Contemporary art USA

Art Basel Miami Beach ever hopeful

Despite loss of 60 galleries, fair returns with redesigned space and more dealers

NEW YORK. The eighth annual Art Basel Miami Beach converges from 3-6 December amid shaky times for art sellers. Around 40,000 visitors are expected, and fair organisers remain bullish. “What we are seeing, and what we saw at other shows in the fall, is that there is definitely a market for high quality art,” said Art Basel co-director Marc Spiegler.

Fair sales picked up with June’s Art Basel, and sales have continued to flow. “I had no sense of desperation at Fiac,” said New York art adviser Thea Westreich. “Most dealers did quite well at Frieze.”

However, 60 exhibitors from last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach are not returning, including Berlin’s Arndt & Partner, London galleries Waddington and Maureen Paley, and New York’s Per Skarstedt. Fair organiser have added 65 new exhibitors, including some who had previously been turned away. The 2009 edition now boasts 266 dealers from 33 countries.

Another big change is the fair’s physical appearance. The layout has been redesigned, adding 20% more exhibition space, with extra lounge areas, wider aisles and bigger stands. Some of the new space is allocated to the 23 younger exhibitors taking part in the Art Positions section. Formerly on show in beachside shipping containers at Collins Park, the section will now be housed in the Miami Beach Convention Center with the rest of the exhibitors. Its previous location is now called “Oceanfront”, and New York’s non-profit Creative Time has commissioned artist Pae White to create a setting for daily video and film screenings, performance art and panel discussions.

New York dealer Andrew Edlin is taking part in the fair for the first time. He was admitted to Art Positions with a solo show by film-maker Brent Green, whose DVDs and sculptures are priced at $1,000-$25,000. “My expectations are not unrealistic in terms of actual sales,” say Edlin. “But I know all the ancillary things that come out of fairs.” He is keen to network with other exhibitors and collectors and provide a context for his outsider artists.

New York dealer Edward Tyler Nahem, who specialises in postwar art, is also making his debut. For years he has consigned works to other galleries at the fair. “I’m tired of making everyone else’s stand look pretty,” he said. Dealer friends suggested he limit his inventory to work ranging from $100,000-$500,000—considered safe in a down market—but Nahem has a blue-chip plan. He is bringing a 1957 Sam Francis painting Towards Disappearance III, which had been “buried away in Japan” and is now priced around $5m-$6m. His stand will also include works by artists including Calder, Twombly and Basquiat.

“I think there is certainly money and interest out there,” said Nahem. “You can never gauge the success of a fair in the immediate moment. If we pay for the fair, I am happy.”

Despite the general dip in satellite fairs, Miami continues to attract a strong showing. The Wynwood Art District will host fairs including Red Dot, Scope, Art Miami and a new fair, Graffiti Gone Global. Pulse is relocating to the downtown Ice Palace, vacated by Nada (New Art Dealers Alliance).

The Nada fair is setting up with 80 exhibitors at the Deauville Beach Resort hotel, north of the main fair. “It’s going to be a much more pleasant experience,” said Nada director Heather Hubbs. The fair has been shortened by two days and has slashed booth prices to entice galleries. It has lost European dealers and had some top exhibitors poached by Art Basel Miami. But Hubbs said: “There are always good young galleries out there, and this year some people who have been trying to get in, got in.”

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