Art Basel—and the wildly creative week it spawned—brought more than just art to Miami Beach this year, as the annual fair soared to epic new heights.
Lenny Kravitz at the opening of his photography exhibit, “Flash,” during Art Basel week.
Even more than hyperbole, the thing that writing about Art Basel in Miami Beach most suffers from is repetition. Last year the parties were crazy. This year, too. Next year, most likely. Even numbers get repeated. Big ones. As in: Did you hear about the $15 million Francis Bacon? Or the $10.5 million Picasso? (They both sold.) Of last year’s fair, we wrote, “There was something in the air during Art Basel in Miami Beach: rain.” This year, more of the same. Massive amounts. Something feet deep on Collins, flowing into places like FDR at the Delano, where Le Baron had set up shop, and inflating countless Uber charges, with surge pricing peaking at 9.9 times the usual fare.
And yet, again like last year, the party(s) went on, grandly. Galleries sold, collectors bought, and the Champagne, like the rain, flowed ceaselessly. It was indeed another Art Basel to remember.
Kinga Lampert at Art Basel’s First Choice VIP preview.
Under the stewardship of Noah Horowitz, Art Basel’s new director Americas, the fair continued its dominance of this third of the art world, with 77,000 people attending the seven-day event, a bump of 4,000 from last year. While many millions of dollars changed hands, it’s safe to say that the lion’s share of guests came to browse, with thousands of works displayed by 267 leading galleries from around the world. And there was nowhere better to do this than the Survey sector, now in its second year.
Fourteen single-artist booths further blurred the lines between trade show and museum. One standout was Harlem photographer Roy DeCarava’s glimpse of mid-century black culture, presented by the Jenkins Johnson Gallery. Another surprise was the 1960s post-minimalist works of Keith Sonnier—using light and latex, they could have been made tomorrow—shown by Castelli Gallery. Also impressive were Walead Beshty’s drilled flat-screen TVs at Regen Projects; Alex Katz’s timeless portraits of his wife, Ada, at Gavin Brown; and Egan Frantz’s work at Michael Jon, which incorporated idiosyncratic materials like toilet paper and a folding bicycle.
A performance of Martha Friedman’s Pore.
Much to the chagrin of causeway warriors, Miami’s art world continued to expand in all directions in 2015. The Design District was on fire, with an acclaimed Martha Friedman exhibit at Locust Projects, plus shows by Alex Bag and Shannon Ebner at the ICA. Also in the Moore Building was “UnRealism,” a sprawling, open-armed look at figuration in contemporary painting and sculpture, put together by Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian.
Elsewhere, Little Haiti and Little River saw a ton of traffic this year, as some of the city’s best galleries moved north. Gallery Diet had a gorgeous show of conceptual landscape paintings by Ann Craven, as well as “Trees in Oolite,” an exhibition of outdoor design in the courtyard. Around the corner is the new Michael Jon space, where newcomer Sofia Leiby blew the doors off gesture. Anthony Spinello christened his new gallery with several late-night soirées, including his “Littlest Sister” fair. Back on the beach, interest also trickled southward, as longtime North Beach stalwart NADA (the New Art Dealers Alliance) traded the Deauville for the Fontainebleau.
Artsy Projects and Nautilus’s after-party outside the Cabana Club beach tent.
For many noteworthy Miami collectors, Art Basel is an annual opportunity to open their homes to the art world. This year, the Rubells staged an exhibition of work by more than 100 female artists called “No Man’s Land,” with a monumental Solange Pessoa sculpture made entirely of human hair stealing the show. Like the Rubells’ “28 Chinese” and “30 Americans,” this exhibit was historic from the get-go.
The other two members of Miami’s private/public collection trinity—the de la Cruz and the Margulies—didn’t disappoint either. At the de la Cruz, “You’ve Got to Know the Rules… to Break Them” presented eminent artists like Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen alongside celebrated newcomers like JPW3. And the Margulies offered one of the most ambitious installations of the season, part of a massive retrospective from Anselm Kiefer. Encapsulating the German neo-Expressionist’s relationship to history and nature, the heart-stopping The Secret of the Ferns is a gallery-sized work comprising 48 entropic compositions and two concrete bunkers.
Across the water, Dennis and Debra Scholl presented an exhibit curated by Franklin Sirmans, director of Pérez Art Museum Miami: a canny mix of contemporary art that also highlighted the Scholls’ recent foray into Aboriginal painting. Speaking of PAMM, the museum pulled out all the stops with an exceptionally important—and exciting—show from Nari Ward. But the ultimate place to be might have been Stephen and Petra Levin’s North Bay Road home (host to Ocean Drive’s Art of the Party with Katie Holmes), where they showed works by a pantheon of art stars: Warhol, Koons, Ai Weiwei, Hirst, Fischer, Banksy, Murakami, and more.
Another big story this past December was the New Art Dealers Alliance’s move to the Fontainebleau. The organization’s NADA Miami fair was smaller than in years past, more diverse, and generally fantastic. “The Fontainebleau was a great venue,” says Night Gallery partner Mieke Marple. “It was nice to have a smaller selection of galleries in one room rather than three rooms with different carpet. It looked way more elegant. NADA definitely stepped up its game.” Night’s booth had an exciting Anne Libby sculpture: a picnic table standing on end, with the bulk of its plastic top cut away, revealing a brutal yet decorative framework.
Unexpected materiality also distinguished Marlborough Chelsea’s booth, which featured a classical nude by Tony Matelli made from distressed concrete and topped with hyper-realistic strawberries meticulously fabricated out of bronze. It sold for $75,000.
