Chelsea—with Palm Trees

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Bigger and Better at Basel Miami

Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 1, 2006


Everything is expected to be bigger at the four-day international art fair Art Basel Miami Beach. That includes the crowds, the number of galleries, the sales — and, as always, the dominating presence of New Yorkers.

At the fair, which opens to VIPs on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, New York dealers will occupy 59 of 156 main booths at the Miami Beach Convention Center. No other city comes close: 11 galleries are coming from London (counting Gagosian Gallery twice), 10 from Berlin, six from Los Angeles, and one from Beijing.

Add the New York-based curators, advisers, and artists traveling to Miami, and it’s easy to see why next week South Beach will feel like Chelsea — with palm trees.

Coming off healthy auction sales in November, dealers are optimistic about their prospects. “Last year we sold many pictures above the million-dollar threshold. We’re hoping for the same this year. The market is strong right now,” a director of Acquavella Galleries, Nicholas Acquavella, said.

The frenzy of fair preparations reached a high pitch this week as dealers shipped off artwork and deliberated on where to install the works in their booths. Some build three-dimensional models and tape miniature color printouts of their works to the walls; others tape the outline of their booths on the floor of their New York gallery spaces. Others work it all out on paper or in their heads.

Dealers tend to create a cohesive presentation that appears more like a curated show than a storefront. The small closets in each booth are filled with works that will replace the ones that are sold.

“We’re in the throes of last-minute decision making,” the director of the Richard Gray Gallery on Madison Avenue, Andrew Fabricant, said Monday. By Tuesday, the works, including a David Hockney portrait, a Jim Dine sculpture, and a Joan Mitchell painting, were on their way. Galleries often select artists based on their work in shows and projects that are receiving attention. Sperone Westwater is bringing out two paintings and several drawings by Guillermo Kuitca, who’ll be in the spotlight when his first outdoor commission is unveiled at Miami’s Aqua, a luxury real estate development by Craig Robins. A show of his also just opened in Zurich; in the spring he will be representing Argentina in the Venice Biennale.

Mr. Kuitca, who is attending the fair for the first time this year, plans to keep a low profile there. “I am shy. I can’t be standing next to my work. It feels a little bit awkward for me,” he said.

The timing was also right for 303 Gallery to bring a new Doug Aiken piece, a month before his video work “Sleepwalkers,” featuring Tilda Swinton, Cat Power, and Donald Sutherland, is projected on the façade of the Museum of Modern Art.

Galleries such as Brooke Alexander Editions and Sean Kelly Gallery, both of which carry work by Lorna Simpson, are bringing it to satisfy demand generated by her nationally touring show, which is currently at the Miami Art Museum.

The fair is a time for galleries to show new artists. James Cohan Gallery is exhibiting “The Good War” by Alison Elizabeth Taylor, who had her first show at the gallery this fall.

Sean Kelly Gallery is showing Los Carpinteros, a Cuban duo that makes large works on paper and sculpture. The pair’s sculpture, “Pool Pool,” is a swimming pool in the shape of a pool table that contains 150 gallons of water. “The fair will be our chance to make this relationship public,” the executive director of Sean Kelly Gallery, Cecile Panzieri, said of the duo.

Mitchell-Innes & Nash is showing the work of figurative painter and recent Columbia MFA graduate Natalie Frank. “She’s a very bright woman, a tremendously talented painter who is a natural athlete when it comes to color,” Lucy Mitchell-Innes said. Her 2006 painting “Voila Les Americains” will be on view.

When it comes to contemporary art, setting up a booth can be more complicated than hanging paintings. On Tuesday, Studio 94’s artist Kelly Nipper tested for the first time a sculpture made of ice that will be displayed in a trailer on the beach. Part of Art Positions, her work is in a section of the fair devoted to younger galleries and artists.

“If our mobile works, it’s going to be amazing,” Studio 94’s director, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, said.

Also in Art Positions this year is the Zach Feuer Gallery, whose founder helped start the New Art Dealers Alliance fair, one of 11 satellite fairs that have sprung up around the primary fair. He will be showing a Berlin artist, Christoph Ruckhaberle, two of whose works sold at the Phillips de Pury contemporary art auction last month.

Even with the months of preparation, the fair itself, with its 12-hour days, is the most challenging. “It’s one of the hardest weeks of the year for us. It’s a lot of work,” Mr. Feuer said.

So what are New York collectors looking for? “I’m interested in seeing what is new, innovative, and significant,” the art collector and investor Donald Marron said. “I make certain to visit those art dealers who are my friends.”

Some collectors make a point of visiting galleries they don’t get to visit in person. That’s fine by New York dealers, who look at the fair as an opportunity to build new relationships with collectors from all over the world. New York dealers also make an effort to have materials that even their local collectors have not seen.

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