The Back Room: We Shall Buy on the Beaches, We Shall Buy in the Booths

This week in the Back Room: Miami Art Week splashes out again, a surprise power-up for a septuagenarian artist, and much more.

White Cube's booth at the VIP preview for Art Basel Miami Beach on November 30, 2021. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images). Illustration by Artnet News.

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.


This week in the Back Room: Miami Art Week splashes out again, a microscope on Jeff Koons’s market slump, a surprise power-up for a septuagenarian artist, and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,855 words).



Top of the Market

Miami Millions

Installation view of the Tezos booth "Human + Machine," featuring interactive works by Mario Klingemann, at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Photo by Tim Schneider.

Installation view of the Tezos booth “Human + Machine,” featuring interactive works by Mario Klingemann, at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Photo by Tim Schneider.

If you haven’t yet heard that the return of Miami Art Week lived up to the commercially triumphant, aesthetically overwhelming, nocturnally debauched pedigree it had earned over so many years before its COVID-warped zombie edition in 2020, I can only assume it’s because the past two years’ events have pushed you into a lead-encased survivalist bunker. If so, the market and the social scene both say it’s time to re-emerge.

True to their old form, this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach and its local fair friends were too packed with market activity to capture everything in a single bite-sized summary. But we can get to the extravaganza’s essence through three big questions…


1. In under 10 words, how would you describe sales at the main fair?

Advisor Kim Heirston nailed it: “Good energy, but not frenetic… Rather refreshing, actually.”

Yes, the atmosphere at ABMB was calmer than in years past. This was due partly to Basel instituting timed entry as part of its COVID protocols, and partly to some European and Asian VIPs still facing travel restrictions at their would-be points of departure. It’s just that there was little indication either aspect was undermining many transactions.

The picture is best filled out by the blue-chip dealers’ aggregate sales numbers. By the end of Tuesday’s VIP opening, Gagosian had placed nearly 30 works to bring in more than $10 million, and Pace Gallery had sold 30 artworks worth a total north of $6 million.

Three days’ worth of sales reports also included dozens of deals closed at between $300,000 and $1.5 million by an array of other exhibitors.

To establish the ceiling, here were four of the top transactions by dollar value by Friday morning. (For more details, see our first-day sales report.)

  • $7 million for Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting, Blue (1953) at David Zwirner.
  • $3.2 million for Barkley L. Hendricks’s Triple Portrait from the Yard (2012) at Jack Shainman.
  • $2.5 million each for a Basquiat work on paper at Mnuchin gallery, and a Joan Mitchell canvas at Edward Tyler Nahem.


2. How many of the deals at ABMB were products of pre-selling? 

A sizable but not overwhelming amount, it seems. My impression is that the pre-sales were more a product of fiscal responsibility than the existential panic that was lingering in the air ahead of Art Basel’s Swiss return in September.

Think about it this way: Gagosian presold one $2.8 million painting by Christopher Wool, but younger galleries at the main fair (like Jessica Silverman) said that they intentionally kept works available so they could offer them to fairgoers.

More often than not, it paid off, especially for the new generation…


3. What were the major themes of the week outside of apex deal-making?

Buyers are still chasing hard after artists with “next big thing” potential. At ABMB, the competition was even fiercer than in recent years thanks to the fair’s decision to ash its longstanding requirement that exhibitors maintain a permanent physical space, leveling the playing field for several younger, nimbler applicants.

Possible star artists in the making at the main fair included…

  • Flora Yukhnovich, whose Rococo-inspired works in Victoria Miro’s booth sold out by the fair’s opening. Small oils on paper were priced at £15,000 ($20,007) and 2021 painting Bombshell went for £150,000 ($200,068).
  • Vincent Valdez, whose portraits on paper and canvas depicting everyday Americans who inspire the artist all found buyers in Matthew Brown’s booth on Tuesday, at prices from $25,000 to $75,000. (Beth Rudin DeWoody nabbed one.)
  • Qualeasha Wood, whose technically lush and wryly humorous textiles exploring Blackness, queerness, and femininity nearly sold out of Kendra Jayne Patrick’s booth in the first three hours, at prices from $15,000 to $23,000.

