Issue #178  1/5/2011
Miami Art Week Sees Strong Activity and Big Crowds as Economy Floats Back

"We humans do not need to leave earth to get to a hostile, deadly, alien environment. We already have Miami."--humorist Dave Barry

By Alex Novak

It had been three years since I exhibited down in Miami during Art Week. The last time it was with the Association of International Art Photography Dealers (AIPAD) in December 2007. It was the group's one and only fair in Miami. For me it was a huge one--still my best ever results at a fair of any kind. Some of the other dealers there saw similar spectacular six-figure results, including Robert Klein, Barry Singer, Bruce Silverstein, Michael Shapiro, HackelBury Fine Art and Catherine Edelman. The show also got generally good reviews in the press and by art buyers with an interest in photography.

Some of these dealers and other AIPAD members found other venues when the AIPAD board cancelled its second show in Miami just a few months before the second show was to go on. Reportedly that decision was based on numbers that were only a single booth shy of break-even at the time, but it was a year when AIPAD was facing financial challenges.

I and others still think that was an unfortunate decision (for AIPAD, its dealers and photography's position in the market), but none-the-less photography is still well and alive in Miami during this tumultuous week, albeit spread out among many venues.

Photo Miami had been sold, but didn't survive its second year under new management, reportedly stranding many contemporary photography dealers, especially from Europe, which found themselves shut out of any shows this year.

All of these problems with photography shows and their show managements didn't reflect the actual strength and interest in the photography-based medium itself. Ironically, that is stronger than ever.

The primary places to see photography for sale did gravitate to the bigger art fairs here: Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Miami, Scope and Pulse. The huge numbers of shows have now shrunk from an announced high of 28 in 2008 to a mere nine fairs this year.

But the shows that are left have also grown in size, although not always for the better. Art Basel MB grew last year by bringing in the beach trash from its sandy container show and adding it to its perimeter, which took on the appearance of a third-world country art flea market. Art Miami added another tent to the two in place from last year, effectively increasing the show space by another 50% this year. That move cannibalized some of the exhibitors at other smaller shows, including Pulse and Scope, although Pulse picked off a couple of Art Miami's exhibitors in return.

To show the kind of interest in photography here: a very well attended photography show was presented at the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation. The exhibition, "Inside Out: Photography after Form, Selections from the Ella Cisneros-Fontanals Collection" was curated by Simon Baker and Tanya Barson (http://www.cifo.org ), and will remain open until March 6, 2011. As Berlin photo dealer Rudolf Kicken noted to me, "This CIFO event was a magnificent platform to connect people to the idea of basic photographic principles."

The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation is a non-profit organization that was established in 2002 by Ella Fontanals Cisneros and her family to foster cultural exchange among the visual arts. CIFO is dedicated to the support of emerging and mid-career contemporary multi-disciplinary artists from Latin America, who are challenging the established boundaries that define much of contemporary art today.

Another Latin American photographer/artist who seemed to be every where was Vik Muniz, whose new art film, "Waste Land" was selected as this year's Art Basel Miami Beach's Art Film event. The film follows Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he collaborated with an eclectic band of 'catadores', pickers of recyclable materials, to create a new series of works. The presentation in the Lincoln Theater, which was followed by a discussion with Vik Muniz, Dan Cameron and David Koh, was, according to the press release from Art Basel, "well-attended and received several standing ovations."

If all that wasn't enough, the Art Newspaper ran three major pieces on Muniz (and one on Andreas Gursky). Artist-photographers were hot, hot, hot! One of Muniz photographs sold for a reported $90,000 at Art Basel MB. One collector told me to watch Muniz's prices, which he felt would soon join other super-stars, such as Cindy Sherman and Andreas Gursky, in the mid to upper six figure range for better pieces.

Once again, some of Miami's leading private collections--among them the Margulies Collection, the Rubell Family Collection, the De La Cruz Collection, the Mora Collection, the Scholl Collection, and the Dacra Collection--opened their homes and warehouses to Miami Art Week attendees.

Despite problems with flights from both Europe (snow/ice) and New York's LaGuardia's airport (high winds) that stranded potential buyers, both Art Basel MB and Art Miami reported new attendance records at 46,000 and 50,000 attendees respectively, although the former clearly had a better claim on those numbers.

Other shows also had good attendance. Sales were another thing entirely. Contrary to the glowing reports in the Art Newspaper and the local press, dealers were experiencing mixed results. The spottiness seemed to be a factor of booth position and pure luck. Many dealers did indeed do very well here, while others did less well. Excepting the big name New York galleries at Art Basel MB, most of the sales actually didn't seem to make it out of the $25,000-30,000 upper range for many exhibitors. But sales up to that number could be very brisk.

With over 250 art dealers exhibiting more than 2,500 works of art in the Convention Center with over a half million square feet, Art Basel Miami Beach still lays claim as being the 800-pound guerilla during this week of art. Collectors still seem to wait until that fair opens before making many commitments--as irrational as that might be. Art Miami, with only a shade over 100,000 sq. ft. and 105 exhibitors, is the next biggest show and one of the best organized of the so-called satellite shows. Pulse and Scope follow behind these two behemoths.

Over at Art Basel MB, Rudolf Kicken sold an extremely rare and early Jaromir Funke abstract, although "the partner image of the Funke unfortunately didn't make it to the fair in time and accidentally travelled around the world instead, and thus is still for sale," according to a chagrinned Kicken.

Kicken reported: "The overall mood was good, though not sensational. The trend is strongly towards contemporary work, and the consumption area with prices up to $10,000 is also growing again after a little dip in the last two years."

"We did very well. We made some interesting new contacts especially with curators, and there are some follow-up sales pending, though we have to say that the American public at ABMB is a very straight forward one and so most of the sales were carried out on location."

