Last week, Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) -- the 12-year-old little sister to the namesake Swiss fair -- invited 258 galleries from 31 countries to the Miami Beach Convention Center, transforming South Beach’s strip of art deco hotels into an international hub of artists, dealers, collectors and curators who competed for paintings and party invites with equal fervor. The fair’s unspoken emphasis on the social side of the art market -- a natural by-product of introducing that many art-buying billionaires to South Beach hedonism -- has meant an increasingly dominant presence of luxury brands, with names like Louis Vuitton and Swarovski gracing coveted invitations.
If New York’s November auctions are any indication of the current market, then this year’s ABMB, which ended Dec. 7, should have been the strongest one on record. After all, with more than 18 lots breaching $20 million at the auctions -- notably, $142 million for a Francis Bacon triptych, $105 million for Andy Warhol’s "Silver Car Crash" and $58 million for Jeff Koons’ "Balloon Dog (Orange)," setting the record for the most expensive work sold by a living artist -- it’s no wonder observers are heralding the era of the eight-figure work (and gearing up to celebrate the world’s first billion-dollar painting.)
What better poster boy for the week, then, than Koons? The artist raised eyebrows last May when he opened simultaneous shows at the neighboring New York galleries of rival dealers Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner. At the fair, Zwirner’s booth showcased "Elephant (2003)," a shiny bauble, no bigger than a bedside table and priced at a cool $20 million. A more economical option, "Monkey (Light Green)" (1999), a lime-hued silhouette of a cartoon ape head, was available for mere pocket change, $1.2 million.
Zwirner may have had the location, but 10 minutes into the Wednesday, Dec. 4, VIP preview (“Black Friday for billionaires,” scoffed one observer), Gagosian had Koons himself. The artist was smiling gamely at the media brigade as he posed in front of the seven-foot-tall "Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta)" with the likes of Sean “Diddy” Combs and first-time fairgoer Brian Grazer. "Baroque Egg," while dwarfing the other works size-wise, was priced at $9 million. (In any case, a jump from the $5.4 mil it fetched at Sotheby’s in 2009.)
A number of works sold in the seven figures: a $1.4 million Sigmar Polke at Michael Werner; a $3.2 million Gerhard Richter at Van de Weghe; a $6 million Joan Mitchell at Cheim+Read, plus a spate of multimillion-dollar works by Leger, Calder, and Miro at Helly Nahmad. While undoubtedly attention-grabbing, these sales are far from representative of the market as a whole. “It’s been a good fair for us,” Napolitan dealer Alfonso Artiaco admitted. “But it’s still nothing like it was in 2006, 2007.”
ABMB’s evolving following was evident from the early moments of the VIP preview, when some of the first faces through the door belonged to fashion folks, designers Kris Van Assche and Rick Owens, and W editor Stefano Tonchi. They were followed by collectors Peter Brant, Michael and Eva Chow, producer Steve Tisch, Michael Bay, producers Michael Lynne and Bob Shaye and fair veteran Eli Broad (who took advantage of the captive public to throw a press luncheon at the Setai for his upcoming Broad museum). While Val Kilmer used to be the requisite celeb sighting for the preview, now actress Michelle Williams and her stylist Kate Young, and models Elle MacPherson and Cindy Crawford were the ones turning heads. Combs’ entourage was led by advisor Maria Brito, who purportedly helped him pick up a $40,000 Sam Durant piece from Sadie Coles, though Combs also was photographed just outside the fair clutching a famed 1987 photo of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat by Paige Powell, one of Basquiat’s former girlfriends. Leonardo DiCaprio darted through the aisles, wearing a newsboy cap pulled low and escorted by a fair rep who warded off photographers.
Amid so much Hollywood wattage, it's no surprise that filmmaker Matthu Placek chose this week to premiere his 3D film installation, A Portrait of Marina Abramovic Experience. For the second sneak peek of the week, curator Jeffrey Deitch joined Spike Jonze for a Q&A, following a special screening of the director’s hotly anticipated film Her. In a more perplexing panel, Kanye West sat down with uber-curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist and architect Jacques Herzog for a conversation hosted by Surface Magazine. “You’re seeing a reality show of my thoughts right now,” West bragged, before riffing on, among other things, dropping out of art school and his concrete Le Corbusier lamps. Meanwhile, his other half, Kim Kardashian, was busy Instagramming a photo of Koons flashing his trademark smile at a disoriented North West. Kardashian captioned the image “Art lessons!” She didn’t specify for whom.