Deals stacked up immediately for emerging artists at the city’s other fairs, too…

  • Among the pieces flying off the walls of Untitled (day one report here) were textile portraits by Gio Swaby from Harlem’s Claire Oliver gallery, for $25,000 each.
  • At NADA Miami (VIP day report here), 56 Henry paced the youngsters by selling out of Al Held’s soft sculptures, “comparisons,” and drawings; the Pérez Art Museum Miami scooped up a $16,000 portrait by Danielle de Jesus from Calderón gallery’s stand, too.

Oh, and NFTs had a real moment with the establishment as well, though we should be cautious about expecting the romance between art and crypto to continue on a linear path.



Paint Drippings

The Miami Art Week edition of Wet Paint is live, but before you head over, here’s what else made a mark around the industry since the last Back Room…

Art Fairs

  • Frieze appointed gallery vet Christine Messineo, formerly a director of Hannah Hoffman and a partner at Bortolami, to lead its New York and Los Angeles fairs. (Artnet News)
  • Brussels art and antiques fair BRAFA has called off its 2022 edition, originally slated for January 23–30, citing COVID-related public health restrictions and border closings. (BX1)

Auction Houses

  • Christie’s Hong Kong set world records for 12 artists, including Amoako BoafoYayoi Kusama, and Avery Singer, as part of a fall sales slate that totaled nearly $259 million—the priciest ever overall result for its 20th and 21st century art auctions in the region. (Artnet News Pro)
  • Phillips and Poly Auction’s big bet on Western artworks paid off in their joint Hong Kong auctions on November 29–30, running up $86 million in sales, a 67 percent increase over the same auctions in 2020. (Artnet News Pro)


  • After parting ways with Hauser and Wirth, celebrated sculptor Simone Leigh has joined Matthew Marks, which started offering her work at Art Basel Miami Beach on Tuesday. (Artnet News)
  • Pace has promised not to sell any sculptures by Jeff Koons before they are finished—a sensible policy given the rash of lawsuits filed against the artist and his previous galleries over an alleged slew of production and delivery delays. (Artnet News Pro)
  • Jeffrey Deitch announced it will rep the estate of the late graffiti artist and hip-hop legend Rammellzee. The gallery is featuring his work at ABMB this week, with a solo exhibition planned at its Los Angeles location in fall 2022. (ARTnews)


  • Financier Oscar Tang and his archaeologist wife, Agnes Hsu-Tang, have gifted the Metropolitan Museum of Art a whopping $125 million—the museum’s largest-ever capital donation—to realize longstanding plans to renovate its Modern wing. (Artnet News)
  • The Rijksmuseum will hold what it’s calling the “first and last” full retrospective on 17th century master Johannes Vermeer in 2023 (in partnership with the Mauritshuis). (Press release and The Guardian)
  • The Gwangju Biennale has postponed next year’s edition to 2023 so that organizers can switch up the venue and give it a longer run-time in hopes of boosting attendance. (Artnet News)

NFTs and More

  • Former Christie’s co-chairman Loïc Gouzer is launching Particle, a platform that will tokenize fractional shares in physical artworks while maintaining total ownership over said works—a business plan that Bloomberg Opinion columnist Matt Levine lost his mind over. (Artnet News and Bloomberg Opinion)
  • Berlin’s Galerie Nagel Draxler is transforming one of its spaces into a dedicated NFT gallery opening January 14 with a solo show of work by dealer, collector, Artnet News columnist, and crypto-savvy artist Kenny Schachter. (The Art Newspaper)
  • Collector and curator Tiffany Zabludowicz is launching Cryptographic, a new platform exploring sex and sexual representation in digital space, on the increasingly arty adult site OnlyFans. (Instagram)


Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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