $85,000.


Latin American art and Miami artists, showcased at the main fairs and local galleries, also shared in the Art Week sales bounty.

Sculptures and wall pieces by Carlos Cruz-Diez fill the 2021 booth of Galeries Bartoux

At Art Miami, Galeries Bartoux, which featured a booth full of older and never-before-seen works by late chromatic master Carlos Cruz-Diez, had sold three by mid-day Saturday, for a total of $1,504,000. At Art Basel, Lehman Maupin sold four works composed of charcoal and mixed media by Miami native Teresita Fernandez for $225,000 to $300,000 each.

Miami gallerists also found sales success at the fairs. At Art Miami, Coral Gables’ Cernuda Arte sold a sculpture by 21st century contemporary artist Roberto Fabelo for around $150,000 and two works by Cuba’s Amelia Pelaez for $150,000. David Castillo made a prestigious and high-price sale, of Vaughn Spann’s large-scale Rover(2021) in Art Basel’s Meridians, for $230,000 to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, jointly with Almine Rech.

Castillo also sold three collagraphs by Cuban artist Belkis Ayón, whose rare work is finding the spotlight 22 years after her untimely death, for $100,000 each.

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