Miami Rewards Dealers Who Bring Works Priced to Sell

As speculators exit the art buying arena, sales at Art Basel are slow but steady.

Seung taek Lee presented by Gallery Hyundai in Meridians. Courtesy of Art Basel.

In years past, art advisor Wendy Cromwell would have to lock down her most significant purchases for clients during the first hour at Art Basel Miami Beach. This year, while she made several quick acquisitions within the $100,000 range at the VIP opening, she didn’t have to pull the trigger on larger and more expensive artworks.

The pace is indicative of a new market, dealers said midway through the first day of the biggest contemporary art fair in the U.S. Fresh works from the studios of in-demand artists like Issy Wood, Bisa Butler, and Flora Yukhnovich could have been sold dozens of times over, they said. Large canvases by Albert Oehlen, A.R. Penck, Alex Katz, El Anatsui, and Georg Baselitz lingered—as did blue-chip trophies by Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon priced between $10 million and $20 million.

“Everyone is saying slower but steady,” said art advisor Lowell Pettit, whose clients bought works up to €70,000 (around $75,000), but were still on the fence about a $7 million purchase.

The stakes were high heading into the fair. Art Basel Miami Beach arrives at the end of a volatile year, which has seen a market contraction at auctions and galleries.

“The pace of sales has declined and prices have come down,” said Thomas Danziger, an attorney, who counts galleries among his clients. “Even the top galleries are bringing more things that are priced to sell than in previous years.”

The vibe is markedly darker, colored by anxiety over the war in the Middle East and Ukraine, high interest rates and slower cash flow. Some collectors skipped Miami this year because they were simply not in the mood given the art world’s rift over the events in Israel and Gaza, dealers and advisors said.

Frank Stella, Delta (1958). Image courtesy Yares Art.

Frank Stella, Delta (1958). Image courtesy Yares Art.

Consider that the most expensive work at the fair, Frank Stella’s 1958 painting, Delta priced at a whopping $45 million at Yares Art, was a somber black canvas. Many galleries scaled back on parties. Auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips axed their annual client dinners and parties in Miami. Alan Faena’s typically over-the-top art installations on the beach gave way to a minimalist, AI-designed labyrinth by Sebastian Errazuriz.

“People are not being as lavish with their expenditures,” said art advisor Todd Levin. “They are being thoughtful about whatever funds they have available to get the best result.”

By mid afternoon, dealers appeared visibly relieved and began broadcasting a litany of sales. “I feel very confident,” said Vincenzo de Bellis, director of Art Basel’s fairs and exhibitions platforms. “The show is very solid. The quality is very high.”

Hauser and Wirth got the bragging rights for the most expensive reported sale of the first day: Philip Guston’s 1979 canvas Painter at Night, priced at $20 million. It had been previously sold for $12.6 million in 2017 as part of the collection of Emily and Jerry Spiegel at Christie’s.

“People are buying,” said Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner at Michael Werner gallery, which placed works by artists including Wood and Peter Saul.

“If you price reasonably, you sell immediately,” said Alberto Mugrabi, a scion of a major art collecting and trading family.

Proyectos Monclova. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Proyectos Monclova. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Vito Schnabel Gallery, a first time participant to the fair, dedicated its booth to 1970s paintings by Ron Gorchov, and four of six sold with prices in the range of $200,000 to $350,000, according to the gallery. But the two most expensive works on the booth, priced as high as $750,000, were not sold.

Jeffrey Deitch placed a $6.5 million painting by Barkley L. Hendricks, the subject of a solo show at the Frick in New York. (Only one painting by the late artist has sold for more than that at auction: Yocks from 1975, fetched $8.4 million last month at Sotheby’s.)

The slower pace was a function of fewer speculators, who have fueled the market since the pandemic.

“They hardly look at things,” said Bennett Roberts, whose Roberts Projects gallery sold multiple works under $120,000. “This is better. It’s more considered.” A $350,000 painting by Amoako Boafo, a darling of speculators since 2019, was yet to be sold.

On the other hand, committed collectors were looking for opportunities. Those who showed up at the VIP opening on December 6 included local collectors Don and Mera Rubell, Marty Margulies, Beth DeWoody and Jorge Pérez. West Coast collectors Steve Wynn and Pamela Joyner made the rounds, as did celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Serena Williams, and Jared Leto.

“People with lifelong interest in art stay committed,” said Blaize Lehane, partner at François Ghebaly. “They are here. They are buying.”

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