|New Miami Art Fair Warms Up Despite Freeze (25.1.2010)|
|“Better than expected” was the resounding refrain among exhibitors as the first edition of the Miami International Art Fair (MIA) drew to a close on Sunday, Jan. 10, when attendance spiked, bringing the official count for the fair, which opened Jan. 6, to 17,000 visitors. Expectations are lower in the current economic climate, especially for a new venture, but attendance was further affected by unseasonably low temperatures that nearly froze Florida and kept some locals at home.|
“It’s a starting fair, so you have to trust that it will get better in the future,” said Caridad Botella, director of the Amsterdam-based Witzenhausen Gallery, which opened a New York branch last September. So Botella is familiar with the need for “time to get established as a name,” and she already plans to return to the fair next year. She noted that she was hoping to close deals next weekend at Art Palm Beach on the $22,000 nine-canvas grid Pixel Ate Us (2006) and vast $28,000 untitled diptych (2008) by Federico Junca Acebedo, a Colombian painter based in Miami who composes anthropomorphic figures by overlapping organic shapes.
Witzenhausen, along with half of MIA’s 80 exhibitors, will be showing similar wares at Art Palm Beach (formerly Palm Beach3), also run by art-fair pioneers David and Lee Ann Lester through their company International Fine Art Expositions (IFAE). The Lesters founded Art Miami almost two decades ago, when it was held during the same time slot in the first weekend of January. They sold that fair in 1999, before Art Basel came to town and sapped support for Art Miami, eventually convincing its next organizers to move up a month to join the slew of smaller fairs that have latched onto the juggernaut’s coattails.
Many of MIA’s exhibitors participated in those satellite fairs only a month ago, when the intense competition for collectors made for much different experiences, some more profitable than others. Sundaram Tagore — a former director at PaceWildenstein whose own intercultural gallery now has locations in New York, Beverly Hills, and Hong Kong — sold a work from influential Japanese painter Hiroshi Senju’s series rendering waterfalls in fluorescent pigment mixed with glue on mulberry paper mounted on board, updating the ancient nihonga painting technique. Established clients who split their time between New York and Florida, and who already own a smaller Senju piece, snapped up the meditative Day Falls/Night Falls VI (2007) for $240,000. While sales of the Middle Eastern artists featured at Art Asia were stronger, Susan McCaffrey, the director of its New York gallery, appreciated “the remarkable difference in pace.” She observed, “It’s nice because you can take time to really give collectors thorough information.”
Indeed, David Lester describes MIA as “the anti-Basel,” a “user-friendly” fair on a less intimidating scale that invites visitors to stroll through the aisles in a more leisurely manner. With a “heavy focus on local and Latin American galleries,” the contemporary artworks here are also decidedly more accessible in both their images and their price tags.
“During Art Basel, people come to buy,” said Alfredo Guzman of Miami’s Dot Fiftyone Gallery. In contrast, said partner Isaac Perelman, collectors “come to [MIA to] discover, and if they like something, then they buy.” It’s like “a new shop that doesn’t yet have a clientele,” he added. In addition to Dot Fiftyone’s primary booth, where one of Spanish photographer Paz Juristo’s abstractions of “Architecture in Movement” sold for $3,500, the gallery mounted an oversized wooden cityscape by Leonel Matheu. Visitors could pose for a professional photograph amid the Cuban painter’s colorful symbols for a $25 donation to the International Kids Fund, the beneficiary of MIA’s Dec. 6 preview and an unaffiliated auction of Latin American art each spring, which brings critically ill children to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital for medical treatments unavailable in their primarily Latin American and Caribbean home countries.
Perelman and Guzman also helped curate a special exhibition of the “Next Generation,” artists whose youthful perspective and interactive media appealed to the fair’s younger attendees. A huge crowd-pleaser there was the Caracas-based Galeria D’Museo’s installation of titillating stereograms by Pedro Morales, a Venezuelan pioneer of digital art. His 2009 “Bordados Porno,” or “Erotic Embroideries,” weave pedestrian objects such as hair elastics and plastic googly eyes into patterns embedded with outlines of couplings drawn from the Kama Sutra that are revealed when viewed through three-dimensional glasses. The exposure didn’t translate into sales, though, and all those displayed remained available for $5,000 each.
“Next Generation” Miami dealer Anthony Spinello sold to an established local collector two sculptures by Cuban artist Enrique Gomez de Molina, who employs his family tradition of taxidermy to seamlessly merge disparate animals into impossible hybrids. WTF? went for $6,500 and Out for a Walk sold for $3,500, while the $12,500 Pandemonium (all 2009), an exotic tableau encased in a vitrine, tempted three prospective owners who were holding out for estimates to ship the delicate sculpture to Europe.
Young students and graduates from local art schools also fared well in their colleges’ booths. Lucinda Linderman, who earned her MFA at the University of Miami a few months ago, “up-cycles” her plastic waste into sculptures resembling digestive organs. She wound the previous year and a half worth of grocery bags around strips of her old studio work-clothes to trace her Timeline of Digestion, which a Canadian collector purchased for $6,500.
Colombian artist Federico Uribe also meticulously assembled mundane materials into unexpected shapes: animals made from Puma sneaker parts, shovels and hedge clippers, mops and corks; rakes splayed as palm fronds; colored pencils fastened into human forms. “I like the idea that the intelligence that went into designing these objects is accumulated in my art,” Uribe told the audience at a talk on Saturday.
Uribe, based in Miami Beach, was only willing to sell his show-stopping installation, which also includes older works and is titled “Risk,” as a whole, and the $1 million price tag as being weighed by a New York corporate collector and a Swiss private collector who may get a discount for donating it to a museum. The adjacent booth, of Praxis International’s Miami location, sold several individual pieces: a freshly completed tree bound from books for $15,000 and a 2004-05 gray-penciled dog for $29,000 went to separate local collectors, and a PepsiCo executive from New York acquired a $40,000 abstract work bristling with paintbrushes.
Another highlight was “Focus Argentina,” which integrated 17 of the country’s galleries in a curated exhibition of native artists ranging from masters to emerging artists, with pieces priced from $500 to $130,000. Galeria Rubbers Internacional, the oldest gallery in Buenos Aires, opened in 1957, presented a major work by Luis Felipe Noe, the 76-year-old national representative at the last Venice Biennale. The sale of Acumulacion de Acontecimientos y Situaciones (“Accumulation of Events and Situations”), a large collage covering the back of a canvas and its stretcher bars, to Palm Beach clients for $50,000 boosted collective sales to an estimate of more than $100,000. Gachi Prieto, a Buenos Aires dealer who serves as vice president of the Argentinean contemporary art gallery association that coordinated the pavilion, said that she and the other dealers were impressed by the quality of the collectors and the other galleries.
The Lesters expect three-quarters of this year’s exhibitors to return, and are already drafting, with their input, a more ambitious, three-pronged agenda for next year that will include the commercial aspect, symposia, and a “projects” sector with more curated installations. And in the meanwhile, Uribe’s “Risk” was so well received that the Lesters have invited him to re-stage it at Art Palm Beach next weekend, when the couple will see if their own risks continue to pay off.