MIAMI BEACH, Florida – Kendra Jayne Patrick’s booth buzzed at Art Basel on Tuesday during the VIP opening as visitors flocked to admire – and consider buying – pieces by upholsterer artist Qualeasha Wood, whose work is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the past, Patrick would not have been eligible to participate in the fair because his New York gallery does not have permanent physical space. But over the past year, Art Basel has changed its admission requirements and made a concerted effort to invite previously marginalized galleries to apply.
“We wanted to reduce the barriers to entry, not in terms of quality, but of duration of activity and the nature of your activity,” said Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel. “These galleries have enough barriers without us having these regulations, which are obsolete.”
The change was remarkable, given that the online iteration of Art Basel in June 2020 did not include a single African-American-owned gallery. The 253 galleries at the Miami Beach Convention Center this year featured several new entrants of color, including four black American-owned galleries, three from Africa, eight from Latin America, and one from Korea.
This growing diversity was just one way the pandemic altered the first in-person gathering of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair since 2019. There were also mandatory health exams, scheduled visitor entry, and mandatory masks ( with speakerphone reminders to keep them on). And some galleries said they did not receive artwork (and booth furniture) on time due to supply chain issues.
All four South African galleries made it to the fair just under the wire, given the emergence of the Omicron variant and President Biden’s decision to restrict travel from the country from November 29. Rather than feeling ostracized, these galleries have said visitors went out of their way to greet them at the fair – despite a few jokes to keep your distance.
The discussion of NFTs – non-fungible tokens – was also running in the soft air, although they have been slow to adjust to veteran collectors. Pace Gallery completed its first NFT art fair sale – a collaboration between Studio Drift in Amsterdam and musician Don Diablo for $ 500,000 (plus $ 50,000 donated to climate protection efforts).
Overall, however, the fair – along with its myriad satellite events, such as Untitled, NADA, and Design Miami – provided further proof that the art market is largely immune to social and political upheaval.
Most galleries, especially the top dealers, had strong sales, including a Noah Davis painting for $ 1.4 million and an Ad Reinhardt abstract for over $ 7 million at David Zwirner, as well as ‘a Keith Haring for $ 1.75 million and an Elizabeth Murray for $ 725,000 at Gladstone. Salon 94 sold a double Dutch jump rope sculpture by Karon Davis for $ 150,000 to streetwear mogul James Whitner.
âIt was kind of like Groundhog Day,â said Tim Blum of the Blum & Poe Gallery. “If you pass by the fair, you might think it is 2019.”
Indeed, the evenings were packed with dinners and parties – Alicia Keys performed in the immersive Superblue exhibition space in the Miami Design District – with most of the guests decked out wearing no masks (and lamenting the traffic jams). ). Many noted how happy they were to physically meet in Miami Beach to see art and kiss again (yes, aerial kisses are back).
“There is nothing quite like seeing people in person and having engaged conversations,” said Jo Stella-Sawicka, senior director of the Goodman Gallery, which has offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London. , adding that she was already flying to Florida when news of the new variant broke.
While the fair’s scheduled entrance precluded the usual opening scramble through the gates – and some collectors complained about not getting the time slots they wanted – gallery owners said the more spaced entrances allowed calmer, more substantive conversations with visitors.
While much of the art – as usual – was sold in advance via online previews or emailed PDFs, many dealers said several pieces were purchased during the fair itself.
Art fairs have long been seen as ripe for correction or consolidation, due to their proliferation and expense. The new LGDR firm – four powerful dealers who have joined forces – said he plans to drop such events in the United States
But several first-time gallery owners said Art Basel offers crucial exposure (they included the Rele Gallery in Lagos, which recently opened a branch in Los Angeles, and Nicola Vassell, which just opened in Chelsea in Manhattan) .
“Miami Basel is so international”, Patrick, the New York retailer, said: ‘you can meet a lot of customers. “
Joost Bosland of the South African Stevenson Gallery had planned to come to Art Basel only briefly, before Omicron changed all that.
“I was to stay here for a day,” he said. “Then the rest of the team didn’t make it.”
The SMAC Gallery, which has offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, has barely arrived in Miami. “We had to do it, otherwise the booth would have been empty,” said Baylon Sandri, one of the directors, adding that the ban was “unfair” as South Africa had only identified the presence of the news. variant.
Bonolo Kavula, the artist presented by SMAC who was in the booth, said: âNot coming was not an option – Art Basel is a hell of an opportunity.
“I’m not here just for myself,” she added. “It shows other artists back home that it is possible.”
KJ Freeman, the owner of the Housing gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was another newcomer benefiting from the increased participation of smaller galleries. She planned to show artist Arlene Wandera, whose sculptural pieces never arrived. Freeman therefore turned to the presentation of Nathaniel Oliver. When all of Oliver’s work sold out, she stuck a QR code on the wall of her booth through which visitors could view Wandera’s work.
âI was a performance artist,â Freeman said. âSo I can do an installation almost any day of the week. “
While Freeman said she was happy to have been invited to apply to the fair, she also said her modest operation didn’t necessarily fit the behemoths.
“I never sold anything beyond five figures – five low figures,” she said, adding that Wandera’s work was priced at $ 5,000 to $ 22,000 and Oliver’s was priced at $ 5,000 to $ 22,000. $ 3,000 to $ 18,000.
Among the Art Basel dealers invited to apply was Daudi Karungi from Afriart Gallery in Uganda, who said he appreciated the outreach. “It’s better than me knocking on that door,” he said.
Karungi’s booth, featuring a solo presentation of the work of Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya, sold out quickly, with each piece selling for between $ 50,000 and $ 75,000.
Ivy N. Jones of the Welancora Gallery, which is based in a brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said it was “an honor” to bring the work of Helen Evans Ramsaran, an American sculptor in her 70s. âThere are so many older artists out there who need someone to believe in them,â Jones said.
Likewise, Marcus Gora, co-founder of the First Floor Gallery in Zimbabwe, said the fair provided significant visibility for an artist like the one he showed in Miami, Troy Makaza, who combines painting and sculpture. âWe have grown and built,â said Gora. âIt is our gateway to the North American market. “
Karungi of Afriart said participating in the fair almost 20 years after his gallery was established is a milestone and that he hopes to serve as a model for other African galleries. âI started at the bottom in the industry,â he said. âAnd now we are here. “