Miami: off to a flying start

Forget the beach: now is the time of the year when Miami turns its back on the sea and casts its eyes on the work of 2,500 artists, represented by over 250 galleries from all over the world, at the US edition of Art Basel. “We know for sure that great people are coming and we know for sure they are not coming to sit on the beach,” says Marc Spiegler, the fair’s director.

During the VIP preview day of its ninth edition, business was brisk. Within 30 minutes of the opening, for example, London’s Timothy Taylor gallery had sold Sean Scully’s “Cut Ground Pink Black Pink” (2010), a fizzy, colourful array of stripes and rectangles, for $750,000. “It’s still very, very early in the fair but we sold one of the strongest things on the booth”, says Oscar Humphries, who works in international sales at the gallery.

However, it was the local Cernuda gallery that grabbed everyone’s attention, after selling two paintings by the Cuban modernist Wifredo Lam in the first 90 minutes: “Les Fiancés” (1944) for $3m and “Femme Cheval” (1959) for $600,000. “It has been a great opening for this edition of Art Basel Miami Beach,” says gallery owner Ramón Cernuda. “We’ve brought in just the Cuban ‘vanguardia’ of the early 20th century and we’ve already sold 10 works, including our stellar painting [‘Les Fiancés’] that depicts the artist marrying Helena Holzer.”

Cernuda believes that Art Basel Miami Beach is well placed to benefit from a growing global interest in Latin American art. “We are very much impressed by the level of collectors attending Art Basel and by the interest they are showing in Latin American art,” he says. “Americans, Europeans and others are now realising a Wifredo Lam can sit next to a Pablo Picasso.”

Among the big galleries business also seemed to be thriving. According to Marc Payot of Hauser & Wirth, ABMB got off to an excellent start: “Some important pieces have been sold and some are in the pipeline. We feel a much stronger presence of international collectors this year; it seems Art Basel it is becoming the only fair covering the entire world.” Noteworthy sales include Roni Horn’s “Well . . . ” (2009-10), for $750,000, and Bharti Kher’s “Symphony” (2010), for $175,000, to a European and South American collection respectively.

Tim Marlow of London’s White Cube gallery is similarly cheerful, believing that the Miami fair was never “hammered” by the recession like other art fairs. “Miami always had a kind of momentum behind it.” For Marlow, as with any opening day in Miami, big sales happened “immediately” on Wednesday, with Andreas Gursky’s “James Bond Island 1” (2007) fetching €400,000 ($520,000).

This year ABMB’s organisers have put the “Art Positions” and “Art Nova” sections, devoted to emerging galleries and artists, alongside the more established dealers. “These are two sections I particularly enjoy,” says Elizabeth Neilson, who heads the Zabludowicz Collection in London. “It is really important to be able to give the younger galleries a chance to show their rising stars and that for us is a really exciting place to be.” She adds that, for curators like her, this is an opportunity to see artists one does not normally get the chance to see “in the flesh”.

But not everyone is turning their back on the beach: this year’s winning entry for Creative’s Time Oceanfront competition is an installation of reflective and phosphorescent ropes around a metal structure that occupies an entire block at waterfront Collins Park. Designed by Phu Hoang Office and Rachely Rotham Studio, it showcases one city per night – Berlin, Detroit, Glasgow and Mexico City – through film, music and video performances.

Lest the fair get overwhelming, the organisers have developed applications for iPhones and BlackBerries to help visitors navigate their way around and earmark their favourite pieces. Even old ABMB hands may find them useful. “There are a lot of new things happening in this edition of the fair. A lot,” says Spiegler.

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