Philippe Parreno’s $400,000 Fish Balloons Are a Hit With Collectors (And Kids) at Art Basel in Miami Beach

The French artist's fish come with some interesting maintenance requirements.

Philippe Parreno's My Room is Another Fish Bowl (2016).

Tucked amid the aisles of the Miami Beach Convention Center, one woman has what is either the best—or the worst—job at the entire  fair: balloon wrangler.

She is tasked with keeping the French artist Philippe Parreno’s inflatable fish from floating out of the booth of the London-based dealer Pilar Corrias. At Art Basel in Miami Beach, the gallery is presenting My Room is Another Fish Bowl (2016), an installation of screenprinted mylar balloons that float around the booth as if suspended in water.

Parreno originally created the work as part of his Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern in London, which closed in April.

Philippe Parreno’s My Room is Another Fish Bowl (2016) with its fish-wrangler at Art Basel in Miami Beach.

But if the cavernous Turbine Hall was an aquarium that gave the fish plenty of room to roam, the comparatively cramped quarters of an art-fair booth is akin to a fishbowl. And without proper supervision, the fish can make a break for it.

“Before the fair opened, the White Cube people brought one back that had escaped down the hallway,” says Mary Cork, the gallery’s director. A local helium supplier is dropping off new inflatable versions every other day so that the fish remain in top form.

The balloon-based installation, priced at €350,000 ($412,818), is the last available edition of the work, which is sold in an editon of three (plus an artist’s proof). It was on hold at the end of the fair’s VIP preview on Wednesday.

All told, each version of the work consists of 90 balloons in total: 30 salmon, 30 smelt, and 30 roache. A collector can choose to display as many or as few as they wish. At Art Basel in Miami Beach, only three fish are on view—but that seems like more than enough for the booth attendant to handle.

What’s it like to be a balloon wrangler? “It’s better than standing still all day,” Melody Alexander, a Miami local, tells artnet News of her novel gig.

The lucky buyer of My Room is Another Fish Bowl will receive the 90 fish plus 60 additional backup balloons. Any further replacements must be ordered through Parreno’s studio.

A similar installation—one focused on tropical fish—set a record for the artist at auction last month. After spirited competition, it sold at Christie’s for $516,500 with premium, well over its estimate of $250,000–350,000. (Parreno’s previous auction record, set in 2012 for another balloon-based work, was a mere $19,380.)

“The material itself doesn’t really play into the value—there’s no sense of preciousness,” Cork says. It can occupy and adapt to any space. “It’s literally a pop-up sculptural work.”

Indeed: it gives a whole new meaning to the term “pop art.”

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