Art Basel Miami Beach

The Brazilians are coming. So are the Argentinians. Collectors from Mexico, Peru and Uruguay are also set to make an appearance next week at Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), the high-profile fair launched in Florida in 2002 with an eye firmly on the Latin American market. The move made sense: Brazil’s GDP is predicted to grow by at least 7 per cent this year. But is the city really the de facto art capital of Latin America on US soil?

“Latin American collectors are becoming increasingly committed internationally. The reason we come to this fair is for them,” says the Paris-based dealer Chantal Crousel, who is showing a new work by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco (“81 Euroman”, a gold leaf print on canvas priced at $200,000) and a series of hand-made prints by the Puerto-Rico based duo Allora & Calzadilla (“Intermission Halloween Iraq V”, $70,000).

US collectors who shunned the major European autumn fairs are also expected in the Sunshine State, notes Marc Spiegler, ABMB co-director. But the Latin American art invasion has equal clout, reflecting the strong presence of South Americans in the city (according to the National Association of Realtors, in 2009 17 per cent of international buyers in the Miami area were from Venezuela).

But which artists are they investing in? “We work with some informed collectors in Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil who have made a significant commitment to the art of Joan Mitchell, and to that of other first-generation abstract expressionist painters. Their long-term interest in historical figures from the region – such as Hélio Oiticica – is consistent with their search for great non-representational work of the New York School,” says Adam Sheffer of New York’s Cheim & Read, who is showing a new word sculpture, “The Modern”, by Jack Pierson, priced at $200,000.

Argentine collectors Juan Vergez and Patricia Pearson-Vergez point out that they have attended the fair every year since its inception and are on the hunt for works by British artist Mathew Hale this time. Other Miami fairs are banking on buyers from Brazil and beyond. Angeliki Georgiou, director of the Zoom Art Fair (December 1-5), a new event at the South Seas hotel with 20 Middle Eastern exhibitors including Ayyam Gallery in Damascus, sees the “large concentration of Arabs in South America as a potential collector source”.

The collector base may be growing but so is the value of art from the region. Miami gallery Cernuda Arte, an ABMB first-timer, will offer “Les Fiancés” by the late Cuban Wifredo Lam for $3m, following the record auction price ($2.2m) recently achieved at Sotheby’s New York for his 1970 oil “Les Abalochas dansent pour Dhambala, dieu de l’unité”.

Blue-chip 20th-century art is holding its value, as evinced by Warhol’s “Coca-Cola (4) (Large Coca-Cola),” which fetched $35.4m at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale in New York earlier this month. But the strength of the Manhattan day sales, with Christie’s making $67m from its November 11 postwar and contemporary auction, especially indicated a fizzing market. “For some contemporary galleries dealing in emerging artists, there may still be a hard climb,” stresses dealer Ramon Cernuda. But New York-based art adviser Anna Di Stasi said: “The exceptional auction results, particularly given the large amount of material offered, proved we have entered a period of stabilisation.”

“I do not see any other asset appreciate so much globally, that gains consistently in value beyond volatile currency-exchange rates,” observes Berlin gallerist Matthias Arndt, one of 11 dealers returning to the Miami fair after a one-year hiatus with works by Thomas Hirschhorn (a 1992 wall-piece, €60,000), two new paintings by Jitish Kallat ($125,000 each) and pieces by Brazilian Vik Muniz ranging from $29,000 to $150,000. He expects clients from Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and eastern Europe.

The fair, which this year has 260 stands, also proves popular with NRIs (non-resident Indians) based in London, New York and California’s Silicon Valley, along with Russian collectors, says Spiegler. But what about the Chinese, who have been so dominant at recent auctions? Craig Robins, founder of the Design Miami Basel fair, expects a “substantial” showing of Chinese visitors this year, building on the steady flux of collectors in recent years, among them property developers Zhang Xin (Soho China) and Dai Zhi Kang (Zendai Group).

For now, it’s hola in Miami – but get used to hearing ni hao more frequently at fairs worldwide.

Art Basel Miami Beach runs from December 2-5.

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