Loyal buyers secure a positive start

Dedicated, long-term collectors turn out to support galleries and artists

Despite nerves on the set-up days before the fair, the collectors who were invited to Art Basel Miami Beach’s opening preview yesterday soon packed the aisles. The sheer turnout lifted the spirits of many, and while sales were much slower than the frenzied buying of earlier years, for many it was better than they feared.

“The shocking thing about this fair is how much is being sold. If you had asked me yesterday I would never have thought there would have been so many sales,” said major Miami collector Don Rubell. On the opening VIP day Emmanuel Perrotin (D2) had given over his stand to a solo show by Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri. It contained just two large mixed-media canvases valued at $250,000 each—one of which was bought by a Belgian collector right at the beginning of the fair. “I sold 50% of my stand within the first 20 minutes of the fair!” quipped Mr Perrotin.

Others’ reactions to the fair were more muted: Daniel Buchholz (D1), with galleries in Cologne and Berlin, said he was pleased to have sold one piece from stock in the first three hours of the fair. “I didn’t expect anything, so I am in a good mood,” he said. In Germany, where the economy is less dependent on the financial sector than in New York, he added: “Business is much better. Germans haven’t played with their money so much.”

Milan-based dealer Fran­cesca Kaufmann (A1) agreed, saying: “Europe is not doing bad at all. Artissima was actually very good and Milan is very active. I’ve been selling works [there] to people with old money rather than fast money.” Massimo de Carlo (C14) echoed the sentiment, but said that unfortunately many Europeans were not at the fair. However, major collectors, including Ingvild Goetz from Munich, Ulla Dreyfus from Basel, Swiss publisher Michael Ringier and Harald Falkenberg from Hamburg, could be seen roaming the aisles. Hauser & Wirth (C16), with galleries in London and Zurich, were able to report sales of works by Jason Rhoades, Mary Heilmann and Wilhelm Sasnal, all of which sold to European collectors.

Nevertheless many dealers said the major buyers at the fair were Americans. Jeff Burch, a director of PaceWildenstein (H10), said that on the opening day almost two-thirds of the gallery’s visitors had been from the US, with the rest from Europe. Some differences in the US market were also apparent: Los Angeles dealer Jeffrey Poe of Blum & Poe (C17) claimed: “Los Angeles collectors have really stepped it up. Hollywood isn’t as affected by the financial markets. People have contracts; business plays itself out years in advance.” By 5.30pm at the fair, Blum & Poe had sold 70% of its stand, including works by Mark Grotjahn, Matt Johnson, Friedrich Kunath, Dave Muller and Chiho Aoshima—all to Americans.

Perhaps galleries whose main hub is New York are feeling the pain of the economic crisis more acutely than galleries elsewhere. A high percentage of the local economy is based on banking and finance; the New York market contained more speculative buyers; and the higher you rise, the harder you fall. “New York is becoming frozen,” said Paris-based Kamel Mennour of Mennour (N2).

But some New Yorkers were clearly saving their money for the fair. Gagosian Gallery (E13) claimed business was “surprisingly strong” with six works sold by 5pm, including an Ed Ruscha, Woman on Fire, 1990, two Richard Princes and Anselm Reyle’s Untitled, 2008.  Arnold Lehman, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, said: “There are many New York collectors here including [MoMA supporter] Barbara Schwartz and [US fine and applied art collector] Janet Kardon: in fact there is a good vibe among them.” Other collectors at the fair included financier Donald Marron and MoMA president emeritus Agnes Gund, among many others.

Perhaps location mattered less overall than the type of collector. “People who have remained involved—but did not feel special once newer, more ambitious collectors moved in—have returned,” said Helene Winer, co-founder of Metro Pictures (E10). “It’s gone from the mega-scale back to human scale. Hedge fund collectors and Russian oligarchs are not collecting for domestic pleasure. It is the return of the husband-and-wife team who love art.”

Jeffrey Deitch (A8), who has been instrumental in the formation of European collections like that of Dakis Joannou, said: “It’s not about specific geographies, but about building a network of relationships over the years. I began building my network in 1974. When you’ve been doing this for 30 years, you don’t all of a sudden find yourself with no customers.

“It is like it was before the period of irrational exuberance. It is like an art fair ten years ago. We’ve had an extraordinary run, but we don’t now sell everything in the first half hour,” he added. His gallery sold Beatific Barack, 2008, by Kurt Kauper for $65,000 at the end of the first day.

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