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Art Basel Miami Beach 2009: Will Business Follow the Party?

(c) Franz West: 'Lying Knot', 2008, sculpture, courtesy by Gagosian gallery and MCH

Art Basel (preview-) opened its sister fair in Miami Beach, Florida, for the eighth time now.


There was much at stake:


  • Is ABMB still the leading contemporary art fair of the Americas?
  • Will it loose the leading role to the urban Armory Art Fair in New York City?


I would say, both questions can be answered with 'yes': Many US and International collectors came back this year and bought again.


There were 265 leading galleries from 33 countries - about half of the art dealers were from the United States. However, after last year's disappointing performance, 60 galleries left the fair.


The art market had been severely hit by the current economic crisis - especially the important US market. Yet, some 40,000 art lovers visited the show.


One could notice more Latin American collectors and artists than the years before. Especially works by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, who will have a large retrospective at New York's MoMA later this month.


Even UBS continued the partnership with ABMB as main sponsor (despite its legal problems with the US government because of its tax haven consulting business).


Robert Indiana: 'Hope', 2009, sculpture of painted aluminum: white/blue/red, 18 x 18 x 9 inches, 45.7 x 45.7 x 22.9 cm, Edition of IX + 1 AP courtesy of Galerie Thomas, Munich and MCH


As often in uncertain times, many art dealers (and collectors) went for the well-established blue-chip art:


At the booth of German art dealer Galerie Thomas I saw a new sculpture by the 81 years old pop artist Robert Indiana. In the 1960s, he created the hippy icon 'LOVE' - in 2009 he created 'HOPE' in the same style. It was offered for US $ 140,000.(I am sometimes wondering what this visionary 60s generation thinks about the present time: Hope - for what?)



(c) Marc Bijl: 'Porn', sulpture, courtesy of The Breeder Gallery, Athens / MCH

Greek The Breeder Gallery offered a contemporary interpretation of Robert Indiana's piece: It is the reflecting scupture 'Porn' made by Marc Bijl.


(c) David Hockney: 'Astray', oil on canvas, 60 x 48'', 2008, courtesy of Pace Wildenstein, NY and MCH


New York art dealer Pace-Wildenstein offered a wonderful Yorkshire landscape painting by David Hockney of 2008.



This year's most important art exhibition, the 53rd Venice Biennale, was also quite visible at ABMB:


A number of art dealers offered works by the artist duo Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset. At the Biennale, they did the spectacular Scandinavian pavilion 'The Collector'. I liked their scary installation 'Last Performance' of 2009 at the booth of Galeri Nicolai Wallner, Denmark. The edition of 2 + 1 AP was offered for US $ 83,000.


Art dealer Claus Robenhagen told me about this work: 'It deals with the transitory qualities of life and death. A clown's nose, a make-up brush and pot, a whithered noose, and a chair that has been knocked over suggest a tired joker has finally put down his mask and hung himself.'


(c) Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset: 'Last Performance', 2009, installation of mirror-polished steel, light bulbs and chair, 200 x 70 x 110 cm, Ed. 2 + 1 AP courtesy of Galleri Nicolai Wallner


It is obvious that the overheated hype on contemporary art from China is over. However, the best Chinese artists will retain their position umong the leading artists of the world. Ai Weiwei is certainly one of them. I love his current show at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany.


Urs Meile with spaces in Lucerne, Switzerland, and Beijing, China, offered a cube by Ai Weiwei in Chinese porclain for US $ 300,000. When I was at the booth, there was allready a hold on it.


Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art from New York offers his edition 'Kui Hua Zi (Sun Flower Seeds)' of 2009 for US $ 7,500 each. The sunflower seeds are all fake: They are made of porclain and then put in a regular Ikea container. I am fascinated how he plays with the antipodes 'natural' and 'artificial'.


(c) Ai Weiwei: i Hua Zi (Sun Flower Seeds), 2009, 1000 sun flower seeds in porcelain, sculpted and painted by hand, manufactured in Jingdezhen, China, in glass jar, inscribed with title and artist name, 6 3/8 inches x 4 3/8 inches x 4 3/8 inches, Edition of 30 with 12 A.P. Published by Carolina Nitsch for the New Museum, New York, courtesy of MCH


As on Frieze Art Fair in London, Grayson Perry presented an edition of his 'Walthamstow Tapestry' at 'The Paragon Press'. It shows the stages of a man's life form birth to death. Brand item logos and every day life scenes confront these images. If you like, you can read this piece as a critique on consumerism. I like it.


(c) Grayson Perry: Detail of 'The Walthamstow Tapestry', 2009, The Paragon Press, London courtesy of MCH

Here in Miamai, I counted 17 (!) satellite fairs. These are even for a place like ABMB to many and it was also not possible for me to see all of them.


On Scope Art Fair I found an interesting installation by the young Swiss artist duo Comenius Roethlisberger and Admir Jahic: At an auction they bought a rubber eraser formerly owned by young Lady Diana.


They made drawings from media photos depicting Princess Diana and her husband Prince Charles. Ironically, the rubber had originally 'For big mistakes' written on it.


Comenius Roethlisberger and Admir Jahic: 'For Big Mistakes / Erased Princess Diana Drawings' part of the installation; rubber eraser, drawings; 2009 (c)


Then they rerased these drawings and exhibited the empty sheets of paper with the rest of the rubber. Cool piece!


Comenius Roethlisberger and Admir Jahic: 'For Big Mistakes / Erased Princess Diana Drawings' installation view; rubber eraser, drawings; 2009 (c)


I still recommend to go to Miami Beach: It became less a place for a party trip, rahter than a place to buy great art.


by Chris Neuschler



ABMB Miami Beach Convention Center (c) MCH


Art Basel Miami Beach

VIP preview 2 December 2009

Open to the public from 3 through 6 December 2009


Lisa Yuskavage: 'Piggyback Ride', 2009, oil on canvas, 152 x 127 cm / 60 x 50'', courtesy of Greengrassi Gallery, London (c) photo by Premier Art Scene
Mark Handforth, 'Platz', 2007 courtesy by Galerie Presenhuber, Zurich (c) photo by Premier Art Scene
'The Collectors' curated by Elmgreen and Dragset / Nordic pavilion (c) photo by Premier Art Scene


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