Why Art Basel in Miami Beach Is Finally Getting Interesting as an Art Fair

The 10 classiest booths at the 2015 fair.

Photo: artnet News.

Times change and art fairs—with luck and hard work, or the virtue of time—change with them.

For the first time in over 10 years, Art Basel in Miami Beach is starting to look like an international art fair of genuine interest. The unwelcome truth is that season after season the booth displays in Miami were predictable, unadventurous, and often vapid. A lot of bad art was sold here for a lot of years.

Gone, mostly, is the big, dumb, shiny stuff. I don’t know if it is the galleries or the collectors, but there is a concerted effort this year to break the Miami art fair cliché and deliver substance over style.

Perhaps it is the bubble market which has flushed out so many good, older artworks, or perhaps it is that the collectors have matured. Either way, there is a tremendous depth to the secondary market work on offer at the main fair this year. We’ll see how the sales do—but at a glance the change is promising.

Even the primary market work on offer tends towards the serious, albeit with a strong affinity for color and form. That plays well in Miami, where figuration is popular. It’s no surprise that the Jeffery Deitch and Larry Gagosian collaboration on view in the design district is a survey of international figurative art.

So which dealers are breaking the mold, turning their backs—well, sort of—on anything turquoise, pink, or bright orange and purple? Here are 10 booths that struck me as brave, intelligent, and beautiful, and that present displays that could stand the test of critical scrutiny anywhere in the world.


Louise Nevelson, Moon Spikes (1953).
Photo: © 2015 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Pace Gallery
I nearly fell over when I saw this booth. It is devoted almost entirely to a display of solid black sculptures by Louise Nevelson. They span in time from the 1950s to the 1980s and include a few masterpieces. She is a market darling to be sure, but these are studious artworks that demand attention and concentration. “It must be a cloudy day,” one Pace rep wrote later. “We sold 12 Nevelson’s in the first hour.”

Installation shot of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

Installation shot of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.


Thaddaeus Ropac
Two extremely large Georg Baselitz paintings dominate this elegant booth which, as always, is brimming with collectibles. Both pictures, from 2015, follow on from the artist’s widely praised room of paintings at the Venice Biennial. This is your chance to buy a real, meaningful piece of contemporary art history.

Installation shot of Galerie Karsten Greve,

Cy Twombly “Bolsena” painting at Galerie Karsten Greve.

Karsten Greve
You have to love Kartsen Greve who, after so many years of being a dealer and so many art fairs, can still pull out of somewhere a Cy Twombly “Bolsena” picture from 1969 and plop it on a wall in Miami. This is such an outrageously good work for this fair that you really have to stand up and take notice.


Richard Estes, Subway Entrance Columbus Circle (2015).
Photo: Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery.


Temper your judgement and spend a few moments contemplating the latest work by Richard Estes on a side wall in this booth. He’s an old man now and yet still seems to be painting with a force and energy that is undimmed. His painting here effortlessly depicts the chaos of Columbus Circle in New York.

Image of Robert Indiana at Gallery Gymurzinska at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Image of Robert Indiana at Galerie Gymurzinska at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Galerie Gmurzynska
To celebrate 50 years in the art business, the venerable Swiss gallery enlisted curator Germano Celant to present an over-the-top salon-style hang of works blending different periods and styles together. It is a dizzying experience to behold paintings hung ceiling to floor, in a dense and intense arrangement that harks back to old-fashioned European picture collections. Hidden in there are multiple treasures.

Installation shot of Paul Kasmin Gallery at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Installation shot of Paul Kasmin Gallery at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Paul Kasmin
The gentility of this booth with its casual pairing of a Brancusi sculpture with a 1960s Frank Stella makes you fall in love with art and art collecting all over again. Who doesn’t want to take these things home? It never ceases to amaze me how few dealers understand and respect the raw emotion of visual pleasure.

Installation shot of Jimmy Durham at Peter Freeman, Inc. at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Installation shot of Jimmy Durham at Peter Freeman, Inc. at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.


Peter Freeman
This booth stands out for a single work: Jimmy Durham’s Still Life with Xitle and Spirit from 2007, one of the great artworks of the entire fair. It consists of a giant rock—or is it a meteorite?—dropped on a car. It doesn’t sound like much, I grant you, but standing before this work you are filled with awe.

You have to hand it to this gallery for making a brilliant intervention into a usually unadventurous art fair with a miniature survey of East Village art from 1980 to 1984, including several David Wojnarowicz works that have a ferocious intensity to them. This is the sort of risk-taking and independent thinking we want.


Robert Mangold, Four Color Frame Painting #15 (1985).
Photo: Courtesy of Galeria Elvira Gonzalez.

Elvira Gonzalez
This is possibly the most blissful display in the entire building. The booth is lightly hung, wall after wall, with an impressive selection of Robert Mangold paintings from 1966 to 2005. I don’t know where they all came from but together they are a magnificent tribute to the artist. Someone should buy the booth.

Installation view of Marianne Boesky Gallery at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Installation view of Marianne Boesky Gallery at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2015.

Marianne Boesky
It is great to see a really fresh, interesting selection of new and old works hanging side by side, clashing and riffing off each other like a conversation between friends. Nowhere else at this fair will you find a Salvatore Scarpitta from the early 1960s in dialogue with a Serge Alain Nitegeka painting from 2015. The dynamic juxtapositions of interesting if lesser known artists add real texture and density to the fair.

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