Miami was represented by Guccivuitton, which exhibited a group of owner Aramis Gutierrez’s darkly impressionist paintings. The gallery had an eventful year. Fresh off an acclaimed show at the ICA, where it turned the museum into a commercial space, it was hit with a cease-and-desist order from Gucci.
Like some impossibly high-end Ikea, the DesignMiami/ fair again had a fantastic vibe, as visitors walked among the booths imagining themselves in their dream homes. Especially eye-catching was Quintus Kropholler’s Black Gold series at Chamber, for which the Dutch designer forged cleanly minimalist forms out of asphalt to critique our reliance on fossil fuels.
Down the beach was the perennially pleasing art fair known as Untitled, featuring 127 curated booths (up from 50 the first year) illuminated by natural light. The scale was still amicable and the work affable, but perhaps the best spot was the lounge, where Italian provocateur Maurizio Cattelan took over with his publication Toiletpaper, known for its giddily subversive stock photos. On the back deck, the Brooklyn gallery Helper set up a tiki bar selling fresh fruit cocktails and art objects, including hand-painted matchbooks by Elizabeth Ferry and bronze Donald Trump heads. At the other 17 area art fairs, there was simply too much to see.
So how was this year’s Art Basel? Pace sold 12 Louise Nevelson sculptures in the first hour. A few hours later, I ran into a friend from Marianne Boesky at Free Spirits, the slightly more civilized alternative to Club Deuce. The gallery certainly hadn’t needed help moving its Frank Stella pieces, riding high on the Whitney’s current Stella retrospective. “The work’s already been done,” he laughed.
Van de Weghe Fine Art will be able to keep the lights on this winter, having sold Francis Bacon’s 1954 painting Man and Blue, listed at $15 million, and a Picasso listed at $10.5 million. At Thaddaeus Ropac, a Warhol silk screen of Joseph Beuys went for $1.4 million. David Zwirner parted with a 2005 Neo Rauch painting for $1.5 million, the same price that Hauser & Wirth got for Paul McCarthy’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves–themed work. Numerous galleries touted many sales in the $20,000 to $200,000 range.
Peter Brant Jr., Paris Hilton, Gaia Matisse, and Brandon Davis at the Art Basel afterparty at Wall.
Art Basel’s galaxy of parties usually centers on the opening of a new hotel, and this year it was the Nautilus, where each night brought a different party. On Tuesday, Pusha T performed a short set as guests either crowded the stage or lounged in the cabanas flanking the pool. Up the strand at the Soho Beach House, Giorgio Moroder, one of the most influential music producers in history, deejayed the White Cube and Vinyl Factory party. On Wednesday, the Brazilian collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus teamed up with W magazine to install a roller-skating rink on the beach. Slightly more decadent was the bathtub of Perrier-Jouët stashed in the penthouse of the Faena Hotel.
There were also pre-dinner parties, sponsored concerts (such as Ellie Goulding’s intimate MAC Cosmetics jam), cocktail affairs, and product launches. Rob Pruitt was a busy guy, releasing a pair of shoes with Del Toro and designing the hand stamp for Le Baron. On Wednesday, if you had enough stamina, you could have hit the shoes’ debut at the Webster and stayed to receive the stamp at the Delano.
On Saturday, you could go to the Setai to toast Ducati and Italia Independent’s gorgeous new limited-edition Scrambler. But more likely, you were stuck somewhere in the rain, which claimed its most high-profile victim of the week: PAMM’s Dev Hynes and Ryan McNamara performance on Thursday. In a meltdown of Day of the Locust proportions, the show was rained out and thousands of guests rushed to claim the too-few Ubers. Those who made it back to the beach found similar liquid carnage.
There’s no better moment at Art Basel than watching the Wednesday-morning First Choice crowd barrel into the convention center—aka Black Friday for art lovers. Among them were Lenny Kravitz (who spun his own “Fly Away” while deejaying the Aby Rosen party), Sylvester Stallone (seen signing a contract of some sort, possibly for a purchase), Leonardo DiCaprio, Elle Macpherson, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, and artist Chuck Close, who perused row after row. Diane von Furstenberg breezed through the VIP opening with the casual elegance that has made her a legend. The Hiltons were there, sans scandal. Solange Knowles deejayed at the Design District’s Fendi store. Anthony Bourdain was seen steaming it up in the Standard’s hammam, while the likes of Jamie Foxx, Eva Longoria, Dwyane Wade, and Gabrielle Union popped around town.
The question on the lips of many, as always, was why? Why these collaborations? Why these sales figures? What quirk of history allows Basel week to happen, and why are we on the guest list while the rest of the hemisphere trudges toward the end of the year? While I don’t have a definitive answer, as the week came to a close, I received two clues, having to do with rejuvenation and destiny.
On Thursday afternoon, I headed to the Nautilus for Nicolas Lobo’s contribution to Artsy’s week-long programming. The artist offered a variety of uniquely colorful face masks, which were applied, salon-style, to visitors’ visages. Robes were also available, as were color-coordinated box lunches. Guests lounged by the hotel pool (with its giant Katherine Bernhardt image on the bottom) as the masks took years off.
The next day, I went back to the convention center. In the Nova sector, artists and curators Naomi Fisher and Agatha Wara teamed with two astrologers to create “Swamp of Sagittarius,” a star-chart reading installation. Having never had my astrological chart done, I provided the details of my life and sat on a beanbag chair set off from the chaos of the fair by a sheer curtain. Looking at my chart, my astrologer expressed amazement that I had chosen this of all days to receive my first reading. “This week is Saturn’s return,” he said. “Right now. Art Basel.” Unsure of what this meant, I nodded slowly as he added, “This is your destiny.”