As 2020 draws to close, the art market’s traditional last marquee event has opened virtually—like most other things have in a chaotic year marked by a global pandemic—and several galleries have reported numerous sales across the board.
After Art Basel was forced to cancel the in-person iterations of all three of its fairs in Hong Kong, Basel, Switzerland, and Miami Beach, it pivoted to the virtual realm with online viewing rooms. Many dealers had reported slow sales at various other online fairs throughout the fall, but that didn’t seem to be the case this time around for Art Basel OVR: Miami Beach, which opened to VIPs today and runs until December 6.
As the in-person Miami Beach fair typically attracts heavyweights from throughout the world, this iteration, which 255 participants spanning 30 countries, was no exception, with mega-galleries like Pace, Gagosian, David Zwirner, and Hauser & Wirth all offering their wares on Art Basel’s website.
“From the very outset of the pandemic and in spite of its significant challenges—from pivoting from live to digital presentations, to working within in an atmosphere of uncertainty—we’ve maintained that the very best art and the most committed collectors will remain steadfast and strong,” Hauser & Wirth president Marc Payot said. “And this first day of Art Basel Miami Beach has proven that position correct. Great works are in demand, and there is enormous appetite and confidence among the savviest collectors.”
Hauser & Wirth is one of many vendors using the online segment to promote exhibitions at its brick-and-mortar locations (which typically cannot happen during Art Basel Miami Beach, since the gallery does not have a Florida venue). The blue-chip dealer landed a number of early sales in the first few hours of the VIP preview, including George Condo’s oil painting Distanced Figures (2020) for $2.2 million, John Chamberlain’s painted-and-stainless-steel sculpture SUPERSTARMARTINI (1999) for $1 million, Rashid Johnson’s oil on linen Anxious Red Painting July 8th 2020 for 675,000, Avery Singer’s Soda Gun (2020) for $425,000, and Simone Leigh’s bronze sculpture Sphinx (2020) for $400,000. Buyers also snatched up works by Lorna Simpson, Mary Heilmann and Nicolas Party for prices between $300,000–$350,000.
Even more impressive were the number of sales done by Zwirner, which had moved some 20 works by the day’s end, including Ruth Asawa’s hanging wire sculpture Untitled (S.786, Hanging Two-Sectioned, Open-Window Form), ca. 1954–58, for $2.5 million; Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture Flowers That Bloom at Midnight, 2009, for $1.8 million; Joan Mitchell’s multi-colored abstraction Untitled (ca. 1956), for $1.2 million; Bridget Riley’s painting Intervals 4 (2019) for $1.2 million; Lisa Yuskavage’s painting Photoshoot (2020) for $900,000; and Alice Neel’s painting Aaron Kramer (1958) for $750,000. The gallery also sold works by Carol Bove, Josh Smith, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noah Davis, and Ad Reinhardt.
Elsewhere in the online viewing rooms, Kasmin sold a David Hockney ink-on-paper work, Gregory, Hot Springs Arkansas (1976), for a six-figure sum. A 2020 Ian Davenport aluminum panel work, titled Purple and Blue Study (After Bonnard), from 2020, went for $85,000, Jane Freilicher’s painting Misty Pond (1969) sold for $70,000, James Nares’s oil-on-linen Vroom (2020) went for $100,000, and Bernar Venet’s Indeterminate Line (2020) was bought for $85,000.
“There certainly doesn’t seem to be any online art fair fatigue,” Kasmin senior director Eric Gleason said. “We’ve been inundated with inquiries since well before the Miami Basel OVR launched and there has been a constant stream of sales.”
Gray gallery, which has locations in Chicago and New York, also had success with work by Hockney, selling a slightly abstract 1993 oil painting by the artist for an undisclosed price.
“Art Basel Miami Beach has, for so long, been the culminating event of the art calendar and despite being online this year, the energy feels consistent relative to the real thing,” Raven Falquez Munsell, a Chicago-based director for Gray, said. “After nearly a year of communicating at a distance and through new means, our clients continue to engage with and support our program. In many ways, we are more actively connected to our clients than we have ever been.”
Dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, whose namesake gallery has outposts in London, Paris and Salzburg, sold Jules de Balincourt’s Take Us With You (2020) for $150,000 to an Asia-based collector; Bjarne Melgaard’s painting A Damaged Man (2020) for €14,000; Jack Pierson’s Roses Eros (1993) for $100,000 to a European collection; an untitled Robert Rauschenberg work on paper from 1969 for $450,000 to an Asia-based collector; David Salle’s Thinking, Looking (2020) for $300,000 to an Asia-based collector; and Alex Katz’s oil on linen Reflection (2020) for $650,000 to a private collection in Germany.
Part of the dealer’s strategy was to include a group of artists both new and established on the gallery’s roster, “and [to] include works at varied price points in response to this broadening of collector base and their different requirements,” Ropac said. “We’re certainly missing the in-person experience of Miami Beach, but everyone has become more accustomed to this new reality of online fairs, which are working increasingly well as they’ve developed.”
