Art Basel is back and it means business. The larger, more understated extravaganza opened its doors to a VIP crowd on Miami Beach for the eighth time Wednesday, filling all 502,000 square feet of the Miami Beach Convention Center with commerce and a cornucopia of art-savvy collectors and fashionistas (a prime place for people watching as well, some of the evening’s creative ensembles rivaled the art itself).
The exclusive who’s who artsy-fartsy crowd included a smattering of celebrities and renowned designers such as Val Kilmer, Calvin Klein, and Sylvester Stallone, who not only attended the fair but had a few pieces of his own in the mix as well. Though an unusual exhibitor among the 2,000 international and local artists showcased, Sly was able to walk away with a little extra cash in his pocket. Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas resort and casino developer, purchased “The Electric Burst of Creativity”, a colorful painting done by the actor and sold by the Zurich Gmurzynska Gallery, for $40,000. He also sold a self-portrait entitled “Trapped Ideals” for $50,000 to an art gallery.
Though redesigned to include more art, and elbow room for its perusal, the labyrinth-like space jam-packed with paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography, videos, performances, cultural programs and people was slightly overwhelming. I can only imagine the madhouse that must have ensued once it opened to the public on Thursday. The new layout allowed for extended space in the Art Galleries, Art Kabinett, and Art Nova sectors, in addition to the enhanced Art Collectors Lounge and additional lounges by sponsors UBS, Cartier, NetJets and AXA Art. The Art Positions sector, dedicated to young and emerging galleries, moved this year from their previous home in shipping containers to the showroom floor.
The prestigious fair showcased a comprehensive mix of awe-inspiring work ranging from familiar classic modernism to the downright strange. The Landau Gallery, which appeared front and center, showcased an impressive collection of classically elegant paintings and sculptures from the likes of Picasso and Monet. Others, such as the James Fuentes Gallery, looked more like pop culture on crack. The stenciled message “ambiguity could have been avoided here” that appeared on a bare wall seemed to be a fitting statement about much of the work seen throughout the evening. Many more made a bold statement, such as the 13-foot red, white, and blue resin sculpture titled “American Risk” by Sterling Ruby, which sold for $200,000 by the PaceWildenstein gallery.
A massive black beaded piece adorned with gold Hebrew lettering by Bili Bidjocka posed the question usually reserved for Passover seder: Why is this night different from all other nights? On this night, not only are we free to recline, but to buy as well. Vernissage is a highly profitable event for galleries and artists alike, and this year was no exception. Negotiations were in and talk of the economy was out.
Art Basel Miami Beach will run through Sunday, December 6. The most important art show in the country and the social networking event of the season, this is one you won’t want to miss.