ArtBasel Miami Beach Opens With $3 Billion of Art and a Booth Designed by Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann - H 2014
AP Images

Baz Luhrmann - H 2014

The 'Great Gatsby' director and his wife, award-winning costume designer Catherine Martin, worked with curator Nellee Hooper on an exhibition called "A Kid Could Do That!"

Miley. Leo. Toby. If the first celebrity sightings at Wednesday's Art Basel Miami Beach’s First Choice preview were any indication, all seemed to bode well for the 13-year-old spin-off of the flagship Swiss fair. After a few years of scaling back, the art market has exploded even past the record highs of pre-crisis 2007 and 2008. Last month, over $2 billion worth of art was sold in New York’s November auctions alone. The total value of art on sale at Art Basel Miami Beach – which is now open to the public and runs through Sunday, Dec. 7 – is estimated at a jaw-dropping $3 billion. Helping bolster that figure is a mobile by Alexander Calder, at a rumored asking price of $35 million, at Nahmad Gallery; a Warhol Mao, upwards of $15 million at Acquavella Galleries; and the latest in Jeff Koons’ “Antiquities” series, a black graphite sculpture of a girl with her legs in the air, front and center at Gagosian Gallery.

The asking prices weren’t the only things causing a stir. In addition to power curators like Jeffrey Deitch, Klaus Biesenbach, Scott Rothkoff and new MOCA director Philippe Vergne, the aisles buzzed with rumored celeb sightings, including Miley Cyrus, art world regulars Leonardo DiCaprio and Owen Wilson, Michelle Williams, Toby McGuire and P. Diddy, who was cordially chatting up journalists outside the press conference. If another frequent-fairgoer, Beyonce hadn’t made it yet — and chances felt good, especially with her baby sister Solange in town to DJ the Jack Shainman Gallery party Friday — visitors could take comfort in Jonathan Horowitz’s Warhol-style portraits of the pop star, covering one wall at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.

References to Hollywood could be found on more than just the guest list. In the Nova section for up-and-coming galleries, Vienna-based Galerie Emanuel Layr featured a black and white photograph of the Beverly Hills Hotel sign, shot and printed by artist Marius Engh in such a way that one could swear it was airbrushed. A few booths over at the Peres Projects, stand-up sculptures by Dorothy Iannone offered playful riffs on ads for quirky classics like My Beautiful Laundrette, Breathless, and Damage, while the walls were lined with the latest from Mike Bouchet, a former film editor who came up in the art world working for Paul McCarthy. For this series, Bouchet creates a kind of checkerboard from posters of two, dramatically different genres of blockbusters, splicing family favorites like The Lego Movie with headier fare including Lars Van Trier’s Nymphomaniac or Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.


TRUE ARTIST: Curator Nellee Hooper (Photos: AP Images)


Power player Dominique Levy went for legendary, modeling her booth after True Grit, the 1968 Charles Portis novel that inspired the John Wayne classic, as well as the Coen Brother’s 2010 remake. The motif played out in a 10-foot, two-sided hanging Keith Haring painting from 1983, which was flanked by works from Barbara Kreuger, Christopher Wool, and Gilbert&George. Anchoring the back wall was Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, by far the priciest pair to be found at the convention center, as more and more experienced fairgoers have swapped their stilettos – once an unofficial calling card of the fair – for more sensible sandals. By the day’s end, Levy could put her feet up; she was reported to have already sold almost all of her booth.

Meanwhile, Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska also made a cinematic entrance, with a booth themed "A Kid Could Do That!," made by curator Nellee Hooper in collaboration with husband-and-wife dynamic duo Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin. Together, they resituated masterpieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Cy Twombly, Yves Klein, and Juan Miro into a kind of old fashioned school room, created with a team of set painters and carpenters that Luhrmann and Martin had brought from New York. “We’d never worked in an art fair context before,” Martin explained. “It has its own rules.” Luhrmann played a part of his own, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt like the one Picasso was famously photographed in. “When we first were approached to do this, I thought about the charge against this kind of High Modernism is that ‘a child could do this,’” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “What if a child had done this? Would it be any less relevant? There’s such a vast disconnect between art and reality, and people tend to take refuge from it in cynicism, but that’s a shallow facade. Picasso used to say all children are artists, but then we have to remember how, as artists, to remain a child, to keep our joy and naivete.”

Luhrmann’s words were inspiring, but not everyone shared the same vision when it came to countering “fair fatigue.” Indeed, a few booths over at Fondation Beyerler (now run by Art Basel Miami Beach’s founder and former director, Sam Keller), fair patrons could curl up on a sleeping cots, part of Marina Abramovic’s commission for YoungArts. Other components included performances of counting grains of rice or slow-motion-walking. But with so many events on the table, who had that kind of time?