Another common strategy that dealers have employed as they have become more comfortable with virtual art fairs is to build out programming to accompany their presentations. (Art Basel also offers several VIP walkthroughs.)
L.A.’s Philip Martin Gallery hosted a panel discussion on the work of photographer Kwame Brathwaite ahead of his traveling retrospective opening at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, next year. That led to a successful first day for the gallery, which sold eight photographs (in multiple sizes) by Brathwaite for prices between $4,000 and $12,000. The gallery also sold three paintings by Tomory Dodge for prices between $25,000–$80,000, three paintings by Kristy Luck for prices around $9,500, two paintings by Pamela Jorden for $12,500–$18,000, and a Holly Coulis for $15,000. In an email, the gallery said that it had had steady inquires throughout the day via email, phone calls, and texts, as well as over Art Basel’s OVR platform.
Brazilian gallery Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel titled its presentation “10 artists | 10 films,” which included works made this year under the pandemic’s lockdown, some of them hosted on the enterprise’s own website. The gallery has been actively thinking through how it can adapt its offerings for the virtual realm, participating in several online fairs and presenting seven digital exhibitions.
“These projects proved to be incredible learning experiences for the gallery and served as experimentation grounds to rethink and understand new ways of showcasing artworks within the current context,” Alexandre Gabriel, Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel partner-director, said. “For Art Basel OVR: Miami Beach we decided to explore the unique features that the virtual sphere offers, allowing access to works that have been imagined and produced for a screen. Along with exhibiting them at Art Basel’s platform, we created a new platform designed to enhance such an experience.”
The buying frenzy didn’t end with top galleries—midsized dealers such as L.A.’s Kohn gallery saw a surge of interest for emerging artists. Kohn placed a large-scale painting by Chicago-based artist Caroline Kent with a major U.S. institution for a price of $28,000 and an Ilana Savdie work sold to a U.S. private museum for $18,500. The gallery also sold two paintings by Heidi Hahn, one to a foundation in Europe and another to a major private collection in the U.S. each for $16,500, and works by Kate Barbee, Sophia Narrett and William Brickel went to collectors.
“Since we can’t interact with collectors in person,” Michael Kohn, the gallery’s founder, said, “we strategize and compose, like film directors, how to render interesting and enticing what a collector sees on the screen.”
Bennett Roberts, cofounder of L.A.’s Robert Projects, said “sales have been quite brisk,” reporting that the gallery had placed works from rising artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s new series “Black Cowboy” with notable institutions and collections at prices ranging from $10,000–$50,000. The dealer also sold paintings by Amoako Boafo, Wangari Mathenge, Kehinde Wiley, and Dominic Chambers, who recently joined the gallery’s roster.
Brussels-based dealer Xavier Hufkens sold Roni Horn’s This is Me, This is You for $750,000, Thomas Houseago’s Golden Skull – Transition (Metamorphis) for $350,000, Nicolas Party’s Landscape for $250,000, Zhang Enli’s A Writer: $220,000, and a work by Tracey Emin and Sterling Ruby’s for prices between $55,000–$85,000. Dealer Anthony Meier said the gallery had had a “successful first day,” selling several works by Rosie Lee Tompkins and John Chamberlin for prices in the range of $100,000–$400,000.
London’s Timothy Taylor gallery sold works by Daniel Crews-Chubb, Hilary Pecis, Annie Morris and Honor Titus to collectors in the U.S. and abroad at prices between $11,500 to £65,000 ($87,000). Boston-based Steven Zevitas gallery sold two works by Rona Pondick for prices between $16,000–$65,000 in their first time participating in Art Basel Miami Beach.
Galerie Lelong & Co. had a presentation titled “November 3rd,” which took its name from a painting by Samuel Levi Jones, who had titled it after this year’s Election Day. The work, along with three others, had sold on the first day for an undisclosed price. Another significant work that the gallery was offering was Ana Mendieta’s film, Butterfly (1975). The work is typically only accessible through in-person presentations, but the artist’s estate has made an excerpt available to stream for the fair.
“Art Basel Miami Beach has continually been one of the highlights of our year starting with the first ABMB in 2002,” Mary Sabbatino, Lelong’s vice president and partner, said. “This is our first December not in Miami and while we are very much missing not having the physical fair, we are pleased to present in the OVR and through our in-person viewing room at Museo Vault.”
Despite the rush of sales, many dealers echoed this sentiment of missing the in-person iteration of Art Basel Miami Beach. It was clear, however, that dealers were settling into a new routine. Almine Rech had sold works by Vaughn Spann, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Chloe Wise, Otis Quaicoe, and Genesis Tramaine. The gallery’s managing partner, Paul de Froment, said, “By this point, we’ve all become much more accustomed to online formats.”