The country (USA) was officially declared in a recession last Monday, when Art Basel Miami week kicked off, and there was plenty of chatter about vacant hotel rooms and events being scaled back during the seventh annual art blowout. Art Basel Miami became since its inception in 2002 the biggest Art Fair in the world.
True, Prosecco, the cheaper bubbly, replaced Dom Perignon at a few parties and crustacean treats were in shorter supply than usual. True, many visitors were looking at some 200 dealers booths with an air of desperation that did not anticipated well their desire to purchase anything.
Another bad omen : seven pastel-hued Robert Rauschenberg collages, consigned by comedian Lily Tomlin and priced $150,000 to $550,000 hung in Washburn’s stand. None were sold by Friday.
But generally gallerists pretended to be much happier : at least, they said, "we could talk, breathe and get in touch with prospective buyers and our regular collectors in a more relax way".
But what about the sales ? It is very difficult to obtain any statistic from gallerists, more so to get an idea of prices or commercial strategies. However most were ready to admit that they have been consenting noticeable rebates, in the region of 10%, sometines more to good collectors or enthusiastic beginners.
Buyers weren’t shy about pressing for deals. London-based art adviser Nick Hackworth scored a photograph for a client. Asking price: $70,000. Selling price: $50,000.
The fact is that the Contemporary art market's prices are becoming reasonable to the point that if the reason goes on like this for some time one will be able to talk about "collapse". It might be a good thing for the aspiring collectors and the young artists who hope to find first time buyers on the market.
But for the secondary market, the confirmed Contemporary artists and the very rich collectors who paid a year ago $100,000 for a work that is now flipped at auction for $50,000, it is not a good trend. Christie's American artists of the XIX-XXth century's sale last week in NYC did not do well at all with a huge number of unsold lots (31%) (1). This evolution was perceptible as well on the Contemporary market at the Basel Miami Fair where works were in huge supply with a much lower demand.
Among the events, Rock star Marylin Manson revealed his artistic side with a lot of excellent and promising paintings of which one very resembling self-portrait and an Adold Hitler's portrait that was well received by the visitors without any hostile demonstration. No mention of the asking prices was made.
The great novelty of the year was Art Asia, a new contemporary Asian art fair in Miami's midtown, where 44 galleries showed works from countries including Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia and even the Netherlands. For Susan Kerseboom, co-owner of Amsterdam's Willem Kerseboom Gallery and a first-time Miami art fair exhibitor, Asian art has gained cachet since she started representing a handful of Beijing-based artists in 2003 :"'Five years ago, one of our Chinese artists may have sold for $20,000, but today the same artist would sell for $100,000'' she said.
But maybe the spirit of the time was better resumed by a woman named Amy Werba who flatly said that "it's about time people finally realized that spending $40 million on a painting should not be a great goal in life. And she had :"Francis Bacon's picture is nothing but an amateurish attempt at painting -- and ugly at that. I see better art in the Wynwood and Design District galleries."
It is exactly what I personally think but for Bacon who was a great artist as shows this terrific portrait of his lover George Dyer. Unfortunately it is not VOPs like Amy and myself who make the Contemporary Art market but VVIPs : those people do not always care about Art, they are interested in money, social status and the terrifying respect that the fact to pay $40 millions for a distorted figure can make on their friends. Because who dares to say to them :"You pay 40,000 grants for that piece of crap ? Are you nuts ?"
Anyway one thing to remember about this edition of Basel Miami Art Fair is the inroad of the Asians and maybe it is a good idea to buy some before they start to sell for millions of dollars. Furthermore they are very good and they offer a completely new vision of the world. It is not du "déjà vu" !!!
(1) On Tuesday, November 6, 1990, 55% of the contemporary art on offer at Sotheby's went unsold, including pieces by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rothko, Dubuffet. The house had predicted a global sale of 39-52 million of dollars. Instead it brought only $19.8 million.