Buyers and dealers unswervingly snapping up art at Miami fairs, despite economic slump

How young dealers are on the up


A lazy pace infused the Miami art fairs last month. After all, the art sector is still unquestionably a buyers’ market. But, there was one stark exception—a frenzied pocket of bustle where the mood, rather jarringly, resembled nothing less than the 2007 boom.

At the VIP opening of the annual Nada and Pulse art fairs, havens for new, young art, a scrum of museum trustees, eagle-eyed curators and eager collectors jostled and jockeyed, buying up works with prices starting in the low thousands.

At Nada, in a matter of hours, Lower East Side dealer Augusto Arbizo of Eleven Rivington sold nearly everything on his stand, racking up sales in excess of $100,000. Works by Michael DeLucia and Jeronimo Elespe were snapped up by museum trustees as Arbizo scribbled down names for waiting lists.

Across the way, collectors pounced on Valerie Snobeck’s mirror wall sculptures at Renwick Gallery and Alex Olson’s abstract paintings at Lisa Cooley. If aesthetics diverged, pricing did not. Three years ago, $15,000 seemed the point of entry for any artist a couple of years out of art school. Now prices start around $2,500 and go up from there.

Even seasoned buyers are surprised by the affordability. Sarah Aibel, curator for hedge fund manager Adam Sender, fell for Jason Loebs’ paintings, tagged at $3,500 at Renwick Gallery. “They were sizable paintings,” said Aibel. “I couldn’t believe it when the dealer told me how inexpensive they were.” Art advisers are steering their clients towards these new names, tagged at guilt-free levels. “There’s a huge appetite for good work under $10,000 right now,” said New York based art advisor Candace Worth.

This mini-bubble for emerging art has been building over the past year, but its appearance is still something of a surprise. In the wake of the financial crisis, many market soothsayers—including myself—expected younger dealers to fare the worst. In fact, a select group—many of whom took part in the recent Nada fair—have survived, and even thrived over the past six to 12 months, selling out shows and fending off overtures by big name dealers.

So what’s behind the boom, beyond the obvious appeal of well-made, well-priced works? It comes down to the fact that a handful of these younger gallerists are perfectly attuned to the times, hitting the perfect spot in terms of programme, sensibility and style. Partly it’s the context. The Lower East Side (LES) is the alternative Chelsea. No matter how great a destination Chelsea may be for viewing contemporary art, after a decade of expansion and development, the area has lost any air of intimacy and bohemian flair—all of which is in abundance on the LES and other further out areas. The younger dealers are more relaxed and approachable, with less commercial thrust.

As old-timers know well, the emergence of an alternative gallery scene—even on Manhattan’s LSE—is nothing new. Dealers have historically migrated in search of cheap rent in distinctive, edgy locales. Young dealers gravitated to a pre-gentrified East Village in the mid-1980s.

And how about the dealers themselves? They may be young, but they bring art world experience and determination. Many of the favourites, including James Fuentes, Rachel Uffner, Lisa Cooley and Candice Madey, worked for established dealers prior to going solo. “Collectively we have decades of experience,” said Fuentes, who previously worked for Deitch Projects. “Maybe that’s an underlying foundation.”

Ultimately, part of the appeal of the LES is the idealistic and infectious magic of a network of galleries for whom commerce and selling is something sideline, only possible when the rents are low and the dreams aim high. “The LES is about building ideas,” said Miguel Abreu, who makes a habit of inviting philosophers to speak at his gallery. “Art is there to pay the bills. In a sense we are doing something more than selling art.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Alive and kicking, despite the slump'