Kicken noted, "Among our most discussed works was a contemporary piece by Dieter Appelt, "Das Feld"/"The Field" in 27 parts, available for $160,000. For the first time we presented the strong conceptual work with solarized, lengthy time exposures by German contemporary maverick Hans-Christian Schink. Becher-trained prodigy Götz Diergarten with his everyday architecture and his convincing new series METROpolis also proved to be as strong as ever."

Kicken mentioned that his "most spectacular piece was a László Moholy-Nagy early vintage photogram from the Bauhaus period, still available for $350,000."

Over at Art Miami, Chicago photo dealer Catherine Edelman told me: "We did unbelievably well with Gregory Scott's work. We sold out his two new photo/video pieces (ten pieces total) and have a serious waiting list of more than 15 people. Pieces ranged from $24-28,000 and were bought by a foundation in Spain, collectors in Peru, Columbia, Dallas, New York and Miami. We also sold pieces by most of the artists we brought, including a painted panel by Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, and work by Lauren Simonutti, Julie Blackmon, Tim Tate and Jeffrey Wolin. The best results I have ever seen at an art fair in my 20+ years of doing them!"

Besides some high priced paintings and other work, Galerie Patrice Trigano sold a Lucien Clergue to an American collector. The asking prices for these pieces were $20,000-$30,000. Contessa Gallery sold six David Drebin photographs ranging from $4,800 to $24,000, plus a sculpture commission for artist Jane Manus. Eli Klein Gallery sold a number of Asian art pieces, including eight photographs Lui Bolin and three by Cui Xiuwen.

Yet Barry Singer, who had sold nearly $300,000+ each of the two previous years here, told me that he had only gotten into the upper 50s level at Art Miami this year.

My own company, Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, sold over $130,000 in photography so far, and we're still working on some after-show sales that might add another $20,000 or so. But considering our costs and that the booth was the largest by far of any of our previous spaces and one of the very largest at Art Miami, this was a disappointing result, especially in view of our previous Miami outing. Three years ago we were well over $420,000 in a smaller booth with not as many important pieces. We did give out more business cards though than ever before--nearly 500. And we had has a great week just prior to the show, our single best of the year, selling about $200,000 during Thanksgiving Week.

At Miami, all of our buyers were Americans. The lack of European and South American buyers--despite the news reports to the contrary--was interesting. We saw the same thing the last time we exhibited: reports of international buyers, but no such buyers in our own experience. This time around it could definitely be because of the poor weather conditions in most of Europe. We did see a number of South Americans, particularly Brazilian, but they weren't buying--at least not with us.

Our results certainly weren't a reflection on a lack of quality material that we brought this time round. Included on Contemporary Works/Vintage Works walls was an important and early Frank Auerbach oil painting, which was just shown at Oxford University's Courtauld Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art, which used this painting in its Oct. 2009-Jan. 2010 retrospective show, "Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites, 1952-1962." It got lots of attention from dozens of art dealers and consultants, as well as collectors. I felt it was probably the most important piece at Art Miami, and one of the most important pieces showing that week in Miami.

Of course, our exhibit also featured top photographic works--both contemporary and vintage.

On the contemporary side there was a significant selection of Robert Mapplethorpe, Alec Soth, Robert Polidori, Irving Penn and Mitch Dobrowner, as well as top individual contemporary pieces by Helmut Newton, Vik Muniz, Nobuyoshi Araki, Zhang Huan, and Luis González Palma. We sold two Soth's, two important Palma's, one Mitch Dobrowner and one Robert Polidori. We did have lots of interest in the rest, but, as we noted previously, the buyers seem to set themselves about a $25,000 limit, which was strange in a week of six- and seven-figure sales reports--most from over at Art Basel MB, where dealers are well known for their big "pre-sales" and announcements of those sales at the show itself for the publicity.

International artist Lisa Holden attended the fair, and Contemporary Works/Vintage Works featured a large selection of some her newest work from both the Lilith Series and the Constructed Landscape Series. Several of her pieces sold during the show, and a number more are still pending. We will show a nice selection at Photo LA as well.

As in the past, the booth contained some gems of vintage photography, including work by László Moholy-Nagy, Edward Weston, Raoul Ubac, Edward Steichen, Horst, Brassai, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Aaron Siskind, Josef Sudek, Francois Kollar, Lee Friedlander, Robert Rauschenberg, Ilse Bing, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pierre Jahan, Brett Weston, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Janusz Maria Brzeski (a unique collage from his famed "Sex Progress" series), Willy Ronis, Clarence John Laughlin, Loewy & Puiseux (a wall grid of large moonscapes) and Julius Shulman (another wall, but of vintage architectural views). Three of the Shulman's and Cartier-Bresson's sold, as well as several other vintage pieces, and we will be bringing many of the other pieces with us to Photo LA, and most, along with other top 20th-century pieces, can be found on our website at: http://www.vintageworks.net/search/result_list.php/7/0/1900/2019/5000/100000/BBB/0 .

Over at Pulse, New York City contemporary photography art dealer Julie Saul told me, "We were quite happy with the fair, particularly the work of emerging gallery artist Debbie Grossman (you can see all about her on our site). We sold over 30 prints to some very good collectors, museum people and other dealers. A large museum sale is pending. We will show the work at the gallery in April.

LA dealer Paul Kopeikin reported, "I did well at Pulse and expect strong follow-up from the show. David Schoerner’s series of eight images (I showed five) based on the Gerhard Richter’s painting "After Betty". Prints are $2,500, plus framing, and are produced in an edition of three, plus two artist proofs.

All in all, Miami's Art Week seems to have rebounded to levels closer to pre-Financial Crash years. Results, as typical, were spotty, but some hot contemporary works did very well here.